10 things that turned Kevin Harvick into ‘Happy’ at Sonoma
Kevin Harvick has long held the nickname of "Happy" in NASCAR.
But through the first 15 races of this Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Harvick was anything but happy after repeatedly failing to get to Victory Lane -- despite having fast race cars. He finally broke through and earned his first win of the 2017 season Sunday in the Toyota/Save Mart 350 on the road course at Sonoma Raceway.
Here are 10 things he said afterward about his weekend in California wine country that put a smile back on his face.
In a rare and unusual twist, Harvick also ran the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race on Saturday -- and won it, too.
"Yeah, we doubled our win total (for the year) in one weekend," said Harvick, who now owns 36 Cup wins in his career. "But we definitely checked the most important one off, and that's in the Cup Series."
There were some concerns late in the race that Harvick might run out of gas before getting to the checkered flag, but they faded and it wasn't an issue in the end. It helped when top contender Martin Truex Jr. fell out of the race when the engine expired on his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota.
"(Crew chief) Rodney (Childers) is telling me to save gas and save the tires, and I felt like I was already doing that, and they were starting to make me a little bit worried actually as we kept talking about it and they kept telling me to save gas," Harvick said. "... We were able to manage the car really after the 78 fell out. I felt like he was the guy that we were going to have to race all the way to the end. He had a great car, and once he fell out, I felt like we were 100 percent in control of the race, no matter what happened."
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West Coast racing
Harvick, a native of Bakersfield, Calif., said he hopes his appearance in the K&N race along with two other Cup drivers -- Ryan Blaney and Daniel Suárez -- helps promote the series and West Coast racing in general.
"I definitely want to get more involved in making sure that West Coast racing is healthy and where it needs to be," he said. "... If we can draw some attention to the West series and some of these racetracks to kind of rekindle that fire from a short-track standpoint, from a series standpoint, that's really going to be one of my focuses as I go through the next few years."
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The win was the first of his career on the 1.99-mile Sonoma road course. Again, he credited it in part to running the K&N race beforehand.
"Rodney and I sat down in the winter and said, 'All right, how are we going to make our road race program better?' " Harvick said. "And one of the things that came up is I needed to make myself better, and I felt like in order to win some of these races, we needed to do some things different, and the K&N race was one of those races (needed) in order to get some more seat time on Saturday."
The extra motivation for wanting to get better on road courses, Harvick admitted, was the fact that NASCAR already has announced that in 2018 it will be adding a "Roval" course to the playoffs for the fall race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
"It all started when they talked about putting a road race in the (playoffs)," Harvick said. "When you put that Roval in, that all of a sudden becomes ‑‑ I'm not saying that this race (at Sonoma) is not important and Watkins Glen is not important because now with the stages and the playoff points and all those things -- but when you talk about it being in the (playoffs), you've got to have it right."
Harvick said he was pleased that Clint Bowyer, his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, finished second right behind him -- despite the fact that Bowyer was all over the track, and even off it, during an eventful day.
"Well, that's a normal day for Clint," Harvick said. "He walks that way, too. He'll walk and then he'll spin around in circles and then he'll walk in a different direction and he'll spin around in circles, so (Sunday) was just a normal day for Clint. So he's definitely a little scatterbrained, but he's really good here."
It wasn't lost on Harvick or anyone else that this was his first win in a Ford. Stewart-Haas switched manufacturers this season after running Chevrolets since the organization's formation.
In fact, Harvick also ran Chevys at Richard Childress Racing before coming over to SHR, so the first 35 wins of his Cup career came in a Chevy.
"There's still a lot of room for growth," Harvick said. "There's still a lot of things we don't know about our cars that we learn on a weekly basis, and that's the fun part is to know the upside potential to this whole deal. And once we get it all ironed out and with how great everybody has been from not only Stewart‑Haas Racing but Ford in putting all this together, you know, I feel like we have way more room to grow than most any team in the garage because there's so many new things for us and new people. We're still trying to work all the details out."
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The driver of the car that has carried popular beer sponsors through the years made it clear that while he loves California in general, he's not really a wine country kind of guy.
Asked if participating in Saturday's K&N race cut into his ability enjoy the area, he replied: "I don't drink wine anyway. I like beer."