MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Coming off a season in which he finished 19th in points and missed the Chase for the championship, Kevin Harvick appears calm and relaxed so far this season.
The reason is simple: The turn of the calendar meant a turnaround in his fortunes.
“We’ve had a good, solid five weeks and that’s what we set out to do at the beginning of the year, was to start well and run solid and run up front and lead laps and we’ve been fortunate to do that,” Harvick said on Saturday at Martinsville Speedway, where his status as the points leader after those five races put him on today’s pole when qualifying was rained out.
“Hopefully, we can have 31 more.”
Starting with a seventh-place run in the season-opening Daytona 500, Harvick has finished in the top five twice, the top 10 four times, and was 11th in the other race. A year ago, he had just five top-five finishes and nine top-10s after all 36 races had been run.
While Harvick is leading the way, the resurgence at Richard Childress Racing is across the board. One year after all four RCR drivers failed to qualify for the 10-race Chase for the championship, teammates Jeff Burton (seventh) and Clint Bowyer (12th) are both in the top 12.
It’s a turnaround even Childress can’t fully explain.
“You can’t put your hand on any one thing,” he said. “We changed a lot of personnel, we did a lot of different things and hopefully it’s going to pay off by the end of the year.”
Childress also did away with his fourth team, and the improved consistency of the teams remaining has helped make for more enjoyable weekends all around, the owner said.
“Anytime you’re running good, it’s not easier, but it’s not as painful to come to the races,” he said before Saturday’s truck race in which Harvick also started based first on points.
“We’ve had years like last year, and you’ve got to learn how to cope with it and know that you’re going to get batter. You’ve got to be able to see the light in front of you.”
Now, the light Harvick sees is the one in Victory Lane.
He hasn’t been there as a winner since 2007, and hoped to use the truck race as an opportunity to learn something about the track that might help him end that drought today.
“Some people would rather relax by not doing anything,” he said. “I would rather be in a vehicle on the racetrack because I feel like there is always something you can learn.”
Harvick has come close, finishing second twice this season, while Burton’s best finish is a third at California, and Bowyer’s is the fourth he opened the season with at Daytona.
The good news, Burton said, is that opportunities to win have been there.
“We’ve run well and had fast race cars at every race, and I don’t necessarily have the finishes to show for it,” he said, listing the California race as his best chance to win.
“A lot of people said, ‘Well, (Johnson) got a lucky break,’ ” he said. “They did, but we restarted third with enough laps left to go win the race, but we didn’t make it happen.”
Bowyer has struggled in the past two races, finishing 23rd at Atlanta and 40th last weekend at Bristol when his engine failed, but started the season with three consecutive top-10 runs. He said getting back to running up front is certain to lead to some wins.
“If you run in the top-five long enough, you are going to get yourself a win. Probably multiple wins,” he said. “We have got to get a little bit better. We have closed the gap a quite a bit from last year and we are really excited about the rest of the season.”
It’s a feeling being enjoyed throughout the Childress operation.