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Kevin Harvick finds the summer of 2010 much more fun than 2009....And Richard Childress too

   Kevin Harvick leading a four-wide pack. Now this is the kind of racing Michigan used to be renowned for....and it's the kind of racing that California Speedway should have too -- if California Speedway had the right banking, like Michigan's 18 degrees, instead of it's too-flat 14 degrees. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   BROOKLYN, Mich.
   Kevin Harvick wins, yes! And what a turnaround from last summer.
   But his third win of the season with crew chief Gil Martin for car owner Richard Childress is not the real story here. Rather, it's this team's remarkable consistency over the first six months of the season. Harvick's consistency – and patience -- at the wheel, Martin's consistency in setups and pit road calls, Danny Lawrence's engine horsepower....and Childress' own dogged consistency in rebuilding his once-formidable Welcome, N.C., operation into a NASCAR powerhouse once again.
    Harvick, who will be in Greensboro, N.C., Monday to play with the PGA pros for a day, will have a major press conference Tuesday, and he and Childress are expected to announce their new sponsor for 2011, which is speculated to be Budweiser. That, plus Childress' announcement here over the weekend in signing Paul Menard as a fourth Cup driver, with the powerful Menards home improvement company sponsorship, shows the many facets of the  Childress turnaround.
   Last summer at this time, the Childress guys were reeling. Harvick, in his contract year, was threatening to walk. Little seemed to be working.
   But this season not only are Childress' own three teams poised to make the championship chase, but the Childress-powered Chip Ganassi operation has also suddenly become a major player in the stock car game again – Juan Pablo Montoya just won Watkins Glen with Childress-power, and Jamie McMurray won both the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 with Childress-power.
    And on the other side of the GM picture, the Rick Hendrick operation is suddenly struggling.
   What a turnaround.
   And if anyone can stop Jimmie Johnson from taking a fifth straight NASCAR championship, it looks like it will likely be Harvick, Martin and Childress.
   Harvick has dominated the regular season so far with his consistency and could indeed take a week, maybe two off, and still make the playoffs.
   "You think it would go over well if we just went on vacation (for the next week or so)," Harvick said with a laugh after a champagne celebration following his Sunday win in the Michigan 400.
   Harvick himself has been riding high all season, really he says with a turnaround that began at Indianapolis last summer, though the depth of the breakthrough didn't really become apparent until this spring, with his win at Talladega and strong, consistent runs at nearly every other track too.
   "When you look at where we were a year ago, it's hard to believe...and even you guys might not believe it," Harvick concedes.
    "It's hard to realize the magnitude of the turnaround....Because a company like RCR is in the process of building things -- and you just had to say 'Okay, we're not building anything else until we figure out what you're going to build.
    "We were just so damned bad last year. Everybody was embarrassed.
    "But the turnaround all began at Indianapolis (in the summer of 2009), and we ran well in the last eight races. This didn't just start this year."

   Kevin Harvick, stands out against the SAFER wall. The crowd was announced at 105,000, and it was nice, considering the economy. But there were some holes. At least traffic control was smooth and brisk (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    A big reason, perhaps, for the turnabout is the engine program, headed by Lawrence and Richie Gilmore.
   NASCAR took 16 team engines from this track after the race to compare them at the Charlotte R&D center.
   But Harvick, with a smile, says there's even better stuff coming for the chase: "The engine program has been so strong the last couple of years....and now it's just a constant evolution...and I think the really good engine stuff is still coming.
   "We probably do have as much horsepower as anybody. And when everything is going right it looks like you have 100 more horsepower."
   Certainly that was what runner-up Denny Hamlin might be thinking.

   Martin called Sunday "a great day for us for more than one reason...to come to Michigan and run like this, the way we've run here the last three years."
   And Martin, a 10-year veteran at Childress', says "There's not a better place to be in this sport right now than right here. We're on the cutting edge of technology."
   One reason for the turnaround, rivals say, is a major new computer simulation program that has given the teams remarkably accurate cars when they first unload each Friday at the track...rather than having to waste time trying to figure out what the track might want in terms of chassis setup.

   Childress himself, making the turnaround, is taking it all in stride this season.
   "Kevin has figured out how to find just the right groove here," Childress says. "He deserves a lot of credit for this."

   Harvick says his epiphany came back in February: "We lost California because I forced the issue...and that turned out to be the best moment of the year for me. We were going to win the race hands down, if I hadn't forced the issue."
   Harvick appeared to have the car to beat at the Los Angeles track, but he slapped the wall while chasing Jimmie Johnson, the eventual winner.
   "When you're that much faster than the other guy, just take your time. And that's what I did here too – when Denny (Hamlin) was up there, I just took my time.
   "We had a long time here to work over Denny."
   Another key, Harvick says: "You can't let the highs be too high or the lows too low.
   Indeed, and this might be difficult for anyone who has followed Harvick's career to fathom – he's suddenly almost mellow this season.
   His nickname 'Happy' came out of his long-known moody nature.
   But that moodiness has all but vanished this season: "I've learned to relate this all to every day life, and you learn how to deal with things better. It's just a natural progression of listening to people around you."
   The win was Childress' first at this track since 1990, with the late Dale Earnhardt, who won six NASCAR championships with Childress.
   Harvick recalls his initial look at this place, with a laugh: "The first time I came to Michigan was 1999...Richard invited me up into the lounge, and Earnhardt was there and gave me one of those 'Who the hell are you' looks. I'll remember that day for a long time," Harvick says.
   Harvick and Martin both realized before this race that whatever they'd  been doing here hadn't been working.
   "This hasn't been our best track, and I haven't run here that well either," Harvick says. "In the June race here we 'fooled' ourselves (during practice); we didn't do that this time."
   "You have to be careful not to fool yourself on Friday (with qualifying)," Martin said.
   Martin appeared to make a late-race mistake when the rest of the leaders pitted with about 50 miles to go and he opted to keep Harvick on the track.
   But Martin says he knew exactly what he was doing: "We used to play our stuff on pit road 'off the cuff;' but now we have a meeting about that before we come to the track."
   However, the no-tire call for a moment or two looked iffy for a few laps.
   With about 30 laps to go the key moment of the race came, during the last yellow. Most of the field pitted, including most of the leaders. But Martin didn't bring Harvick down pit road. And there was quickly speculation that Martin and Harvick had screwed up, and would be sitting ducks for the men who had stopped for four fresh tires.
   For a few moments after the restart on lap 173 of the 200 it did in fact look like Harvick would fade.
   Any second thoughts at that moment about the no-call call?
   "Heck no!" Martin said with a grin. "The guy next to me (Childress) would have killed me if I had pitted Harvick.
   "When we saw Tony Stewart was staying out too, we knew we'd have someone to draft with. And I knew once the tires got some heat in them, after four or five laps, we'd be fine."

   Childress now can bask in the glory of knowing his moves the past year are paying off, and for all three teams.  
      "My story on 2009 is this: In 2008 Kevin was one of the contenders for the championship, it's just that the Hendrick bunch had a sensational year," Childress said.
   "So we just went down the wrong path in 2009.
    "So we've changed some personnel....it was just a big team effort.
   "Now I'm just happy to have Kevin back for three more years. (A contract was signed in the spring.)
    "I said 'Somebody has to beat Jimmie (Johnson) this year, and it might as well be us.
    "You can't get ahead of yourself, but we have confidence we're going to be contenders. But we're not going to be cocky about."
   "We're fast enough to beat Jimmie....but until you beat the guy who's won four championships....." Harvick says cautiously.
   "Until you beat that guy, there's not point in putting that pressure on yourself."




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  Kevin Harvick wins No. 3 of the year, with sights on the championship. Think Shell executives are having second thoughts about leaving this team at the end of the season? They ought to be. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



Good comment on Shell's

Good comment on Shell's sponsorship. But rest assured, I think with Penske racing teams, Shell probably will be all over the Indy cars too with associate sponsorship. I wonder how much stock Penske has in Phillip Morris which owns Marlboro cigs (Indy sponsorship) and Miller beer (NASCAR sponsorship)? Hmmm, interesting? Notice NO ONE dares to wrestle sponsorship from him, although the other top teams seems to be cut throat to each other as well as Penske too. (e.g. Shell from RCR)

i'm sure rog and kurt and

i'm sure rog and kurt and those indy car guys will do just fine for shell....but it is ironic that just as childress and harvick turn things around shell bails...shell might have bailed for penske and his international clout anyway, still...
roger of course has long been big in PM/Altria, and thus Miller (till it got sold). still, i have long wondered why the captain has never won a Cup championship...and didnt even win the D500 until Ryan Newman.....curious.

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