Kevin Harvick has some history – solid history – in the Sprint Unlimited, the race formerly known as the Budweiser Shootout.
Slick in the Daytona International Speedway draft, Harvick owns a pair of wins (2009 and 2010) in the season’s first (although a non-points) race.
In eight appearances in the Unlimited/Shootout, he has six top 10s, an excellent record for a race known for its uncertainties.
Speaking of uncertainty, a swath of that is likely to follow Harvick for much of this season as he runs in what will be his final season for Richard Childress Racing. Harvick is scheduled to move on to Stewart-Haas Racing for 2014, and it will be natural for there to be a bundle of curiosity about how Harvick and team members handle a delicate situation.
“I expect it to be fun,” Harvick said. “Obviously, everything needs to perform well. For a guy sitting in the driver’s seat, that bodes well for what everybody wants to achieve. The bottom line is it doesn’t matter where I’m going to drive next year because right now it’s all about this year and making cars fast. Everybody here wants to win races.”
And that “everybody” includes the full complement of employees at RCR, which scored only one race win – Harvick’s late-season run at Phoenix – across three Sprint Cup teams last year.
Harvick’s No. 29 traditionally has been the lead car for RCR, however, and the unusual nature of this season will put even more focus on his performance. And the arrival of the Gen-6 car adds another element to an uncertain mix.
“I think the door is wide open for anybody this year,” Harvick said. “I think as you look at the new car coming in, there’s a lot of unknowns. We haven’t even raced them in a complete pack yet, so you’ve got to understand where you are. There’s going to be people that hit it and people that don’t.
“I think as you go into the new year you have a pretty unique situation here with the new car and a clean sheet of paper with that. It’s just a matter of where you start, how you address the problems that you have and how quickly you can rectify those.”
Drivers and teams who qualified for Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited get the first shot at wrestling with the new car.
“I’m just looking forward to getting on the race track and the information that we’ll gather for the next week (Daytona 500 week) in knowing what to expect,” Harvick said.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 31 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.