NASCAR & Auto Racing

Ownership brings calming influence to fiery Harvick

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) - Kevin Harvick hasn't won a Sprint Cup race since last year's Daytona 500.

Three years ago, such a drought would be cause for blasting teammates, bosses, NASCAR officials and anyone else who dared cross him. These days, he's quietly finishing in the top five most weeks and settling in at No. 2 in the points as he pursues an elusive series championship.

The difference? His time as a team owner is certainly part of the answer.

"I think you can see a more mature Kevin on the track. I do," said DeLana Harvick, his wife and co-owner of Kevin Harvick Inc. "I can see a more mature Kevin when he relates to other drivers."

The man who stepped into Dale Earnhardt's ride after his death struggled with the role of replacing a NASCAR legend. He had an early handle on the winning part, getting three of his 11 career victories as a rookie in the top series. He wasn't quite so smooth off the track, where his feuds were frequent, messy, public affairs.

It's safe to say DeLana Harvick watched uneasily when her husband and Juan Pablo Montoya had an on-track confrontation after a wreck at Watkins Glen last year.

"I was sitting there thinking, 'All right, is he going to punch him? What's he going to do?"' DeLana Harvick said. "And you know what? He had a heated discussion with him. A couple of years ago, he probably would have put a choke hold on him and kind of gotten out of control."

Harvick has been an owner for seven years - about as long as he's been a Sprint Cup driver. He and DeLana Harvick started their partnership as a side business in 2001, the year of the devastating Earnhardt death and the year they got married. He finished second in his only Craftsman Truck series race, good enough to decide to continue with a limited schedule in 2002. Building gradually since, the Harvicks won the truck series title with Ron Hornaday Jr. last year, and they have a 70,000-square-foot facility in Kernersville, N.C.

During a recent media session in Texas, there weren't any questions about Harvick's Sprint Cup victory drought, which is up to 41 races. Nobody seemed to notice that he could become the first five-time winner at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend after four previous Nationwide Series victories.

Most of the questions were about ownership, and temperament. He smiled a lot, was quick to call himself a "grouch" and said he's grown to accept everything that comes with being a NASCAR star.

"Over the past couple of years I really learned that I really like what I do and everything is not a burden," Harvick said. "These events are not a burden. I learned to like those things and not be as grumpy."

Harvick's desire to win hasn't changed. That's part of why the two-time Nationwide Series champion decided two years ago to drive one of his own cars on that circuit.

But his perspective has changed. He understands better why an underperforming car can't be scrapped in the middle of a race weekend, and why some decisions must be made with more than the driver in mind.

The biggest beneficiary of Harvick's hobby is his boss on the big circuit, Richard Childress, who picked him to replace Earnhardt and nearly lost him two years ago when Harvick's contract was up and the team was struggling.

"It helped my relationship with him to understand from another aspect other than just the greedy driver that wants everything for his team right now," Harvick said. "In the end, you have to run it like a company. It is a business, and it all has to add up."

Owning gives Harvick another link to Earnhardt, who started a team in 1980. Harvick stops those comparisons quickly, though. Earnhardt's focus was on the big series as he approached retirement, Harvick said, whereas he and his wife have no plans to add a Sprint Cup car. They're happy with two trucks and Harvick's Nationwide ride.

"I have an ego problem," the 32-year-old Harvick said. "I like to watch Hornaday win. I like to compete in my own car on Saturday. A lot of people think you're crazy, but I just like the challenge."

DeLana Harvick sees things from the business side.

"I watch what Richard does on a daily basis, and I don't know that I want that for the rest of my life," she said.

Harvick understands he's a driver for Richard Childress Racing first and an owner second. Plus, the Childress operation helps Harvick's outfit, with the clear understanding that Harvick knows the source of plenty of funding for his company.

He doesn't see ownership as a path to early retirement as a driver. In fact, he calls being an owner "my golf game" and sees himself doing both for a while.

"I don't go on vacation. I don't go play golf," he said. "I like racing. I love being around the cars. I love being around the people. I like what I do."

He's acting more like he enjoys it, too.