Sprint Cup champ Kevin Harvick: “I’m as comfortable as I’ve ever been”

Leave a comment

Last fall, Kevin Harvick’s 14-year quest to become a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion finally ended, and in spectacular fashion – a win at Phoenix to make the Championship Race at Homestead, and then another win on the 1.5-mile South Florida oval to capture the title.

In an epic conclusion to his first year with Stewart-Haas Racing, Harvick endured the highest amount of pressure and succeeded with the highest stakes on the line.

So, naturally, he’s entering his title defense in 2015 with a heavy burden now off of his shoulders. The anxiety of jumping from an established program at Richard Childress Racing to a made-from-scratch program at SHR is long gone. And so too is the empty feeling of unfulfilled expectations.

“There’s way less pressure,” the champ said during today’s NASCAR Media Tour activities in Charlotte. “Coming into this situation last year, I was pretty nervous. It may not have shone through but there’s so many questions in your head about a very comfortable situation. But I didn’t want to be comfortable. I wanted to experience what we experienced last year. Sometimes, you have to make some bold and hard decisions in order to make things like this happen.”

“I’m as comfortable as I’ve ever been [now]. We’re way better prepared than we were going into the season last year…For me, I feel as comfortable as I ever have just for the fact that you don’t have those expectations you haven’t lived up to. You lived up to them, you know how to do that, and you’re gonna continue to try to take that to the next level – to prepare yourself from a physical standpoint, from a mental standpoint, from a team standpoint and just get better.

“Sometimes, it’s not gonna be good enough. You have to have it all go your way. But if you’re winning and you’re putting all the effort in that you need to put in, you’re gonna be in good shape.”

Not everything went Harvick’s way in 2014. Multiple pit road gaffes and mechanical issues tripped up what many believed was the fastest team in the garage during the regular season.

But through those trying times, the mentality of winning was never sacrificed for the sake of simply stringing together consistent results to feel better again. In the Chase, that win-or-bust mentality proved essential as Harvick posted three wins in the final six races (including those aforementioned Phoenix and Homestead triumphs).

There’s no way Harvick, crew chief Rodney Childers, and the No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s team are changing that mindset now.

“I don’t think we ever really tried to revert to the consistency part of it [in 2014],” Harvick said. “We were racing for wins right up through Homestead, where obviously we won the race. The last three weeks, I think it was two wins and a second at Texas. That was the mentality that got us there, and that’s what we needed to continue to do.

“That’s really the only way to control your own destiny. If you have cars that are capable of doing that and teams and everything around you that have gotten to that point by winning, there’s really no reason to try and change your strategy.”

In addition to having a clear plan of attack, there’s also a clear motivation for Harvick, Childers, and the team as well: Avoiding a massive letdown in their second season together.

Nobody wants to let their guard down. Now that they’re at the top, they want to stay there and have a chance to create a dynasty similar to Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team during their five-year title stretch from 2006-2010.

Time will tell if they’ll be successful. But as Childers noted, once you get to winning regularly, it’s hard to imagine another outcome.

“You sit on one pole, you want win another pole. You win a race, you wanna win another race. You win a championship, you wanna win another one pretty bad,” Childers said. “Everybody’s gotten to taste what [winning a championship] feels like, and in all honesty, I feel like that’s why the 48 [team] was able to do what they did.

“Once you get on that high of winning a championship and winning races, it’s hard to knock yourself off of it, and all you think about is the race cars and going and repeating and doing the things you need to do.”

Valtteri Bottas takes pole position for season-opening Austrian GP

Leonhard Foeger/Pool via Getty Images
Leave a comment

SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas upstaged Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton to take pole position Saturday for the Formula One Austrian GP.

The Finnish driver edged out the world champion by 0.012 seconds to claim the top spot for the season opener at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg. He clenched his fist as he climbed out of his car and shared a hug with Hamilton.

“It’s something special when you push the car to the limit,” said Bottas, who is chasing an eighth career win. “Feels so good. It’s very impressive (from the team).”

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was third, and Lando Norris gave McLaren a boost by finishing fourth. Verstappen has won the past two years here, including 2019 when he started third behind Hamilton and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

“It’s going to be interesting quite a bit warmer tomorrow and hopefully this will play to our advantage,” Verstappen said. “Today, Mercedes was on a different level, unfortunately. Last year we were also a little bit off in qualifying so I expect we will be a bit better in the race.”

Bottas had the leading time when drivers embarked on their final laps and beat his own mark before sliding off the track into the gravel.

Hamilton was chasing a record-extending 89th career pole. He was ahead but then dropped off slightly as Bottas secured a 12th career pole.

“Great job by Valtteri. It’s a great start to the season,” Hamilton said. “We show year on year that we continue to be the best team. We’re open-minded … constantly learning from each other and pushing the boundaries.”

Ferrari struggled for speed, with Leclerc nearly one second behind in seventh and Sebastian Vettel failing to make it into the third and final part of qualifying, known as Q3. He starts the race from 11th on the grid.

Vettel is leaving Ferrari at the end of the season with his future in F1 uncertain.

Earlier, Hamilton posted the fastest time in morning practice. The 35-year-old British driver was also quickest in both sessions on Friday.

Midway through third practice, F1 newcomer Nicholas Latifi misjudged the exit of a turn and spun his Williams car into a protective tire wall.