Kevin Harvick is leaving Richard Childress Racing at the end of the 2013 season, but he's not giving up on his team this year.
Harvick has driven the No. 29 car for RCR in the Sprint Cup Series since replacing Dale Earnhardt after Earnhardt's fatal crash in the 2001 Daytona 500. But Harvick's 13th season in NASCAR's top racing circuit will be his last one with RCR. He will move over to Stewart-Haas Racing for next year.
There had been a lot of talk about this being a do-nothing year for Harvick, but he silenced his critics with an impressive win in last Saturday night's race at Richmond. Harvick charged from seventh to first during the two-lap overtime finish to score his first victory of the season and the 20th of his Cup career. He was one of several drivers who pitted for tires during the final caution, which set up the green-white-checkered finish.
"I know everybody makes a big deal out of what you're going to do next year," Harvick said. "Next year is so far away right now that you're week-to-week. What are we working on this week? What track are we going to? What do we do to make it better? You try to do that week after week. You lose track of time. You lose track of everything that's going on, because you're so buried in what we do on a week-to-week basis."
Harvick's win at Richmond was a much-needed one for his hopes of qualifying for this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. He jumped from 11th to ninth in the point standings. His victory will be helpful if he were to sit outside the top 10 in points at the end of the regular season (Sept. 7 at Richmond) and therefore needed one of the two wild card spots.
Prior to Richmond, Harvick had recorded only one top-10 finish for the season, a ninth-place run at Las Vegas. The series heads to Talladega this weekend and then moves on to Darlington and Charlotte during the month of May. Harvick has won at Talladega and Charlotte in the past.
"We have a really busy testing schedule," he said. "We haven't really tested at any of the racetracks that we've run at yet. So we have a busy schedule. Winning a race and all the things that come with it will lead towards guys not being as aggravated to go test and do the things that we have to go do here over the next month."
Harvick and his No. 29 team have had their share of ups and downs during the past several years. After a dismal 2009 season, finishing 19th in points, Harvick had a remarkable turnaround the following year with three wins and a third-place finish in points. He also finished third in the standings and posted four victories in 2011.
Crew chief Gil Martin guided Harvick during the 2011 and '12 seasons, but team owner Richard Childress moved Martin over to the No. 33 car, while Shane Wilson took over crew chief duties for Harvick's team at the start of the last season. With Harvick in danger of not making the Chase, Childress moved Martin back into the role for the No. 29 team. Harvick's only win last year came in the penultimate Chase race at Phoenix.
Harvick is hopeful his last year with RCR will be his best one.
"It doesn't feel like it's any different than any other year has been, other than you know at the end of the year everybody knows what's going on," he said. "In the end, we all have big egos, and we want to be competitive. We want to win races and do the things that it takes to go out there and fulfill that feel that you like, whether it's in victory lane."
Seventeen races remain before the Chase begins on Sept. 15 at Chicagoland. Jimmie Johnson presently holds a 43-point lead. Johnson is aiming for his sixth Sprint Cup championship, but Childress has his seventh owner's title in mind this year. His six titles came with Earnhardt.
"I think we got a great shot of winning that championship this year," Childress said. "We just got to be there at the end of the day. They're not easy to win, championships aren't. But that's the one thing I want to accomplish. This could be the year.
"I think we got everyone working in the right direction. Hopefully, we'll be in Vegas (for the season-ending NASCAR Awards Banquet) smiling big."