NASCAR Media Conference
January 14, 2008
HERB BRANHAM: We are now joined by the defending champion of the Daytona 500, driver of the #29 Shell Pennzoil Chevrolet, Kevin Harvick. Last year was big. How big would it be to win it again, and it's the 50th running of the Daytona 500.
KEVIN HARVICK: I think to just the win the Daytona 500 last year was something that I don't think I realized the magnitude of the race obviously, and to understand that and be able to come back and just when you rolled in this morning just kind of realize everything that happened the last February. And being the 50th anniversary of the race and being able to be a part of the 50th anniversary celebration with all the past winners is something that's been pretty cool to be a part of.
Q. Do you feel like today's test session was sort of the first step in getting you there to repeat the victory?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I liked the fact that our main goal today was to be the first ones on the racetrack, and we accomplished that. We came down here with kind of a specific plan to -- engine-wise with components that they ran, that they started with last week just to kind of get a handle on our whole company's, I guess, grasp of what car is the fastest and what car is not fast. So we're trying to sort that out between the six or eight cars that we have.
So we kind of came down here not with a speed plan, I guess you would say. It's just more of just kind of going through the plan of which cars, just deciding which car is which, and after we get through with that, we're still not done. We'll have changed two or three different engines and just going through those motions.
So we haven't really gotten to our cars. Clinton coming last week was great because right out of the box the car drives good, and there's a definite difference between the two cars. We kind of came down with a little bit different plan than normal but we accomplished our goal and that was to be the first ones on the track, so mission accomplished for the day.
Q. When you left here last year, given the way you had finished the previous season, you very much looked like a championship contender. What happened as the season went on? You just weren't as strong down the stretch.
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I think our cars were strong. I think California kind of set the tone for our whole season. Five laps to go we get a flat tire and have a chance to probably win the race, and it just seemed like everything kind of went that way all year. Every time we had a good day, something went wrong, and every time we had a bad day it got worse.
In the end I think it shows the maturity of the team. I don't look at last year as really any different circumstances that we were put through than 2002, and the results at the end of the year were better. So it's just -- we had a chance to win seven or eight races, and just every time something, whether it was our fault or just circumstances, it went wrong.
The year before everything went right, and last year, just we couldn't make everything go our way when we needed a break here and there.
Q. Granted, the truck and the car are different vehicles, but as the championship-winning truck owner, is there anything that transpired last year in Ron's drive to the championship that you think you could apply to your season this year in the car?
KEVIN HARVICK: I think his attitude. Ron has a great attitude with his people, and we've tried to -- I've tried to over the off-season tried to apply and come in with a better attitude and tried to apply that to my team. I think this morning everything went really good, and the guys are working with a little bit of spring in their step, and we all have a little bit more spring in our steps.
Hornaday, car-to-truck-wise, these cars and those trucks, they don't drive anything similar. I know a lot of people have talked about the way that they drive, but they don't drive very similar. I think the biggest thing Ron does is he's so good with his people, and I think that's probably the biggest thing that we've tried to apply from my standpoint to our team.
Q. Being the defending winner of the 500, obviously NASCAR's biggest race, would it make a difference to you both as a driver and as a fan whether this race was at the beginning of the year or the ending of the year?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I think at the beginning of the year -- our sport is a little bit different, it doesn't come down to two teams. With all the different teams, I don't think there's any other way you can build any more hype because everybody has kind of put some spring back in their step, I guess, with their team, and everybody has got new cars and a new attitude towards everything that's going on. So the winter gives you a chance to kind of revitalize, I guess you could say, everything that was wrong and try to make it right, and whether you did that or not, you don't know that until after the Daytona 500 starts.
Leading up to that point, I don't think you could build any more hype. And then to have our biggest race fall first, falls right into all the hype from all the race teams. I don't know that you could build it up any more. I don't know that you could put it last and have the same prestige and hype that comes around this race.
Q. Your feelings about the car of today now versus last year, any little things that you worked on over the winter that you saw with the car and said, "okay, this is better"? When you look back on last year, what did you like about it? You had pretty much -- the same car in pretty much every COT race, correct?
KEVIN HARVICK: I think there at the beginning of the COT races last year, we used the same car for a while. We have a lot of different cars now. I think the biggest thing I'm looking forward to this year is racing the same car week in and week out. Our Impala has been a lot different than what our Monte Carlos were last year.
It's just hard on the race teams to run two completely full-time race teams. It's basically two teams within one team, and then you multiply that times three and it becomes a lot of work.
I think for my guys and for me, I think you can focus on one particular car and you can focus on the handling of one particular car and make it better, and I think that's going to make the racing even better yet.
So I think for us just getting to the same type of car is the most important thing and being able to focus on one thing.
Q. Could you talk just a little bit about what your short range and long-range vision is for KHI?
KEVIN HARVICK: The plan is to just keep it like it is. Whether we run -- this year we're going to run one full time Busch Car, and then in the 33 with myself I think for 21 races or so. And then the two trucks. Right now it's just to keep -- it's to have fun and basically be competitive and win races. That's what we built it for.
I don't have any long-range plans to go Cup racing. I like to be at the shop and around the race cars. To me it's almost like playing a game of -- any kind of game, I guess, to try to put all the people in the right places, and to try to put the right chemistry of people together is challenging for me.
In the Busch Car, I needed a different challenge. I'm a person that has to have challenges, so I wanted to drive my own Busch Car, and to be able to do that week in and week out is something that I'm really looking forward to. The 21 car was a lot of fun to go out and win races, but I didn't have my hand in everything to feel like it was something that would give you that fulfillment of an accomplishment from the start to finish, and if we could do that with my Busch Car, it's something that -- it's just a different reward in the end.
After realizing that with Ron and the truck team, being able to start that team from scratch was something that just -- it's a different reward, and it's hard to explain the feeling that you get from that. Not to say that -- I was not bored in the 21 car, but I just needed more of a challenge in the Nationwide car. I'm sorry if I said Busch.
To do that I think is going to be pretty exciting for me personally.
Q. With regards to your time, what do you learn the most from being a team owner over the past few years?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, the biggest thing I've learned is just that you can't jump to conclusions right off the bat. You have to take a lot of information from a lot of different people, from a lot of different parts, pieces. In the beginning of owning the race team I would just jump to conclusions, and whether it was changing this person, changing that person, change is good, but it has to be at the right time.
I think it's helped me understand, whether it's from a NASCAR aspect or -- it really has helped me communicate with Richard and just how important the people are. The people around you are what make it go. Everybody in this garage can buy the right parts and pieces, and it's all about the detail work after that.
Q. I know you're down here to focus on your deal, but there is a certain amount of buzz about Jr. and the 88.
KEVIN HARVICK: I thought you were going to ask about politics (laughter).
Q. There's a certain amount of buzz here about Jr. and the 88. Are you peeking over there at all? Are you watching? Are you wondering? Is there any sense that if he does well he's going to lift things up in terms of ratings and attendance?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, for him personally I hope he does well. I think everybody in the garage is kind of rooting that direction. I don't think anybody wants to see him not do well. I think he will do well.
I think he made a decision that was personally right for him, and that's the most important thing. You guys all know, when you go to work in the morning, and if you're not happy, then it's not a fun day and you're not having fun at your job.
So I think just that part of it, just that relief of being able to make the decision that he made and be able to do things how he wants to do them is a relief in itself. Obviously I think a lot of pressure is probably put on him from a media standpoint to do well, but he's going to do well. There's no doubt that he's not going to do a good job. He's got a great organization around him, he's got good people, he's got everything that he needs.
Like I said before, the chemistry part is the hardest thing. You can buy all those things, but I think once they get that part figured out, I think they'll be on their way. For him personally, I think I'm just happy that he's happy. I think that with as much pressure is on him, he doesn't need all the rest of it.
Q. In terms of the Truck Series team, with Ron winning that Championship and all he had to go through, number one, did you find it harder as an owner to win than you thought, and do you see Ron or anybody nowadays becoming a four-time champion, Ron or Jack?
KEVIN HARVICK: I think either one of them can be winning again. I think obviously the 33 team has momentum from last year, and they have great chemistry between the crew chief and the driver and the race team, and they all get along really well.
I think either of those teams is capable of winning. I think it's going to take some time to kind of get it all together and really make it happen. I think Ron will help speed that process and Rick with the 2 truck.
But I think as far as owning it, I think it probably -- once I got involved into the ownership side of it, I think it was harder than I anticipated to put a full-time driver in there. In the beginning we were able to win races and run in the top 5 every time we ran a truck, but running for a championship is different.
So I think to beat all the Toyota teams and be able to accomplish that from a Chevy aspect was exciting for everybody from General Motors on down to the guys that sweep the floor at the shop. So I think that was an accomplishment. It just gives you the confidence as a race team that you can go out and do it.
I look at it as any other sporting franchise. It takes time to put all the pieces together. Most sports franchises it takes them a while to win. Some teams win right off the bat, and then they come back to reality and realize it takes time to put an organization together. I look at the Busch team as being a couple years behind the truck team. Hopefully we can get it to the same spot.
Q. If Jr. does well, do you think TV ratings and the sport would get a boost, or do you think that's unrealistic?
KEVIN HARVICK: I don't know. I don't think it's going to hurt anything. I mean, I don't think you can have as much drama as they had last year, so I think that got a lot of headlines from a lot of different angles.
I don't think it's just our sport that's in a position to worry about TV ratings and sponsorship and things like that. I think that the whole world is kind of -- the whole country is in kind of a state of limbo right now. It's something that I think as we get into these elections and get them over with that will come back, whether Jr. does good or not.
Q. How hard is it to stay flexible with your overall perspective as a team? Because sometimes you see teams have a great year like Kahne in '06, wins six races, and then they come out last year and bomb. How hard is it to make yourself continue to evolve and change instead of sticking with what worked?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I think change -- like I talked earlier, I think change is necessary at certain points, but the less change that you can create, if you feel comfortable with your team and you feel like everybody is knowledgeable enough to do what they need to do and everybody has a good attitude towards everything and your sponsors are happy with I guess the outcome of everything that's going on from all aspects -- I don't know.
You have to change with the sport, for sure. I think if you get stuck in that rut, you're going to get behind. You have to constantly evolve. I think that's what we always do is try to evaluate what we're doing and find that you have to get faster, you have to get better, you have to get stronger, but sometimes that's not done with your group at the racetrack, it's done internally at the shop and making sure that the way the shop function and the people function and the way you put your cars together. I guess the productiveness of the facility and the cars is as important as anything because it's hard to make all the races week in and week out because you race so much. So you have to have enough stuff to be able to put all that together but you have to get ahead at the same time. Luckily that's mostly Richard's job, but I understand that a lot from an owner's standpoint, owning teams, because it just takes time.
Q. Now that you've discovered the politics things, do you have a candidate that you like?
KEVIN HARVICK: Yeah. I like Huckabee, to be honest with you. I just like the way he presents himself and the way he talks and the way that he -- Giuliani has been to a lot of NASCAR races, but I just like the way Huckabee presents himself, whatever that matters for.
Q. My racing question. Does Hendrick lose their dominance from last year? Do they come in with a clean slate or are you all trying to catch up to them?
KEVIN HARVICK: I think you're definitely trying to catch up. I mean, you have to. Those guys have won the championship the last couple years and they were one, two last year. They're what everybody is shooting for. Any time you're the champion or anything, I think you kind of come in with a target on your back and everybody is shooting for you.
Everybody knows that they have to get better, and in order to do that, you have to beat those cars.
Q. To be back here at Daytona, do you still relive that finish ahead of Mark, and is it one of the most rewarding wins in your career, and will that leave a lasting impression with you?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I think so. We've been fortunate to win a few of the big races, and I always thought it was -- I thought I wanted to win the Brickyard, but I was wrong, just experiencing everything from the 500 and being able to be a part of the weeks after it. Everywhere you go, that's all anybody wants to talk about is winning the Daytona 500.
That's why this is such a big deal for all the race teams and all the sponsors. This one race can carry you for a long time. So to come back and I guess have the 50th anniversary gold edition, right? I guess that's what everybody works all winter for and comes down to try to win. It's definitely something that you never forget, and just to live those last few -- I walked into my wife's office the other day and she was on YouTube watching the race and I thought that was pretty cool because it still gives you chills every time you watch it.
HERB BRANHAM: Thank you to our defending 500 champion, Kevin Harvick.
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