Ford Performance NASCAR: Kevin Harvick Bristol Q&A Session

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Friday, August 17, 2018

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Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Fusion, is fresh off his series-leading seventh win of the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.  He stopped by the Bristol Motor Speedway infield media center before practice today and talked about a variety of subjects.


KEVIN HARVICK, No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Fusion – ARE YOU SURPRISED AT THE PUSHBACK NASCAR IS GETTING ABOUT THE ALL-STAR RULES PACKAGE?  YOU SAID A LOT OF THOUGHT AND EFFORT NEEDS TO BE PUT IN BEFORE ANY MAJOR DECISION IS MADE.  “Yeah, and those are really my thoughts is just making sure it’s right.  The pushback doesn’t surprise me.”


WHAT DOES IT FEEL LIKE TO GO THROUGH THE GATE EVERY WEEKEND KNOWING YOU HAVE A SHOT TO WIN?  “It’s fun.  The biggest thing for me is I’ve been totally on the opposite side of this and you come to the race track knowing that you don’t have a chance every week and what are you gonna do to fix it and how are you gonna fix it.  Now, you know you have a shot.  Coming to the race track you’ve got a group of guys and a team and an organization and a manufacturer and everybody who is trying to figure out how to keep it going and doing everything that they can to keep progressing the cars and the team and everything around it.  For me, it’s kind of full circle and I think over the last almost five years now we’ve been fortunate to have a lot of success – nothing is really different this year.  It’s the same group of people, the same organization.  I shouldn’t say there’s nothing different.   There’s a lot different with just being in the second year with Ford and being able to have four cars that are running well says a lot about the organization, but I think as you look back and go back to 2014, I feel like we’re in the same position, just didn’t capitalize on the amount of race-win opportunities that we had just from part failures and inexperience and mistakes and all the things that we did that year.  We were able to win a championship, but that was a year that I put the performance right up next to where we are, even 2015, but I think this year we’ve just capitalized on more moments to win races and in the end that’s really what it’s all about is how many times do you get to Victory Lane.”


IS IT A BIT EASIER TO STAY FOCUSED WHEN THINGS ARE GOING THIS WELL?  “That’s a good question just because of the fact that I feel like there’s a lot of pressure on a lot of things outside of racing currently.  I think everybody in the garage hears that and is a part of that and understands that, so making sure that you control those thoughts and the things that come with that are difficult, but I think the success is obviously what everybody is here for and when you get that on the weekends and you’re able to do those types of things and you don’t have to be a part of the process and the push to fight every week of what you do to get there, I think that really helps keep everybody motivated.  It’s a grind and I think as you see Elliott and Kasey and some of these guys kind of call it quits, the common theme out of both of those retirements is not physical or didn’t have anything to drive, it’s the grind and ‘I want to spend more time with my family.’  That’s the part that you hear out of both of those situations, so the lifestyle and the things that come with it are tough and that’s really harder right now than putting the cars on the race track is just making sure you keep everybody motivated and I think, for us, it’s good timing for the off week.  I like the off week being a couple weeks before the Playoffs start because that’s really when it takes another step of intensity and you’ve got to be ready for that mentally.”


YOU SAID ON HAPPY HOURS THAT YOU FELT LIKE THE PROPOSED PACKAGE WAS ESSENTIALLY LIKE THE IRL – WIDE-OPEN ALL THE TIME.  IS A PART OF THIS CONVERSATION ESSENTIALLY HAVING TO JUSTIFY TO THE RACING COMMUNITY GOING FROM DRIVING INTO THE CORNER AS HARD AS YOU CAN COMING UP THROUGH THE RANKS AND THEN HAVING TO LIFT VERSUS JUST HOLDING IT WIDE-OPEN AT THE HIGHEST LEVEL?  “Well, the thing I said was the drivers just want to make sure – the initial question from the fan was, ‘Why do the drivers council and the drivers keep saying no to the All-Star package.’  First off, we don’t have that authority to give those answers.  We give our feedback and I think as you look at the direction that is possibly talked about, I think it’s got more horsepower and it’s got more things that come with that drafting package.  Like I say, my biggest concern all along is that it’s right because in the end it’s a different rules package, it’s a change, it’s gonna cost the teams money, and it’s gonna be different.  So I think as you do those types of things you’ve just got to make sure it’s right, and that’s really my concern.  As far as what the rules and things are, I’m way past worrying about it.  I think my team will succeed at whatever the rules are and be able to get to Victory Lane and do the things that it takes.  We just need to know what the rules are so we can start working on them.  There’s a set timeframe that those rules come out and as long as there’s that possibility and the reference that I made to IndyCar racing was just the fact that changing the rules from low downforce to high downforce, I think there are some things to be learned from the IndyCar side to make sure that we don’t make those same mistakes.”
WHAT IS THE LESSON TO BE LEARNED?  “Don’t do the same thing they did just because of the fact that in the racing community IndyCar was at a peak and things went downhill when things started to split up and rules started to change.  It was just a mess, and it’s taken them a long time to get back to where they are today and those are the types of things that you just don’t want to see.”


WHAT ARE YOUR OFF WEEK PLANS?  “I honestly don’t know yet.  Keelan has to go to school, so that’s really the main priority is he starts school next Wednesday and everything will pretty much revolve around that and how that’s going.  I will be there first day.  A lot of you guys have kids and you want to make sure that what they’re doing they’re comfortable with and going to school after being home all summer you just have to make sure that things are going well so that when you leave mom is not pinned against the wall and not happy.  That’s really part of the lifestyle that we live and part of the situation that we constantly work on and are working on currently is just to make sure that life in general is liveable and making sure that it coincides with the things that you’re doing here to flow well.  So as he gets older and he does different things it becomes different and the amount of time that it takes, whether it’s him playing sports or going to school, but the off week, where it falls, it revolves around what he does and getting him comfortable in school.  That’s really the only plan because you never know where it’s gonna go on Day 1.”


ANY HEAT FROM THE QUARTER-MIDGET OR POST-RACE RIDE TO VICTORY LANE LAST WEEK FROM DELANA?  “Yeah, the quarter-midget didn’t go over well.  Eating pizza for dinner every night didn’t go over well and running the golf cart into the tree didn’t go over well.  The victory lap kind of covered a lot of that up and it was really neat that we were able to make that happen just because of the fact that he and I had actually been talking about it and how often do things like that happen when you’re just randomly talking about a situation like that and able to actually make it happen, but it was pretty cool to climb back in the car to do a victory lap and the first thing I did was reach over and give knuckles to my son sitting in the passenger seat.  He did get stage fright, though.  They told me they had to basically carry him out there.  He got to the wall and he was like, ‘I don’t want to go.  I don’t think this is a good idea.’  So as we got him over there and he was able to be within a football field of me, instead of being right next to me, he was way more comfortable than being within a football field of me, so it was just a great moment and super-happy that NASCAR was willing to cooperate and let us do what we wanted to do.  What a memory and to be able to do that as a dad, all you dads know that’s pretty cool to celebrate stuff like that with your son at work.”


IS THE CHANGE YOU WENT THROUGH FROM CHEVROLET TO FORD IN ANY WAY SIMILAR TO THE CHANGE YOU’RE ABOUT TO GO THROUGH FROM THE FUSION TO THE MUSTANG?  AND WERE THERE THINGS YOU LEARNED IN THAT PROCESS THAT WILL HELP WITH THIS ONE?  “I think there are things we learned in the process for sure.  As you look at what we’re going to do I think we’ll be way ahead of where we were there because it wasn’t just changing the body before, it was taking on building your own chassis and starting your own complete engineering department and a lot of other things that came with what we did the first year, and you put the engine in the car and the chassis doesn’t work, and the steering components didn’t work, and it was just one problem after another and the manufacturing side of things when we first went to Ford were quite an undertaking.  So I think as you look at it, making sure that you have all of the aero pieces in place that are already in place and the process and, really, we can work on the current car and the current rules and the things that we have, so going back to the Autoweek question over here, I think the most important thing for us is seeing our car in whatever rules package is going to be – the secondary rules package – so we know what we’re working with and what the speeds are gonna be and how it needs to be built and all those types of things.  There’s a lot of things to work on, but I don’t think it’s near as big of an undertaking as what we did and I think our organization will be well positioned to work on the things that we need to and excited about the project.  I don’t think anybody would have pushed to make sure that we kept doing the Mustang project if we didn’t think it was better.”


WHAT ABOUT YOUR THROWBACK SCHEME AT DARLINGTON WITH THE OLD-SCHOOL BUSCH COLORS AND THE WINSTON WEST THROWBACK?  WHAT MEMORIES DOES THAT EVOKE FOR YOU?  “Yeah, obviously Busch is a throwback to a can during that particular era.  The car looks good and I think on the XFINITY side, for me, that was a 1998 throwback that we’re doing to the Spears championship car.  That was probably one of the most fun years that I’ve ever had in racing.  We traveled up and down the road in a 1977 Winnebago and a 24-foot trailer because that’s what Wayne told us that we had to use when we didn’t have the truck and trailer that were at the truck races, so we had more fun in that motorhome than we probably did any other time that I’ve ever raced stock cars.  We had one car.  We had a group of guys that just loved to race and we raced all but one race, I believe, that year with the truck series and wound up winning the West Series championship that we weren’t even supposed to run.  So it was a fun year and to have Hunt Brother’s kind of throw it back to that year for me is a lot of fun and definitely had some input on that one.”


IS THERE A DRIVER ON YOUR RADAR WHO HAS THE CAPABILITY OF BEING A SUNDAY DRIVER IN THE NEAR FUTURE?  “I think the process has changed so much with where everything is and I think as you’ve seen how long it takes for somebody to come over to the Cup Series and be comfortable to win races.  I think it’s different than what it used to be.  I don’t think the expectations need to be put on those guys to come over here and win.  I think they need to come over here and get comfortable.  I don’t think there’s anybody that is currently over there that’s gonna come straight in here and win races.  I think there are a lot of guys that have the potential to come over here and get settled over two or three years just as Chase Elliott and Erik Jones and Ryan Blaney and all those guys are.  I think from a marketing side they get so much pressure put on them to win and I don’t think that’s fair.  With the way that the XFINITY Series is now, not having the Cup drivers in their series as much, and I watched the Truck race last night, that race would have been won – if Kyle was in that race that race would have been won on the top and the top groove would have been run in way faster just from somebody who is comfortable to go up there.  It’s kind of monkey-see, monkey-do.  When you see that guy do it and he’s comfortable up there and making lap time and doing those type of things, then you go up there and do it and you experience those things for the first time.  So I think that’s just one example of the things that they don’t learn that they will learn once they get here, and it’s just gonna take more time for them to win races, in my opinion, and I think that’s just the new norm with the way that the process is set up through the Trucks and XFINITY now.”


HOW MUCH FUN IS IT TO BE IN THE BOOTH AND IS THERE ANY PRESSURE?  “There’s really no pressure.  I like doing the TV stuff and going up there and getting that experience and trying something that you hope is what you do down the road and enjoy.  So you go up there and say what you think.  It’s like sitting with your buddies watching the race on the couch and talking about racing, and that’s what Michael and Vince and all those guys do up there.  On pit road they’re doing the exact same thing talking about racing, so that part is easy.”


DID KASEY’S DECISION SURPRISE YOU?  IF YOU FINISH OUTSIDE THE TOP 15 IN POINTS FOUR OR FIVE YEARS IN A ROW IS IT WORTH THE GRIND?  “I don’t know anybody’s personal position, and I don’t know Kasey’s personal position.  It didn’t really surprise me.  I thought that maybe he might have another opportunity to be in the same car or a different car or something that he could race, but it’s different, especially for Kasey.  He’s got his sprint car team he can still go and race, and listening to him talk about his priorities and wanting to spend more time with his family is definitely something that it can drive you to and not running well can definitely contribute to that more than running well – it definitely changes your decision.  It’s a constant evaluation of the things that you do.  I know for us we’re going through the same type of evaluation from what we do at this particular point and how you spend your time and the way that you manage your time.  I’ve heard a lot of people say, ‘Are you retiring?’  I’m like, ‘No, I’m not retiring,’ but you’re gonna see a lot of decisions come out that make you think that I am, but it’s really all about making sure that you have your time managed and do things that make sure that family is first and racing.  We’ll worry about the retirement thing in a few years when we have to start thinking about that stuff.”





Greg Engle
About Greg Engle 7421 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.