Harvick sheds owner label to keep focus on winning first Cup title
Kevin Harvick said goodbye to Kevin Harvick Inc. at the NASCAR finale at Homestead-Miami. It's an organization that won races and championships in the Nationwide and Truck series, and one that he and his wife DeLana spent 10 years building.
He didn't shed a tear.
Harvick began KHI with a part-time Truck team, and with support from Chevrolet, went full time in 2004. It took off from there, to multiple teams in Truck and Nationwide. It was a commercial success. Sponsors liked being associated with a Sprint Cup star at Nationwide and Truck prices, and the team delivered. Ron Hornaday won the Truck championship in 2007 and 2009, the season he won a series' record five straight races.
Sometime in 2011, Harvick realized the team had become a burden and a distraction that took his focus off the biggest prize, the Sprint Cup championship, and it led him to disband the organization. Harvick will still drive part time in the Nationwide and Truck series, but he won't carry any ownership responsibilities. It's the smart move for Harvick, who has finished third in the Cup points the past two years. It's possible spending more time thinking about his Cup car will make the difference.
"It takes an extreme amount of pressure off of me as a driver and an owner," Harvick said. "The only thing that I want to do that we haven't been able to accomplish in my career is win a Cup championship. Cup cars make it all go around. Richard [Childress] and I have talked about this a lot: Without the Cup car being successful, the trucks don't exist, the Nationwide cars don't exist and the sponsors aren't there.
"We're lucky the sponsors are all there and things have gone good over the last several years. But that Cup championship is what we're after."
Harvick merged the Nationwide team into Richard Childress Racing and sold the Truck team to Eddie Sharp Racing.
"I know everybody thinks we should be sad, but I'm extremely excited because as a driver, I get to do the same things next year as I did this year," Harvick said. "I think I have 14 Nationwide races and three-to-five Truck races. I'm excited for a lot of reasons personally; I'm excited for a lot of reasons professionally. When you look at the whole scenario, it should make my Cup car better; it should make the Nationwide cars better. We didn't do this to get worse, we did this to win races and win more races.
"I really get to do the same thing. But the things you have to worry about on a day-to-day basis, Richard and our whole team are looking after those things. It's been a fun transition and I'm really looking forward to the future and the performance of the vehicles."
Harvick won three of the opening 12 races this season, but earned the nickname The Closer for leading only the final lap in his first win at Auto Club Speedway in California, the last four at Martinsville and the last lap at Charlotte in May. Harvick went through a mild midseason slump -- one top-five, five top-10s in 13 races -- before closing out the regular season with a statement-making victory at Richmond in which he led 202 of 400 laps.
It's easy to forget that Harvick led the points after Dover, three races into the Chase. He finished second at Chicagoland, 12th at New Hampshire and 10th at Dover. In the final seven races, Harvick was fourth at Martinsville, sixth at Kansas and Charlotte and eighth at Homestead-Miami. But it wasn't enough to keep pace with the torrid performances of champion Tony Stewart and the high-quality runs of Carl Edwards.
Harvick's final totals for 2011: four wins, nine top-fives and 19 top-10s.
"I think with the performance that we had through the year, it definitely shows we've had a decent year," Harvick said. "But we need to get better and we need to make things better as we move through the winter."
Harvick's shedding of ownership won't be the only major change for the No. 29 Chevrolet. RCR is downsizing from four Cup programs to three and expanding the Nationwide program to a full season for Austin Dillon, this season's Truck champion and Richard Childress' grandson.
"I think if we had gone out and won a championship, you'd say you probably don't need to do anything, but if we sit on our hands and don't evaluate everybody's position at this particular point, we'd be fools," Harvick said. "I would anticipate some changes."
And those changes have happened. RCR replaced Gil Martin, Harvick's crew chief in Cup for the past two seasons, with Shane Wilson on Wednesday. Wilson, who worked with Clint Bowyer for the past three seasons, served as Harvick's crew chief for a 2006 Nationwide championship.
Harvick has been a contender in the Chase for two straight years. It's experience he can use in 2012.
"You learn those emotions and those pressures and things that come with that," Harvick explained. "Most everybody whether it's myself or Carl [Edwards] or Tony [Stewart], once you race for a championship in something, you pretty much know that you're going to go through several weeks of what about this and what about that and worrying about this, and you know what you need to control those emotions and just do your own thing.
"You don't have to get wound up about anything. It is what it is and you just go about your business on the racetrack. I think  taught the team we can be contenders, but contending for it and winning it are two different things."
Four wins and third in the points was an excellent season, but it left Harvick feeling unsatisfied. He figured he needed to do more and that didn't leave room for KHI. It was a sacrifice that had to be made.