KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Meet Kevin Harvick, the Rodney Dangerfield of NASCAR racing.
More than anyone else in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Harvick uses “them-versus-us” psychology to get the most out of his prodigious driving talent.
After Harvick won his first NASCAR Sprint Cup pole in seven years Friday at Kansas Speedway, he was asked whether that achievement was a statement to those who had called the Chase a three-man race between Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch.
Harvick went straight into his “I don’t get no respect” routine, talking not about Friday’s accomplishment but about his first meeting with reporters before February’s Daytona 500.
“To be honest with you, I walked into media day, and there were two people standing in line to conduct interviews, so from day one of this year, everybody’s kind of written us off,” Harvick said.
Then he returned to present tense.
“We’re three races into the Chase, and it is what it is,” Harvick continued. “We’ve done our thing and put ourselves in position to just go out and race and enjoy it.”
Why does Harvick feel reporters have discounted his chances for a first NASCAR Sprint Cup title? Because Harvick is a lame duck at Richard Childress Racing this year, having announced plans to join Stewart-Haas Racing at the end of the season.
Lame ducks don’t win NASCAR Sprint Cup championships. That, at least, is the conventional wisdom in the garage and in the press room.
But don’t tell Harvick that. And don’t tell him that the rest of the world isn’t out to get him. Those sorts of thoughts get his blood up, and for Harvick, that’s a good thing.
Harvick had plenty of reason to think everything from NASCAR to the forces of nature were conspiring against him at Kansas. After dominating the early stages of the race, Harvick brought his No. 29 Chevrolet to pit road on Lap 82 of 267, handing the lead to Jimmie Johnson.
During the cycle of pit stops, NASCAR called a caution for debris in Turn 3, debris that turned out to be a piece of duct tape. The caution buried Harvick in 25th place for a restart on Lap 92. On the team radio, Harvick left little doubt how he felt about the timing of the yellow.
An astute call by crew chief Gil Martin to keep Harvick on the track under caution put the 29 back in the lead for a restart on Lap 146. Martin was hoping for a long green-flag run, but a grass fire on the bank outside Turn 1 covered the track with smoke, caused another caution and foiled his plans.
Despite the adversity, Harvick persevered and won the race, notching his third victory of the season and moving into third place in the standings, 25 points behind Kenseth, the Chase leader.
In a calmer moment after the race, Harvick explained his feelings.
“Obviously, the first thing you think of is, ‘Man, I got screwed up there,’ or ‘Somebody is screwing us,’ and they were just calling the race,” he said. “And us sitting in the car… it’s frustrating sitting on the pit box or sitting watching the race.
“You always think everybody is out to get you. But, luckily, today it all worked out.”
That doesn’t mean that, next time, Harvick won’t think the world is out to get him again. That’s not a chip on his shoulder — it’s a two-by-four, and if you rile him, he’ll swat you with it.
If you tell Harvick he can’t do something, he’ll try twice as hard to prove you wrong.
So don’t tell the hard-core racer from Bakersfield that lame ducks can’t win championships.
And don’t tell Harvick he’s out of contention in the Chase.
Unless you want him to win it.