WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- Kevin Harvick is still in awe of his
heart-stopping victory over Mark Martin in the Daytona 500 and the
requisite fame that has come with it.
"I've been fortunate to win the Brickyard 400, but there's
nothing that matches the Daytona 500," Harvick said. "It has an
effect worldwide. There's a lot more to it than a lot of people
realize. It's something I've kind of had to learn."
Though other wins pale in comparison to that signature victory,
Harvick counts his triumph in last August's Nextel Cup race at
Watkins Glen International as a breakthrough in his tenure driving for Richard Childress Racing.
"Personally, it was a major accomplishment in my career,"
Harvick said. "We'd been able to win on all the different types of
racetracks as we've gone through the years, but the road course
thing, we always had this little cloud over us. We had been in
contention to win and always had things happen. To finally do that was pretty satisfying."
Beating Tony Stewart made it even more enjoyable.
Stewart has five road course victories since coming to NASCAR in
1999 from open-wheel racing and had won three of the previous five
races at The Glen. Harvick passed him for the lead with three laps
to go with a gutsy inside maneuver coming out of the 11th and final
turn on the 2.45-mile natural terrain road course.
"Any time you succeed at something, you don't want to have it
handed to you," Harvick said. "It makes it a lot more rewarding
to do it against somebody that had been winning all of the races
there and been very successful on road courses. To go out and be
able to race with Tony was a lot of fun. In the end, it made it
that much more rewarding."
Harvick followed up that road course success in June by finishing second to Juan Pablo Montoya at Sonoma in the first of two road races on the 2007 Cup schedule. The second is Sunday's 220-mile Centurion Boats at The Glen event, and Harvick has some momentum coming off last week's road course victory at the Busch race in Montreal.
Preparing for the race will be a guessing game at first for the
teams attempting to qualify. NASCAR has not allowed any practice at
The Glen in the Car of Tomorrow, forcing teams to test elsewhere to
try to simulate what they might encounter on The Glen's high-speed turns.
"It's obviously going to change things," said Harvick, who
practiced in July at Virginia International Raceway in preparation
for The Glen. "You're going to have to go through some different
gearing, more so than normal. As you get through practice,
everybody kind of knows the tendencies of the cars now, and we've all tested a lot."
In the previous two races at Watkins Glen International,
cautions dashed the chances of victory for four-time Watkins Glen winner Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch.
In 2005, Gordon's No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet suffered a flat just
past the midway point of the race as a caution flag waved, and a
split second before he reached the commitment line to enter pit
road the red light went on, signaling the pits were closed. Gordon
had no alternative other than continuing into the pit, a violation
that relegated him to 37th on the ensuing restart. He finished 14th.
Last August, Busch won the pole, led 36 of the first 53 laps
after surviving a hard bump from Kasey Kahne on the first turn of
the race, and appeared to have the car to beat. But just past the
midpoint of the 90-lap race, Joe Nemechek spun off course and
brought out a caution for debris. Busch, following his crew's
instructions, began to head to the pit for tires and fuel. But just
as his front tires were about to cross the commitment line, the red
light went on. Busch continued and made his stop, then was sent to
the rear of the field on the restart as crew chief Roy McCauley kicked a tire in frustration.
"They played Russian roulette there," Harvick said. "You try
to be aware of what the situation is. If you know somebody's in the
sand trap or wrecked, you know that light's going to come on at
some point. If you're going to take that gamble, hopefully you get
there before. When you commit to pit road and you know the light's
going to come on, there's really no way out. Once you commit, it's tough to come back."
A year ago, Harvick was third heading into the Chase for the
Nextel Cup championship and this year he's ninth with five races
remaining before the cutoff. Only the top 12 drivers in the
standings after the first 26 races of the season qualify to compete for the title.
Harvick, who finished 17th in the Pennsylvania 500 on Aug. 5, likes his position.
"It's a lot easier to lose points than it is to gain," said
Harvick, who finished fifth in the final standings to 2006 Cup
champion Jimmie Johnson. "We just have to keep doing the things
we're doing, try to be as consistent as possible to keep that
happening. Last year, we were fortunate to win the last race of the
regular season and the first race of the Chase. Then we struggled for three or four weeks.
"Hopefully, we can time it right this year and get the momentum
in the Chase instead of right before it."