Consistently average: Harvick's run at checkered flags has stalled
SI.com's Mark Beech offers the most intriguing news, notes and analysis fans need to know heading into each week's race.
It's been a full season -- that's one year and 36 races -- since Kevin Harvick last won a race (last May's All-Star event at Lowe's Motor Speedway). What's worse, the 32-year-old driver has rarely even come close to reaching Victory Lane during that stretch. Harvick has had to settle for just being pretty good lately, with only four top-five finishes in those 36 races.
While he's currently ninth in the point standings, he seems far removed from the championship contender he was two years ago, when he won five races and finished fourth overall. Whatever Harvick's problem, it certainly isn't a question of talent. This is a man, after all, who has been named rookie of the year at both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series levels, who won the Nationwide (then Busch) title in 2001 and who has 11 Cup victories to his credit. He's such a consistent and competitive racer that he hasn't recorded a DNF in 55 starts, just three short of the all-time record he established just a few years ago.
Neither is Harvick's winless string a question of his love for the sport. Along with wife DeLana, he owns teams in the Nationwide and the Craftsmen Truck series (Kevin races part-time in both), and last year the couple won their first truck title. Kevin and DeLana have also been leaders in calling for the establishment of a drug-testing program for NASCAR; last month their team became one of the first to randomly test its drivers. Unlike the father-son operations of the past, the Harvicks represent a new breed of racing family.
On track, part of the explanation for Harvick's struggles goes back to last season, when his Richard Childress Racing team struggled to get its Car of Tomorrow program up to speed. But after a full offseason of testing, those concerns were a thing of the past even before February's Daytona 500.
Instead, Harvick has talked openly this year about the fact that the Chevy racecars he's driving for RCR just don't have the horsepower to match the Toyotas being run by Joe Gibbs Racing. "I feel good that our team has made gains in the engine department, power-wise," he said two months ago. "But it's hard when you're racing almost restrictor plate races every week and you're racing against cars that are making 20-plus more horsepower than you. It's hard to keep up."
For my part, I can't help but wonder if Harvick has stretched himself a bit too thin with all of his other commitments. He and DeLana recently began exploring ownership in the Hot Rod series, for heaven's sake. The horsepower problem he worries about is legitimate: teammates Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton have been far from dominant themselves, and the success of Toyota this season is well documented. But Bowyer and Burton have combined to win three races since Harvick's 2007 All-Star victory (each has a win in 2007). If the talent is there for Harvick, then what could possibly be missing but the focus on victory?
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Lowe's Motor Speedway
Kyle Busch talks about his strategy for this Saturday's All-Star Race: "You'd like to win every single one of [the race's four segments]. In the past couple years I've been running either first or second at the end of the third segment, but then they go into the invert and you get back in traffic and get caught up in a wreck. That's what happened to me two years in a row. (Ed. Note: Busch finished 16th in 2006, and 20th last year.) I think this year I'll try to win the first two, sandbag in the third segment, then try to get myself positioned right for the fourth one and try to win the thing."
22: Number of All-Star races
17: Number of drivers who have won an All-Star race
3: All-Star victories for Jeff Gordon, tying him with Dale Earnhardt for the most of any driver
May 18, 2002: In his first full season of Cup racing -- and two weeks after a runner-up showing at Richmond -- Ryan Newman wins The Winston at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Earlier in the day Newman had claimed the last open spot in the race by winning the 16-lap No Bull Winston Sprint. He is the last "transfer" driver to win the All-Star Race.