Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Kevin Harvick talks with media Wednesday after winning first Sprint Cup

Busy week for Kevin Harvick with the talk show circuit
JENNIE LONG: Good morning, everyone, and welcome to today's NASCAR teleconference with 2014 Sprint Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing. Kevin clinched his first Sprint Cup Series title on Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway after scoring back-to-back wins to remain in championship contention. Congratulations.

KEVIN HARVICK: Thank you. Yeah, it's been a great couple weeks, so just really proud of everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing, and hopefully we can enjoy this over the next few weeks.

JENNIE LONG: As you mentioned, it's been a fast and furious few days. You made the rounds in New York City yesterday, visiting Live with Kelly and Michael and the Late Show with David Letterman, just to name a few, and today you're up at ESPN for a full day. Has it all sunk in yet and do you remember much about the race or is it all still a blur?

KEVIN HARVICK: The race is definitely still a blur. I think as you look back at everything that happened, it was so competitive all day with positions changing and definitely going to have to go back and look at the race and see how things shook out. Excited about watching that, and I think as I've told several people over the past couple days, it's like you go from this huge, competitive mode, and all of a sudden you get right out of the car, you do an interview, they hand you the trophy and then you're off to do interviews and photos and interviews and photos, and it's been hard to sit down and really kind of take a deep breath and take it all in. Looking forward to going home tonight and seeing my wife and son and being able to just kind of talk about it a little bit, and as we go to the banquet I think it'll really start to sink in when I can be around my team guys who I've been around all year and see their excitement and be able to talk about everything we've done this year.

Q. You said it hasn't sunk in yet, but you must have a tremendous feeling of accomplishment. I know on television they showed your wife sobbing, and I took that to mean she knows what you've gone through with the race team and working so hard to get to this point. Talk a little bit about the feeling of accomplishment.

KEVIN HARVICK: Well, you know, for sure it's an incredible feeling of accomplishment. I think as you look back, and I'm a guy sitting in a position that I dreamed about being a race car driver and at the time winning a Winston Cup Championship that is now called the Sprint Cup Championship, and being able to fulfill your lifelong dream and reality is something that a lot of people can't really say that they've ever done.

I'm incredibly fortunate to be in that position. And as far as Delana, she grew up in a racing family and knows how hard this sport is and knows the sacrifices that we make personally and that her family had made growing up to get race cars to the racetrack. So she's been an incredible part of this for me personally, just for the fact that she knows, and we've been around each other so much that she knows exactly what to say, when to say it, what to not bother me with, and the guys and gals back at the office know that in the situation that we were in that we've been a part of before, never actually won, obviously, but whether it be on the Cup level or the Nationwide or truck level, they know that a lot of that stuff goes to her first, and she kind of filters it to me as she knows what I do and don't want to deal with in those competitive situations.

It's been an incredible amount of pressure on her. She's also been moving our houses as we've gone through this whole process over the year and actually moved in Monday and Tuesday, so she's been a huge, huge part of this, and I think over the last couple weeks, everybody can see how much pressure was on her, and the pressure is almost worse when you're sitting up there and have no control over it.

I've been in that position as a team owner before, and there's nothing worse than sitting on that pit box not really knowing what's going on.

Q. Most what guys who won titles in recent years or at least have won their first title kind of tend to do it in the first five, ten years of their careers. Can you just talk about accomplishing this kind of so deep into your career?

KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I think there's a lot that led to this, and I always tell people, my Cup career really started backwards. It's like you started with everything that happened to Dale, and you go through all those scenarios, and you have crazy amounts of fans and attention and all the things that came with that situation. So it's taken a long time to navigate through exactly what was a good mix and balance for us, and a lot of experience and a lot of situations to build off of through the years.

I think for me personally, I think this year has been a huge -- it's been very huge for me just in the fact that I've been so excited to go to work and be a part of building something and not having the race teams and really getting our life where it had a great balance, whether it be personally, financially or professionally. Everything that you do affects everything else that you do.

For me there's a lot of things that Delana and I have worked through over the past three to four years and simplifying our life and just really trying to take a lot of pressure off of ourselves so we could focus on being good parents first and being as good as possible on the professional side, as well, with my job.

I think finding that right mix for me has kind of rejuvenated just showing up to work and really having a good balance on where things are in general in life.

Q. When you first started Cup racing, did you have -- was there any sort of plan as far as -- I don't want to say plan, but any idea what you thought, how many years it would take to where you would win a title?

KEVIN HARVICK: Well, you know, I think as you start, you know, you don't really -- it's hard to explain to people everything that actually goes on because there's so many different things that are thrown at you. The driving the car part is the easy part, but you never really -- especially in the situation that I was in with Dale and everything that had happened, I think you don't really know what the chemistry or the balance of the team and the organization need to be, and I think in this process we got to start from scratch when we started this year, so I think as you've been through those years and you know you've obviously matured as a person, but you know a little bit more about what you're looking for in a crew chief and how to go about that process and what you need to be, and for me I'm a source of information for my engineers and to my crew chief and to the organization to help drive things forward.

So I think as you look and put people in place, and as we've gone through the last several years, we had all the things that we needed to go buy all the trucks and trailers and parts and pieces, and you have resources through SHR and Hendrick Motorsports and great engine department at Hendrick Engines. So you have all those resources, but in the end still the biggest thing that I've learned is it still boils down to the people no matter what you do. You don't have the right people in the right spots, you can have all the bright, shiny stuff, but you're not going to get the results that you need.

Q. Just a quick question about what do you say to all your fans here in Bakersfield who have been following your career since Mesa Marin?

KEVIN HARVICK: Yeah, it's been interesting to say the least. I still communicate with a lot of my friends and things that I went to high school with. I still get back and spend a lot of time, and we do a lot of things at North High through the people there.

It's been a lot of fun over the years to still be involved and do things in the community. I was fortunate to have my mom and sister out for the race in Homestead this weekend, so that was extra special to be able to celebrate with them.

I'll have a lot of my friends over to Las Vegas for the party after the banquet and be able to tell a lot of old stories, and a lot of my buddies still come to different races throughout the year. Just really proud of growing up in Bakersfield, and my whole family pretty much still lives there, and hopefully we can -- hopefully at some point we can get the Sprint Cup trophy there to show off to the town.

Q. How did your experience as a young racer in Bakersfield kind of shape who you are in your racing career now?

KEVIN HARVICK: Well, for me, I was lucky. When I grew up racing, California is obviously not what a lot of people in the stock car world would think about in California in general. People in California in general did not think about stock cars for the most part and NASCAR racing in general. It was me and everybody else in town growing up pretty much a Rick Mears fan and a fan of the Mears family and wanting to race Indy cars in the Indy 500.

I think as you look at the town, you can race anything in Bakersfield, and Bakersfield is one of the most supportive racing towns anywhere in the country now that I've been all over the country to race. You can honestly say that that is a racing community. So I was fortunate to have a go-kart track, to have Mesa Marin at the time and have people and fans to support it.

It was definitely a fortunate place to grow up on the West Coast that was able to springboard my career into the racing world.

Q. Can you compare the mental preparation for the intensity of the final race with the mental intensity of the media blitz after a huge win in Homestead?

KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I've always been very much a part of the media and appearances and things that we plan on a weekly basis and have a fairly good handle on where my mental frame of mind is leading into the weekends of the races. My promise to everybody around me was you guys work with me up until we get to Homestead, and if we win the championship, I'll do whatever you guys want me to do. I'm at the mercy of everybody around me right now and enjoying being a part of what we've accomplished here and letting them kind of run with what they think is best for me personally and our sponsors and Stewart-Haas Racing and getting everything that we need.

That part of it has -- the post part of it has been very good. The weeks leading up to the race were obviously stressful. We were in a situation where our backs were against the wall and really needed to focus on what we were doing as a race team and spend the extra time thinking about race cars and race setups and had to shy away from some of the media things with everything that happened in Texas to really keep the focus on our race team and keep my guys around me from not having to answer questions that were outside of race cars.

Definitely a balance, and trying to keep control of the message of things and how they are perceived and what my guys at the shop are reading was very important to me as to what the perception we were sending.

I thought the weeks leading up to the race for us went well in the media blitz, just for the fact that I felt like the perception that we sent and the things that we did were very positive for our team and towards the people that we were racing against.

Q. And as far as the elimination format, you've probably been asked this question a bunch of times, but now after you've got the championship, the elimination format, could you make a comment on that, and would you change anything in it?

KEVIN HARVICK: It's probably going to end up shortening my career to be honest with you just for the fact that it's been so stressful over the last 10 weeks. It's definitely been probably some of the -- probably some of the most stressful 10 weeks I've had to deal with in my racing career just because of the intensity that it's created for the Chase and knowing that you have three weeks to make something happen, and in our situation we got our backs put against the wall in the first week of the next to last round, and we knew we had to go out and win one of those two races.

You know, it was definitely high intensity, high stress as we went through the new format, and I think for the fans, it created some really, really good racing, and everybody just kind of throwing caution to the wind to try to win races and make things happen for your team to keep advancing through the rounds.

It was very easy to follow, and in the end you knew how those cars finished, that was going to be your champion, and that was going to be your top four in the points. I think the racing world has enjoyed it, and that's what it's all about in the end.

Q. First of all, what's been the coolest thing and the neatest thing that's happened to you so far this week on the tour?

KEVIN HARVICK: The coolest thing that's happened on the tour? It's all been such a whirlwind, it's hard to really focus on one particular thing. I think as we got done with the race, some of the -- really some of the neatest moments were -- probably the neatest moment for me, first off, was being able to see my wife and son immediately after I got out of the car and celebrate with them in victory lane.

But some of the coolest moments probably came on that particular night when my son, after we got done with the car, he didn't really care about anything that was going on, but it was just watching him run up and down the racetrack and sitting up against the wall with him and really throwing rocks down to the bottom because that was really what he cared about at that particular point was throwing the rocks and rubber to the bottom of the racetrack. Just those little moments like that, and through the week he got his first fishing pole, so that was pretty cool to be able to share some of those moments.

Q. When did it sink in, or has it?

KEVIN HARVICK: Yeah, it really hasn't sunk in. Right now you're just trying to represent the sport and your team and your sponsors and doing everything that you need to do and do everything as right as possible for everybody involved.

I think sitting down and drinking some beers with the guys and really talking about everything that we've accomplished will probably come at the banquet, but right now it's just making sure that you do everything that you need to be doing and do it as right as you can for the sport in representing everything that we are at SHR.

Q. And finally, this Thanksgiving is going to be a little bit different than last Thanksgiving. You've got a new house versus a burned house from last year.

KEVIN HARVICK: Yeah, we won't be at Delana's mother's house and living in a motor home for sure.

Q. Anything different about -- not about the new house or anything, but when was the fire? Was it before or after Thanksgiving? I can't remember.

KEVIN HARVICK: I believe it was the day before Thanksgiving when we had the fire last year.

Q. So this year is going to be a lot different I would assume?

KEVIN HARVICK: Yeah, and that was really our main focus throughout the year was to make sure that we had everything situated. That was the main focus in front of everything else that we were doing on the weekends was to make sure that we had everything as in order as possible so that leading into the holidays, Keelan could have a firm foundation and home to celebrate the holidays in and make it as memorable as possible for him.

That's really been the main life focus that Delana and I have been working on throughout the year.

Q. We always ask or talk about at the end of the season whoever is crowned champion, what kind of champion they might be going for, do we think it'll be good for the sport, will they lead and guide it. Have you thought about what your role is and whether or not you have a certain responsibility as a champion next season in representing NASCAR?

KEVIN HARVICK: Absolutely. I think there's a definite responsibility that comes with the champion and doing the things that you need to do to help grow the sport. Obviously there will be a lot of people looking for your opinion, and you all know that I have opinions on how things should go and what is best. So I think for me, it's very simple; you be honest, you do -- just like we would do on a personal level. We'll try to do everything that we need to do to help grow the sport, grow our sponsors, and as always, always push everybody around us to try to do things that are unique and different from what they've done in the past to try to make things better.

I think as you look at the last couple of years in our sport and you look at the owners and the drivers and the communication between NASCAR and those groups, I think you have to see the results of everything that has come out of the meetings and things that have happened over the past few years. I think the sport is in a better spot than it was. We will all have that constant communication, and I definitely as champion want to do my part and do it as well as possible.

Q. Are you looking forward to that role?

KEVIN HARVICK: I am. You know, it's always better to lead than follow, so if there's a possibility of being that leader and being the one that everybody looks to you, you want to try to seize those moments and do the best you can to take control and do it better than it has been done in the past.

We'll do the best that we can in trying to achieve that.

Q. The last week or so as Rodney has gotten a little bit more attention, a lot has been talked about the courtship and how you guys dated for a year before he wanted to take that job. Why did you want Rodney so bad? What did you see in him or know about him that made you think he was the fit for you?

KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I think the biggest thing as a competitor, you see the speed in the cars that he's always worked on, so as a competitor, I think that's the first thing that you've always seen. I think the second thing is kind of that new wave of crew chief that's coming through the garage, and what I mean by that is Rodney has driven, he's built his own cars, he can run the engineering simulation program, and when you have all those experiences, you can relate to all those groups and not let them get too far out of bounds in what they're telling you and what they're communicating to you.

I believe he can keep his thumb on all those things and be able to understand whether they're working right or wrong. When you look at Rodney and you look at Paul Wolfe and a lot of these engineers that are coming through and have driven and raced and done the things that they've done, you have to -- there's not very many of those guys that are that well-rounded in that crew chief role. When you have something, and this probably comes from the business side of things of owning KHI, when you see something like that and you believe that's the right person, you have to figure out how to make it happen.

It was a lot of conversations for sure. He's one of those guys that just has to have that feeling of being comfortable and knowing that he's dotted all his Os and crossed all his Ts because it's no different than anything else. It's still business for him, and he has to support his family, and the decisions that he made will affect his life for the next few years and the contract that he was signing.

It definitely has been a lot of big decisions for really everybody on our team, and the team itself and making the commitment to myself to get everything started, to put those cars on the racetrack and not have one-dollar sponsorship if that's the way it all worked out. They were putting those race cars on the racetrack regardless. It was a lot of commitments and a lot of time from a lot of different people, and in the end of the time and the money that everybody spent wound up with a lot of good people, and that in the end is what makes it all go around.

Q. What did you think when he called for four tires on that last pit stop? What did you think?

KEVIN HARVICK: I never really even thought about it to tell you the truth. We've talked about these scenarios before, and he has to be comfortable sitting on the pit box and making those bold decisions and knowing that I believe in it and the team believes in it, and in the end he and the engineers have so much more ability to see what's going on in the race than I do in the race car. Sure, I'm a guy that always wants four tires, but sometimes you have to take two and you have to stay out on the racetrack to keep your track position, and they've seen how people move through the field and the difference in times from new tires to old tires.

When we came out of the pits, I thought we were in trouble because we were sitting 12th and behind a lot of cars, and you just never know how those restarts are going to work out.

But he made the call, and in the end that's what won us the race.

Q. You touched on a couple of things, but with the intensity for 2015, now people have gone through the cycle of the regular season going into the Chase, what do you expect to see at Daytona and at the first few races for next year?

KEVIN HARVICK: You know, I think everybody knows that winning is the ultimate thing in the end, and I think as you look at those first few races and everybody kind of understands the point system a little bit better and the intensity that you need to show towards trying to win races so that you can get that golden ticket, I guess you could say, into the Chase and really the earlier that you get it, the more time you have to build and fix problems that you have with your race team.

I think we were a classic example of that this year. We were able to win the second race of the season in Phoenix and kind of punch our ticket for the most part to being in the Chase.

It allowed us to fix a lot of problems. It allowed us to plan out where we thought we needed to be with cars, and if you wanted to make changes, you could have all those cars and you could have a backup plan for the backup plan leading into the Chase.

The earlier you can get that win, the better off you're going to be to prepare for the Chase.

Q. Did you really expect to see someone like Ryan Newman who was so consistent for 2014, someone to be able to make it into the Final Four, or did you think really winning would probably be the only way anyone would make it to that point?

KEVIN HARVICK: Well, racing for wins almost became a little bit detrimental, as you saw some of the things play out and accidents happen and things of that nature throughout the Chase. You saw some of those problems creep up because we were all racing for wins and having things happen.

I think in the end, I think it wound up with some guys that had won races and some guys that had been consistent and wound up with a good mix of both throughout the end of the Chase in the next to final round and the final round.

In the end it was a good balance of both scenarios.

Q. You've been posted already, not to put any pressure, but 5-to-1 favorite to win next year's championship by one of the sports books in Las Vegas. On that note, on a broad level for NASCAR, it seems like after we watched the 2014 Chase play out and the season with different strategies approached, whether it's points racing, trying to get wins, it just seemed completely different from what we've seen in the past. But after it all came out, seeing Ryan Newman, no wins and running in second at Homestead with a chance, Denny Hamlin, only one win, leading with eight laps to go, it seems like there's more hope for a lot more drivers coming into a season to win a championship. Can you talk about that and how far it expands? Does it go 20, 25 drivers deep that really think they can be in Ryan Newman's position? 

 KEVIN HARVICK: Absolutely. You know, I think as you -- if you can get to the Daytona 500 or Talladega or whatever that particular driver's good track is or the team's good track and capitalize on those situations, you look at Aric Almirola and AJ Allmendinger and those guys being able to get themselves into victory lane, if you can get that one win and really prepare yourself for the Chase and have a good first few weeks and you have some guys have some problems and you kind of, I guess, you guys have all kind of dubbed the 31 team as the Cinderella story, but there's a lot of cars in the garage that have that capability of being that Cinderella team, especially when you start talking about momentum. When you get the momentum in the sports world, momentum is a huge thing, and you can carry that a long ways. I think it definitely opens the possibility of things -- of cars and teams coming from being that dark horse I guess you could say to being in contention just for the fact of that momentum building and the teams getting better as they go through the year. It definitely opens things up to a lot of people being able to be in the Chase.


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