Harvick's chief happy to be back

Updated: April 22, 2005, 4:10 PM ET
Associated Press

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Kevin Harvick's crew chief returned from a four-race suspension Thursday to help set up the No. 29 Chevrolet for the Nextel Cup race Saturday night at Phoenix International Raceway.

"It was really tough not being at the track,'' Todd Berrier said. "That has been my whole life. I've been going to a racetrack and working on cars forever, so to be told, 'You can't go' was really hard.''

NASCAR suspended Berrier on March 15, days after officials determined he rigged Harvick's fuel cell to appear full when it contained only the few gallons of gas needed for qualifying in Las Vegas.

"I knew we would get penalized for the fuel cell when we left the track,'' Berrier said. "I didn't expect it to be as bad as it was.''

In addition to the suspension, Berrier was fined $25,000 and Harvick docked 25 points -- a penalty which cost him a spot in the top 10 in this week's standings. Harvick, 12th with 845 points, would rank ahead of Tony Stewart (849) and Dale Jarrett (853) if not for the missing points.

Richard Childress Racing appealed the deduction, fine and length of suspension to no avail.

The scandal didn't keep Harvick from getting his fifth career victory April 3 at Bristol, when he passed 42 other cars after a last-place start. But he ran 32nd at Martinsville and 13th at Texas.

"We had a top-five car at Martinsville until the clutch broke,'' Berrier said. "From what the guys told me, last week the setup was pretty good, but for the first time this year Kevin said the motor didn't have what it needed.''

Harvick was glad to have his crew chief back before the Subway Fresh 500, the first night race of the season.

"With that said, I can't tell you how proud I am of (RCR chief engineer) Scott Miller and all the guys for stepping up in Todd's absence,'' Harvick said. "They did a great job, and I have a lot of respect for the job that everyone did during a tough situation.''

Harvick was ninth after the first practice Thursday, but slipped to 23rd after the evening practice despite improving his best lap to 129.683 mph. Ryan Newman, second in the afternoon, set the pace at 131.598, followed by Joe Nemechek at 131.454 and Dave Blaney at 131.272.

The 312-mile event is the first at Phoenix since lights were installed over the winter at the one-mile oval.

Harvick was one of nine Nextel Cup drivers who entered Friday night's 200-mile Busch Series race to get extra track time in darkened conditions before the main event. He said fans should take to it, probably more than the racers.

"The big thing is how much, if any, the track will change,'' said Harvick, a two-time winner at Phoenix in the Craftsman Truck series. "They aren't giving us a night practice, so there will be a little bit of guesswork.''

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press