NASCAR: Harvick needs strong nrun in Charlotte

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 12, 2011

By Jenna Fryer
Associated Press
CONCORD ó Kevin Harvick seriously dislikes Charlotte Motor Speedway, and in case he needed a reminder, the track staff put together a video with some of his most memorable sound bites:
óîWhen I pull in the gate, I just have a bad attitude here.î
óîIt would be nice if they filled this place with water, nothing ever goes right and I hate coming here.î
óîFor me, itís just been that one racetrack that just frustrates the hell out of me that I canít figure out.î
And what did he say five months ago after winning the prestigious Coca-Cola 600?
ěEven though we won, Iím still miserable. In about 30 minutes I will be happy when we drive out of that tunnel.î
So, itís safe to assume Harvick is dreading this weekís return to the suburban Charlotte track. Itís probably not the best approach, though, particularly at this stage of the season.
Harvick goes into Saturday nightís race second in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship standings, trailing Carl Edwards by just one point. Neither driver is particularly strong at Charlotte, but the two swept the May events. Edwards won the $1 million All-Star Race and Harvick won the 600, the longest race on the NASCAR schedule, a week later.
But Harvickís win was a bit of anomaly. He struggled through a large part of the race, only to recover and put himself near the front in what ultimately turned into a fuel-mileage race. Dale Earnhardt Jr. seemed to have the victory in hand, but ran out of gas on the last lap and Harvick sailed by for the surprise win.
ěI canít be grumpy because we did win the last race here,î Harvick admitted. ěIt was a fuel-mileage race, but still we were running fifth on the last restart. That would have been like a victory in itself if we had finished fifth. Things have been going a lot better.î
The 600 win, combined with his victory in the 2007 All-Star race, make up the bulk of the $5.2 million in winnings Harvick has earned at Charlotte over his career. That alone led him to promise track president Marcus Smith heíll ěcome with a good attitudeî this week.
But that might not be the easiest thing for Harvick considering his record at Charlotte. In 21 career starts, he has just five top-10 finishes. Two came in his first two visits to the track, and two were in his last two visits.
Everything in between has been all over the map.
ěWeíve definitely run better at Charlotte over the last couple of years. For us thatís a huge step,î Harvick said. ěIn the past, itís been a place where you just want to come and survive and try to get a top-10. From a driverís standpoint, itís just never been a racetrack where Iíve had a great feel. Thereís nothing wrong with the surface, nothing wrong with the shape of the racetrack or anything like that. Itís just from a performance standpoint, we just donít have the stats that we need.î
Thatís not been too much of a problem for Harvick over the first month of the Chase. He opened the playoffs with a second-place finish at Chicago to take over sole possession of the points lead, then a 12th-place finish at New Hampshire dropped him one spot after Round 2.
He was back to the top of the leaderboard with a 10th-place run at Dover, and looked like he might leave Kansas with his ranking intact as Edwards struggled through the early part of the race. Then Edwards rebounded, making a very late pass of Harvick to finish fifth to Harvickís sixth. It broke a tie between the two in the standings, and gave Edwards the lead.
ěThat last pass of Kevin meant a lot. We both knew it too,î Edwards said. ěWe knew since we were tied that whoever finished first would be ahead one point, so that was good that we were able to do that.î
But Harvick took a big-picture approach to Kansas, where he figured heíd struggle compared to Edwards and race winner Jimmie Johnson, and plans to do the same with Charlotte.
ěWe knew (Edwards) and (Johnson) were going to be really good and weíve been OK at best,î Harvick said. ěTo get out of (Kansas), and hopefully we can go to Charlotte and do the same thing, and then if weíre still close, itíll be on after that.î