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A Q&A with Cup Series points leader Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick
Kevin Harvick enters the playoffs as the No. 1 seed after claiming the 2020 regular-season championship. Photo: Worldwide Copyright © @ActionSports Photography, Inc.

Points leader Kevin Harvick was part of a NASCAR Zoom call and discussed the playoffs, along with other topics with members of the media

The driver of the No. 4 Busch Light Beer Ford Mustang, points leader Kevin Harvick, enters this weekend’s Round of 8 NASCAR Cup Series opener at Kansas Speedway as the top seed.

WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES AND CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS ROUND? 

“I think the challenges are just the typical Round of 8.  As you look at the playoffs in general you just have to be prepared for anything.  As you look at Kansas, it’s kind of a tweener I guess you could say as far as the 550 package goes.  You have a high wear racetrack with the high drag package, so you have to decide how much downforce and things you want in your car.  Obviously, the temperature is a lot different as we go to Kansas this weekend, so it won’t be like it was the first race with the higher temperatures.  Texas has been a good racetrack for us, but it’s also much different than what you want at Kansas and then you throw in the short track at Martinsville, so you’ve got a little bit of everything.  The last round was definitely unique and had a lot of twists and turns as we went through all the different types of racetracks.”

DOES THE INTERNAL PRESSURE START TO BUILD IN THE DRIVER OR THE TEAM AS THE PLAYOFFS GO DEEPER?

“There’s really no change for us.  We’ve been here, done this.  We know what’s in front of us.  You go and prepare and that’s why we’ve stuck with the attitude of trying to playoff race every week and the expectation is to go out and be competitive and if you’re not, come home and figure out why and try to address it and move on to the next one.  It’s survive and advance at this particular point.  You just have to see what the first week brings and then go to the next week and try to do the same thing and in the end you want to try to win.  That’s the safest path forward, so hopefully we can do that and put ourselves in a good position and try to move onto Phoenix.”

HOW MUCH OF THE SUCCESS YOU’VE HAD IN THE PLAYOFFS HAS HELPED EXTEND YOUR CAREER TO GET TO THIS POINT AND GO FURTHER?

“I think that’s the one thing that I try to explain to all the younger racers.  An extra 100,000 people on Twitter isn’t gonna make you stick around longer.  Performance on the racetrack is really the bread and butter of what we do and no matter if you have a funny personality or you have a famous last name it doesn’t matter.  In the end, Danica Patrick is probably the best example that I can think of that, is just the fact of having the results on the racetrack.  I think every week we’ve put a lot of pressure on ourselves to figure out why we didn’t run like we did or why we ran like we did in order to try to continue that trend forward.

“I like what I do.  I like my team more than anything and that’s really the driving factor in what makes all of this go around is having a team that believes in you, and I have an organization that believes in me and we’ve been fortunate to have a lot of success on the racetrack.  Look, in the end it’s the same in every sport.  You have to be successful at what you’re doing.  Getting caught up in the rest of it is good in the down times, and I think for me I learned that at RCR and however you choose that in those down years is sometimes we ran well in the Xfinity car and that kept us relevant to keep racing on the Cup side.  Sometimes you caused headlines in order to keep yourself in the mix and move yourself forward, but fortunately now it’s really just about the results and having all that side chatter kind of put to bed takes a lot of things away from the equation.  Just make it simpler.  We can concentrate on trying to be good on the racetrack and in the end that comes with a team and people around you that can get the job done and believe in what you’re doing.”

AFTER THE RACE YOU SAID YOU NEED TO RUN BETTER IN THE NEXT ROUND.  IS THERE ANY REASON TO THINK YOU WON’T RUN BETTER?

“No, I think these racetracks are right up our alley, especially the first two.  I think as you look back the Roval has been a good, decent racetrack for us the last couple years.  It was fine this weekend.  I got us behind running into the back of the car and trying to figure out what I needed to do in the wet conditions, and in the end we had a sixth or seventh-place car.  I think as you look at that it was fine.  Talladega is just Talladega and Vegas we just missed it a little bit, so I think as you line up the first two races they’re definitely right in our wheelhouse.”

WHAT DID JIMMIE JOHNSON WINNING FIVE STRAIGHT CHAMPIONSHIPS TELL YOU ABOUT HIM AS A COMPETITOR AND DRIVER?

“I think you guys have heard me talk about this before — not only is he a good driver but he had a great team.  I think Jimmie would be the first one to tell you that it takes all those people around you to make the car go fast because you can’t drive a slow car fast.  Still, being in that position to have to perform at that level and you saw him do it in so many different ways as the dominant car, as the car that was behind.  On the years he was expected to win he won, and on the days that you didn’t expect them to be around they won too.  That takes a lot of focus and a lot of attention to the details of what’s going on and to perform in those types of scenarios, so he’s had a great career and in the end, for me, it’s really not about Jimmie on the racetrack it’s always been about Jimmie off the racetrack because of the fact that everything he does good or bad is handled correctly.  He’s just that type of role model that every sport needs and when you have a young athlete that you want to point in a direction to say, ‘How should I do this?’  In the racing world you point him in the Jimmie Johnson direction because of the way that he’s done it.”

AS A FORMER TEAM OWNER THERE HAS BEEN A LOT OF TALK ABOUT THE NEXT GEN CAR DRAWING NEW OWNERSHIP TO THE SPORT.  FROM AN ECONOMIC STANDPOINT WHAT ARE YOU SEEING THERE AND FROM A DRIVER’S STANDPOINT WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE IN THE CAR WHEN IT GETS ON THE TRACK?

“I’ve not even seen the car.  I’m a very short-term focused type of guy and that’s really just how we approach things.  I think there’s been a lot of time and a lot of effort by a lot of people put into the car, so I’m looking forward to eventually getting to drive it.  I think from the economic side there’s obviously something to the economic side that I don’t particularly know is coming or understand because there seems to be a ton of new interest for some sort of reason in the ownership side, which is great for all of us, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it’s all happening at once because of the new car.  There’s obviously something that makes the economics of it make more sense with all these folks wanting to jump onboard, so that’s great for everybody and I think that was part of the intention of where we were headed with cutting things back and trying to make it more friendly from a financial side.  That plan seems to be working, which is great for everybody.”

WHAT IS THE ONE INTANGIBLE THAT WILL CARRY YOU OVER THE TOP THIS YEAR AS OPPOSED TO WHEN YOU FINISHED THIRD IN THE STANDINGS THE LAST THREE YEARS?

“We haven’t won three races in a row at Phoenix.  I know that for sure, but I can tell you that obviously Texas has been a good racetrack for us.  Kansas has been decent for us, but right now we’re focused on Kansas and trying to get as good and as solid of a day as we can from a points standpoint and hopefully put yourself in a position to have a chance to win.  It’s definitely three or four racetracks, however you want to look at, that lay out better than the last three, so that’s a good thing.”

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON CLINT BOWYER RETIRING AT THE END OF THE YEAR?

“Clint is entertaining, that’s for sure.  Obviously, for me it’s a little bit different just because of the fact that I’ve had two of them retire on me now in the 14 car with Tony and Clint.  Clint is a person who has been a lot of fun to be around.  I’ve enjoyed racing around Clint.  I think he’s gonna be in a position that really puts him in a spot to let us all be entertained by the Clint Bowyer that we all know, but Clint came onboard in 2004 or 2005 and we traveled testing cars and having fun and learning how to race.  He knew how to race when he got there, he just needed to figure out the asphalt side of things at this particular level and he could do it and wound up in a Cup car shortly thereafter that.  It definitely has been a great run with where Clint started and where he is today, and I think for all of us it’s great to have him in the booth at Fox and will be fun to hear what he has to say.”

DO YOU THINK WE’LL EVER SEE FULL YEAR SPONSORS AGAIN OR MULTI-YEAR SPONSORSHIPS?

“I do not.  I think that this sport has changed and I think for me one of the biggest reasons that I am still here is we’ve been heavily involved on a day-to-day basis of trying to make sure that our sponsors are happy.  I think that’s the biggest thing we’ve done correctly through the last 20 years is really understand the relationship with the sponsors and understanding that you need to have that line of communication that is open on a weekly basis in order to make sure that you are where you are and everybody is happy, especially in today’s world when you have so much turnover in a lot of these companies and getting to know the new people and just making sure that it all works for everybody.  That’s really what it boils down to.

“You can’t just jump in, drive the car and hope for the best on the sponsorship side.  You need to understand that there are a lot of moving pieces to the sponsorship side and I think for the team ownership side of the days when we really were on the front side of this model of placing sponsors one race at a time, turning them into three or four or five races and developing these relationships.  You look at Anheuser-Busch we’ve had for a decade.  We’ve got a great relationship with them.  We’ve been through what most people thought was a crazy brand change within Anheuser-Busch that turned into one of the greatest sponsorship moves in the sport’s history just because of the fact that Busch is so intertwined with our fans and it’s right up NASCAR’s alley of that type of sponsorship and they’ve basically come in and activated and done things at a level that really most people aren’t doing from a sponsorship side of things.  Then you look at Mobil and Hunt Brothers Pizza and all the folks that we have on our car that have been there for a while.

“Obviously, we switched manufacturers, but I think as you look at Ford it really fits that style of company that we’ve had.  Most of the sponsorship that we’ve had even on the personal side of things from E-Z-GO to Wiley X.  A lot of those brands that have been with us for a long time on the Morton Building side, a lot of those you’re looking at some over a decade.  So, those relationships are what help keep everything headed in the right direction when you have the proper funding.”

SOME SPONSORS LOOK AT SOCIAL MEDIA PRESENCE AND THINGS YOU DO AWAY FROM THE TRACK, SO IS IT JUST AS IMPORTANT IN TERMS OF THE SPONSORSHIP SIDE AS PERFORMANCE ON THE TRACK.  OR IS PERFORMANCE ON THE TRACK NO. 1?

“If you win races, you’ll gain more followers on every platform, I promise.”

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