What was your greatest race?
“I think the single best race has to be Homestead of 2014, just with the way everything went and the great call and the race at the end and everything that happened with coming to Stewart-Haas Racing that first year. All the adversity that we had at the beginning of the year, how fast the cars were, and then putting it all together in one day to win the championship, I think that single race is probably the one that I would circle just because of everything that happened and everything that it summarized and wound up, ultimately, with a championship at the end.”
Talk about that day, and the nerves and the preparation.
“If I could just show up and run the race and hang out with my team and do all the things that I want to do, it would’ve been fantastic. From the time I got off the driver intro stage and got in the car, once I got in the car it was fine. But the rest of it, I had to talk to myself throughout the day because it’s all stuff that you’d rather not do but you really have no choice, so you try to check the box and get to the point of actually doing what you actually like to do which, of course, is driving the car. From that standpoint, I knew what I was getting into. Tony (Stewart) kind of sat me down after we won Phoenix – actually he sat DeLana down – and said, ‘This is what he needs to do. This is what needs to happen this week. This is how it’s going to go. He’s going to be miserable all the way up until he gets into the racecar because he’s going to have to do stuff all week that he doesn’t want to do, so you just have to know that you’re getting into that and manage it.’ I just checked all the boxes and got in the car and it all worked out.”
How did you feel in that moment when it all came together to win the championship?
“It was not our best year. I think we had the fastest cars, but we had a lot of failures and a lot of situations that didn’t work out our way. And with the points structure and the way that the playoffs work, we were able to win our way to the championship and it overrode all of our flaws because of the way the system is designed. The system is not designed to have the best year, anymore. You don’t win championships like Earnhardt used to win them by having the best complete season. For us, we didn’t have a truck, we didn’t have a nut, we didn’t have a bolt, we didn’t have a racecar. We put everything together, from hiring a driver, to hiring Rodney Childers to be the crew chief, to him hiring the car chief, all the way through everything that we did. We didn’t have a sponsor, we didn’t have anything. So to be able to put all that together and allow that to grow throughout 2014, because we knew we were fast, we just had to figure out how to get to the end of the race in order to put ourselves in a position to win, and by the time we got to the second half of the year, we had most of those bugs worked out. So we got to the playoffs and, really, all the things that didn’t work out in the playoffs were overshadowed by fast cars. You used to look back at the 48 team (of seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson) and think, man, those guys are the luckiest people on earth. No, they just had the best cars, and they had the best team and drivers and crew chiefs and situations to overcome all those flaws and mistakes or whatever they were. And that’s really where we were. In the end, we won Phoenix and we won Homestead, and we won Charlotte and put ourselves in a position to win the championship. Really, 2015 and 2020 were probably our best years and we didn’t win the championship. And that’s really the system that we’re in. It’s not about having the best year, it’s about winning and being successful at the right time.”
How did you prepare yourself for that championship weekend at Homestead in 2014?
“I think that’s where most people go wrong, is they try to do something different in all these big moments. The big moments require the calmest minds, and if you try to make more out of it than is actually there, in the end it’s just another race, and you know going in the things that you need to prepare for. You need to prepare differently for the week leading into the racetrack because there are just going to be a lot of things that you just don’t want to do. You don’t want to go to the press conference, you don’t want to go to the dinners, you don’t want to go do all the things that come with all the work of qualifying for the Championship 4, and you’re going to have to do more media sessions on the weekend. You have to mentally prepare yourself to have a week that is just unorthodox compared to what you’ve done in the past. But overthinking the car stuff is detrimental to the result of your weekend. Whether it’s the crew chief or the driver or the pit crew guys, it’s just another race. You just have to prepare yourself for the things that are outside the box from a media standpoint and all the other obligations that come with that championship week. Other than that, it’s just another race.”
What are your expectations now when you race at Homestead?
“You better run the wall. That’s just going to be part of it. It’s the best way around Homestead. But I think as you look at this car, it’s a little more durable than what we’ve had with the old car as far as rubbing the wall and things like that, so you can be a little bit more aggressive with putting the car where it needs to be on the racetrack – at least I can in my thought process. I’m sure I’ll do something that won’t be right, but I think you have to be comfortable running up there.”
A lot of drivers call Homestead their favorite track. They like its layout, its banking and what they’re able to do with their racecar through the track’s corners. Are you one of those drivers who is pro-Homestead?
“I am. Homestead is a great racetrack because it’s just so different than all the other mile-and-a-half racetracks that we go to. It’s just got unique entries and exits to the corners that were designed for the flat track that it started as. The way that the asphalt has aged, the fast line is going to be right up against the wall, and to be able to carry that momentum through the corners as the tires wear out.”
It’s appropriate that Homestead is part of the home stretch of your driving career. How do you feel as this season winds to a close?
“This is it, man. It’s what a well-laid plan does – it gives you a peace of mind. I’m not joking. It really has been a great, well-laid-out plan. We said, ‘Hey, here’s what we’re going to do’ and we laid it out starting last November, we developed logos, we talked to racetracks, we made it very public before we got started and it’s allowed us to just go race. I think they prepared me well of knowing that there was going to be extra work, and it has been a lot work, but it’s been right. And I think that was the main goal, to make it right for the fans and the sponsors and the team and everybody involved. And for me, it’s really allowed me to just relax and let my guard down and really just be a part of it and enjoy it. When we go to these racetracks and hear stories and they hand you gifts or whatever it is, it’s a celebration and, fortunately, we’ve got something to celebrate with all the things that we’ve been fortunate to do throughout the years. And I don’t have to worry about talking about it anymore because it is what it is. I’ve been in the fortunate position to be able to go out on my own terms.”
Could a young Kevin Harvick imagine that in 2023 he would have a race named in his honor?
“I think that’s what’s great about being where I’m at. I think having those relationships with a lot of the other drivers and having the respect of the other competitors in the garage is hard to come by. In the beginning, I didn’t really care. I didn’t care what they thought, and I really wanted them to not like me, more than anything. I wanted them to think about me all the time, when I was in front of them, when I was behind, when I walked into the room I wanted them to think I was going to say something, do something. I think as we’ve gone through the years, and this is a whole, different generation of guys – some of them have been here for a while – but it’s been very enjoyable to get to know a lot of them, and be able to have some of them come to you and ask questions and learn what you did right and what you did wrong, whatever the case may be. You become more of a mentor than you do trying to cut their throat on a weekly basis. That part has been fun, and when you look back and you see a group of 15 guys sitting at driver intros, or at an appearance or playing a baseball game, the camaraderie definitely needs to be a little bit more tight-knit in our group, and I think that’s happened over the last couple of years for reasons that probably none of us wanted to be involved in from a safety standpoint. But it’s evolved into many of the drivers having a better relationship with each other and talking amongst the group probably more than we have in the last 10, 12 or 15 years.”
What’s the best advice that you’ve received from drivers who have retired recently that you’ve taken to heart?
“For me, probably the best piece of advice came from Mark Martin, and it was just to make sure that when you’re done, you’re done, that you’re out of that competitive mindset, you don’t want to go back and forth and back and forth, and just make sure that you’ve had enough of that competitive fulfillment. You being fulfilled from the competition side is very important, being able to watch it and not have your name or number on top of that scoreboard in order to be happy with not seeing that. And I think Joe Girardi (former manager of the New York Yankees) probably was the other one, just to make sure you take that jersey off when you want to take it off. That was great advice, and I think when you look at that, when you take it off when you’re ready and not having them take it off for you by being there too long is important. This year could’ve gone a number of different ways, but we’ve been competitive and done the things that we need to do with where everything is at, and being able to do this last year and let everyone celebrate something that you kind of are a little bit embarrassed to say, sometimes, because I’ve always felt like it was bragging when you talk about how many times you’ve won, or how many times you’ve been fortunate to be successful. But being able to let your guard down and do that right has not only been great for everybody around, but for myself, included, because I would tell you that most of the year has been for everybody else, but it’s been very fulfilling to be able to hear all the stories, and it’s been much different as we’ve gone through the season. To start the season, I would say it was for everybody else, but to end the season, I would tell you that everybody made you feel good.”