Kevin Harvick spent the first off week of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season riding the momentum of a dominant victory the previous weekend at Darlington Raceway.
The driver nicknamed "Happy" should have no trouble remaining upbeat as the series returns to action for Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway.
Harvick, who led 238 of 374 laps en route to claiming his first ever triumph at the track "Too Tough to Tame," will arrive at RIR as the defending winner of the spring race at the three-quarter-mile Virginia short track.
That win, of course, came with Richard Childress Racing — Harvick’s home for 13 seasons before joining Stewart-Haas Racing ahead of the 2014 campaign. Don’t think for a minute, though, that being at Richmond with a different team should make Harvick any less of a threat.
The Bakersfield, Calif., native boasts nine victories at RIR between the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series, with three coming at the Cup level.
Still fresh off his commanding performance at Darlington two Saturdays ago, it’s fair to say Harvick’s confidence is sky high heading to one of his best tracks where he will seek to become the season’s first three-time race winner.
"I grew up racing on a lot of really flat racetracks and Richmond is one of those tracks where the tires wear out a lot and it’s very line-sensitive," Harvick said. "You’ve got to work on running well against the bottom of the racetrack, and trying to find grip for the front tires to turn and find grip on the exit of the corner, as well.
"It’s just a track that really fits my driving style."
With a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup now all but a formality thanks to his series-high two wins, Harvick’s No. 4 team is in the unique position of being able to experiment on race strategies and car setups at the potential cost of giving up some speed in hopes of finding some additional speed for the Chase.
Don’t expect any drastic changes in the way they do business, however.
"For me it just doesn’t work that way, and anybody that knows me, if we’re not the fastest car in practice, I’m not happy," crew chief Rodney Childers said. "And if we don’t sit on the pole, I’m not happy, and if we don’t win the race, I’m not happy. We’ve just got to keep working to make our team better, and I think the way we’ve got to make our team better is to keep bringing good cars and keep trying to win races."
Last April at Richmond, Harvick lined up seventh on a final restart with two laps left and needed less than a lap to storm into the lead. The two laps Harvick spent out front at race’s end were the only laps he led all night.
"Last year was one of those races that we probably shouldn’t have won," Harvick said. "That was a really unique restart. We had a really good car, and we were able to line up for the restart on the inside with four fresh tires. Tires meant everything at the end.
"I always feel, going back to Richmond, that we should run well all night and have a chance to win the race. So my expectations aren’t anything less than that."