Posted: Thu February 16, 2012 6:57PM; Updated: Tue February 21, 2012 5:45PM
Cory McCartney

Harvick hopes changes can bring him a title; more Daytona notes

Story Highlights

This offseason, Kevin Harvick shuttered his team, announced he will be a father

After coming close for two years, he hopes changes can bring him his first title

Also: Danica on 'sexy'; Joey Logano hits reset; NASCAR's Grammy connection

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Kevin Harvick
Kevin Harvick closed Kevin Harvick Inc. this offseason to focus on winning a first Cup title.
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- In hindsight, Jimmie Johnson realizes he was missing the signs.

Often times at the track, he would find his motorhome parked next to Kevin Harvick's. When Johnson and his wife, Chandra, would be outside playing with their young daughter, Genevieve, Harvick would occasionally come over and ask questions about having kids. At the time, Johnson thought little of it.

"It all made sense when I saw that he announced that DeLana [Harvick, his wife] was pregnant," Johnson said during Thursday's NASCAR preseason media day. "Now, looking back, there were a lot of little questions that make sense ..."

The Harvicks are having a boy, with a mid-July due date. As Harvick follows Johnson into fatherhood, he's also hoping to follow in Johnson' steps as a Sprint Cup Series champion.

Harvick has come painfully close. In 2010, he sat atop the points standings for 20 weeks and entered the Chase for the Championship as the second seed, before finishing third behind Johnson and Denny Hamlin. Last season, he entered the Chase as co-top seed after four regular-season wins, only to finish third again, this time behind Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards.

Falling short two years in a row, along with the prospect of a baby, led to the end of Kevin Harvick Inc., the team he and his wife began in 2001. They shut down the Trucks Series team and joined the Nationwide cars with Richard Childress Racing.

"I think for me I've already been able to spend more time at RCR than I probably have combined the last few years," Harvick said.

His teammates have taken notice.

"I've seen Kevin quite a bit this offseason at the shop and he seems relaxed, recharged and focused," Paul Menard said, before quipping: "I'm not sure that's good for his race team. ... But he's an animal behind the wheel and he's a pusher at the race shop, too, and I think he's a lot more mentally prepared than what I saw a year ago."

It's not as if Harvick wasn't a force while still handling day-to-day operations at KHI. He racked up seven wins, 25 top-fives and 19 top-10s over the last two seasons and in that span has been first (2010 at 8.7) and second ('11 with an 11.5) in average finish. But dropping team owner responsibilities should benefit Harvick, teammate Jeff Burton says.

"At the end of the day there's no way you're not thinking about it, wondering 'How am I going to be paying my employees? Where is the sponsorship coming from?'" he said. "To be able to focus on just driving, I think that's going to be easier for him."

While the offseason changes, which include a new crew chief in Shane Wilson, may be the path to Harvick's first career title, there's more to his life these days than just driving. Baby talk dominated Harvick's media sessions. While he expects fatherhood will affect him, don't expect it to alter his on-track demeanor. The driver who has had memorable feuds with the likes of Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards won't change. "Happy" will still be "Happy."

"[Being a father] probably won't cross my mind in those particular competitive situations," he said. "The drive and determination I don't think changes. Obviously you want to set the best example that you can, but the competitor in you is still who you are. The day that that goes away, you won't see me sitting here on the first day of the season."

Putting The Brakes On 'Sexy'

Danica Mania was on full display Thursday, with a throng of reporters leaving little doubt over who the main attraction was at Daytona.

During her 21 years in racing, Danica Patrick has grown all too accustomed to answering questions about performing in a male-dominated sport -- "Until it's 50/50 girls and boys you're going to hear that," she said -- but the former IndyCar Series driver, who is entering her first full-time season in NASCAR, takes umbrage when the topic turns to being "sexy."

"That has such a negative connotation to it," she said. "You don't frame it like that with a guy. It seems like with female athletes they only know how to describe them in a sexual way. I don't care, but I just wonder why there can't be other words for it. I'm not a wordsmith, but [maybe] something without the word 'sex' in it."

It is worth pointing out that Danica has been in numerous commercials that play up her sex appeal and also appeared in the pages of Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Issue in 2009.

A New Year, A New Joey

After a tumultuous year in which he finished a career-low 24th in the points standings, and dealt with talk of losing his ride if Carl Edwards would have joined Joe Gibbs Racing, Joey Logano has changed his colors -- literally.

The 21-year-old has a new look. Gone is the white and orange fire suit that he has worn behind the wheel of the No. 20 Toyota, replaced with a black version bearing the orange Home Depot logo.

"We're 'back in black,'" Logano said laughing. "I can [play the bad guy]."

Logano also changed crew chiefs. Gone is Greg Zipadelli and in steps Jason Ratcliff, who was atop the pit box for 36 wins in 11 Nationwide Series seasons.

Logano wasn't the only JGR driver to have his troubles in '11 -- Kyle Busch was banned at Texas and later chief sponsor M&Ms pulled out of the last two races of the season, and Denny Hamlin, after nearly winning the championship in '10, limped to ninth with just one victory . But it's Logano who may be under the most pressure to deliver this season.

Nicknamed "Sliced Bread," Logano entered the Cup series at 18 and has one victory and no playoff appearances with his contract year about to start. He also has one of the sport's most lucrative sponsorships, one accustomed to contending for titles when it backed Tony Stewart. Will it be willing to stay with Logano if he can't bounce back?

It's all set up for a make-or-break year for Logano, and he's not hiding from the challenge.

"I think this season is going to be strong," Logano said. "I've definitely got a new attitude about it, about what we're going to do this year."

Hometown Heroes

Paul Menard hasn't taken to Twitter. It's his PR contact that handles the official feed for the Richard Childress Racing No. 27 team. That made it all the more noticeable when the following tweet popped up on Feb. 15: "'Congratulations to Justin Vernon and @BonIver for their Grammy award! Made EC Memorial class of '99 proud!' -- Paul Menard."

The driver, an Eau Claire, Wisc., native and Vernon, founder of the alternative folk group, Bon Iver, which won a Grammy as Best New Artist, have known each other for 18 years

"We went to school together from sixth grade to graduation, played football together and [we've] been to many parties together and we've been friends," Menard said. "It's pretty cool."

If having produced a Brickyard 400 winner and a Grammy recipient weren't enough, Memorial High School, which boasts an enrollment of just over 1,700, also has Dallas Stars center Jake Dowell as a graduate.

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