The first major turning point for Kevin Harvick came in 2009 at Michigan, the midpoint of a dismal, winless season, when he unraveled on the team radio in a screaming match with team owner Richard Childress.
”Richard and I had a fall-down, knockdown, drag-out, blowup on the radio, and I just realized it was more embarrassing than anything else,” Harvick said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. ”I think for me, it was the moment I said, `All right, I need to change.’ You can still have the enthusiasm and the drive, and still be charismatic about how you carry yourself and answer things, but just going off the handle isn’t really effective.”
That was the last year Harvick missed the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. He’s won 10 races since that blowup with Childress, followed with consecutive third-place finishes in the final standings in 2010 and 2011, and heads into Kansas this weekend tied with Jeff Gordon for fourth in the Chase in his final season with Richard Childress Racing.
”Things have just changed for me, I realized it’s easier to do my job and take care of situations when they need to be taken care of and not create situations for myself all the time,” Harvick said.
The second turning point came midway through 2011 when Harvick and his wife, DeLana, decided to sell Kevin Harvick Inc., the championship-caliber team they had grown from the ground up. With 140 employees in the Nationwide and Truck series, the couple realized racing was consuming every bit of their lives, and it wasn’t very good for Harvick.
Nicknamed ”Happy” during his joyful rise through the West Coast ranks, the joke had always been that Harvick seemed to be pretty surly once he made it to NASCAR’s top level. He bickered with his crew chief on the radio, admits he can be miserable to be around depending on his mood and a quick temper made him prone to fighting. Harvick never backed down from anyone and was often the aggressor.
Selling the race team helped, and led to other changes, too. They welcomed son Keelan in July 2012 – the third major change for Harvick.
”We had the race team and it was all racing all the time, it’s what DeLana and I did all the time. At the shop, at home, constant conversations about racing,” Harvick said. ”We didn’t know there was anything else out there in life. Now we talk about racing very, very little. And when we do, it usually comes down to travel and how you are getting everybody to the race track and where the car seat needs to be.
”You really get your mind off of racing and for me, that’s a great release. Anytime I can not think about racing during the week, that’s been very healthy for me.”
Harvick also found another release in the form of taekwondo, which he started at the first of the year and tries to do three mornings a week. He’s able to spar during his sessions and take out the aggression he’d previously saved for his rivals.
”The taekwondo, the sparring, learning how to handle situations and getting the aggression out on Monday and learning how to clear your mind, it’s helped me,” he said. ”I go home to Keelan and DeLana and I have a balance now. I’ve learned it’s not about picking a fight anymore, it’s about finding a release. I come back to the race track refocused.”
But Harvick doesn’t want anyone to think he’s gone soft, and quickly points out an August incident at Bristol when he angrily confronted Denny Hamlin on pit road. And he still doesn’t like Kyle Busch, and probably never will, even though Harvick will be teammates next season with Busch’s brother, Kurt, at Stewart-Haas Racing.
”You still have to – I wouldn’t say play mind games – but you still have to carry yourself in a way that shows I am still very confident in what I do and the things that come with my job,” Harvick said. ”If you have to stir it up, stir it up. Whatever it takes to win. You’ve just got to feel the situation. If everything is calm and going your way, then you don’t need to stir it up. But if it’s not, then voice your opinion.”