Kevin Harvick truly is having an exceptional year.
Not only has he been running at or near the top of the points standings on the Cup side, he's also been faring well when he steps into a Nationwide or Camping World Truck series vehicle.
The sport's most recent winner after taking the victory in Saturday's Nationwide race at Nashville Superspeedway, Harvick now prepares to head to Phoenix International Raceway, a track where he has two wins in Cup races. He also has 10 consecutive top-10 finishes in Nationwide races there and has won four of the last five Phoenix Truck races he's entered.
Sounds promising, doesn't it?
Recently, Harvick was asked if running well in the Truck and Nationwide Series aided his Sprint Cup effort. His answer should offer a source of concern for the rest of the field. After all, he's coming off a runner-up finish in the Truck race and that Nationwide win during the recent Cup off week.
"I think having fun and running good is something that eases your mind on everything else, and there is just no pressure when you are racing in Nationwide or the Truck Series," Harvick says. "So, you can go and really push the limits and find those limits and do things you normally wouldn't do just because there is really nothing at stake. It is fun. It eases my mind. It lets me relax.
"Some people would rather relax by not doing anything. For me, I am at the track. I would rather be in a vehicle on the racetrack because I feel like there is always something you can learn. It is just a matter of approach as to how you relax, and that is how I like to relax."
If speeding up the learning curve is a source of relaxation, then Harvick should certainly be feeling relatively laid back this season.
After all, he and his Gil Martin-led Richard Childress Racing team are clearly back on top of their game. While they've endured some races that were more problematic than others -- something evident in his setbacks at Martinsville Speedway after starting that rain-delayed race from the pole and finishing 35th on March 29 -- overall, things have gone fairly well for the group.
"We had a part failure, which is something we're not accustomed to having here lately," Martin said of the brake problem. "We haven't had anything like that happen in so long, it's kind of amazing that it did. It's just one of those things that happens. We were running well when that happened. We had been leading and running second at Martinsville most of the race, and to have a part failure and have us to finish 35th was pretty devastating, but we'll go to Phoenix this week and try to rebound from that."
Coming off a season in which he and his RCR teammates all failed to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Harvick and company have clearly regrouped and done their homework on the new-model car. While last week's shift to a spoiler throws a new wrinkle into the season, Harvick's clearly been one of the drivers to watch this season.
Throughout this early run, he's commented on how critical it was for his team to rebound. Harvick's in the final year of his contract with RCR, and while he hasn't hinted as to his future plans -- he's said he won't publicly negotiate -- performance will likely be a major factor in the decision.
As to the trials he's faced, and his team is overcoming this season, he says the key to that were internal changes made, from crew chief swaps to the movement of Scott Miller into a more integral role in the overall management of the competition department.
"Well, I've been through a couple of those periods," he says. "I've been in RCR and we have always rebounded. I think that the biggest thing that everybody learns from it is you still just don't like to run like that. It's more embarrassing from everybody's standpoint; it's not just from the driver's standpoint. Everyone gets frustrated pretty easily."
Now the team has clearly turned things around and made a step in the right direction. Martin says part of the reason is that the group seems to be avoiding the setbacks that caught it last season.
"Last year, we had a lot of good runs going and we had a lot of things happen. We'd get involved in somebody else's accident or untimely cautions would come out, and so far this season - knock on wood - we've had a little bit of that stuff go our way," Martin said. "I'm a little bit surprised about that because I haven't been used to it."
Harvick led the points for four weeks this season, losing the lead after Martinsville. Still, he's fourth in the standings after six races and has earned a pair of runner-up finishes this year.
He's also been a force in the Nationwide and Truck Series, where he drives on a part-time basis for the Kevin Harvick, Inc. team he owns with his wife, DeLana. He has two wins in five Nationwide starts, pushing his tally to 36 overall in that series, and a pair of wins in three Truck starts, for a total of eight overall there. Combined with his 11 career Cup wins, he now has 55 overall NASCAR victories to his credit.
Still, the Cup team's looking for a win. Harvick's last points-paying victory came in the 2007 Daytona 500, a stretch of 123 races. He also won the exhibition All-Star race that season. Still, his team's working to continue to gain ground.
As to the lack of a victory, Harvick seems focused as much on keeping things headed in the right direction as anything else right now. With the team's commitment and continued presence near the front in races, it seems a win could come at any time, especially with the kind of roll he's been on this season.
"Obviously we've had a couple of chances to win and haven't quite gotten that done, but the guys are going a great job," Harvick said.
The reason for that? In part, an offseason to get prepared as a group. After joining Harvick's team during the 2009 run, Martin sees the benefits of the team having a full offseason together.
Now, they're all reaping the rewards of those hours of hard work.
"It's so hard when you swap teams in the middle of the season and you can't set your goals like you would in the winter," Martin said. "In the winter you set your goals on winning races, getting in the Chase and winning the championship. You've got those goals that you set. When you switch teams in the middle of the season, or you do something where you know some of those goals have already been eliminated, like being in the Chase or having the chance to go into the championship, it leaves you to where you're just working for the next season.
"I think that's one of the things. Everybody got to go into the year with a fresh start and a clean slate. That helps a lot, not only just in attitude, not just in Kevin, but the whole race team."