DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Kevin Harvick had a very carefully scripted and detailed plan worked out by Richard Childress Racing for breaking into NASCAR’s premier Sprint Cup Series.
But as happens many times in this sport, plans change fast.
When Dale Earnhardt was killed on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, Harvick was thrust into the Cup series in the second week of the season, taking over driving duties for the team Earnhardt made famous.
Gone was the carefully laid out plan, announced with great fanfare less than a week before the accident at a Daytona Beach hotel.
Ahead laid the limelight, scrutiny and expectations that came with taking over one of NASCAR’s most successful teams.
Now, 13 years later, Harvick gets a re-do of sorts.
After a successful career with RCR that includes 23 Cup series victories – including the 2007 Daytona 500 – and a pair of Nationwide series championships, Harvick decided to part ways with RCR and forge a new direction with Stewart-Haas Racing.
It begins in Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited, the non-points event featuring pole winners and former winners of the event that unofficially kicks off each season. Harvick has won the race in three of the last five seasons.
“We had kind of mapped out a plan as to how my Sprint Cup career was going to go, and it kind of went the whole opposite, 180 degrees of I guess what you would call calm and planned direction,” said Harvick, who will drive the No. 4 Chevrolet at SHR.
“As we moved into Dale’s car and everything happened at Daytona, it just all started backwards and wound up with a group of people that you didn’t really know and had to live up to expectations that weren’t really created by anything I had really done in my career.”
Harvick begins the new year with plenty of his own credentials, having accomplished nearly every milestone the sport offers.
Except one – the Cup series championship.
Harvick insists the title is the only and most important goal of the 2014 season.
“I don’t think it was that I could never win a championship (at RCR). It’s just that we hadn’t won a championship there, and it had been 10 or 12 years and we hadn’t won a championship,” he said.
“It was just kind of like, ‘What do we need to do to try to figure that out?’ I hadn’t ever not been able to accomplish that in any division that I ever raced in during my racing career.
“It was something that I wanted to figure out personally, and just a lot of things happened.”
Will he succeed? Time will tell.
Harvick begins the season with new owners (Tony Stewart and Gene Haas), a new crew chief (Rodney Childers) and perhaps an improved outlook.
In the past two years, he and his wife, DeLana, have had their first child and gave up ownership in a very successful team that fielded Nationwide and Truck series teams.
Harvick’s home address may have changed, but the destination has not.
“Everybody’s goal (at SHR) is to race for a championship. Tony and Kurt (Busch) are fortunate to have done that already. I’ve been there and finished 21st in the points, too,” Harvick said.
“There’s two sides to that. You can be really happy with finishing third and finish 20th the next year and be really happy the year after and finish third in the points again.
“I expect to win and race for a championship. That’s why I came here.”
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