FS.com exclusive: Kevin Harvick’s 6 Daytona 500 takeaways

Winning the Daytona 500 can make a driver’s career and it definitely is a life-changing experience. No one knows that better than 2007 Daytona 500 winner Kevin Harvick of Stewart-Haas Racing.

When the field lines up for the 59th running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 26, (2 p.m. ET, FOX), Harvick and his No. 4 SHR Ford team will be among the favorites to win.

In an exclusive interview Tuesday afternoon, FOXSports.com caught up with Harvick to talk about the Daytona 500 — everything from the impact of winning NASCAR’s biggest race to how he’s getting ready for Speedweeks.

Here are six takeaways from Harvick on Daytona.

1. Harvick’s first impressions of Daytona

Like most people, Harvick was wowed by what he saw at Daytona International Speedway. “When I first went through the tunnel, I was like, ‘Oh, my God. This is a pretty narrow race track for as fast as we’re going to go.’ But it didn’t look near as narrow as it did the first time I went on the back straightaway.

“And you have this impression in your mind that you’re going to go out on this humongous race track, because I’d been to Talladega, ran an ARCA race and did a lot of testing for RCR (Richard Childress Racing). And then I go out on the straightaway on Daytona and it’s like, ‘Oh, my God.’

2. On how tough it is to win the Daytona 500

Many of NASCAR’s greats — champions Tony Stewart, Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin and Terry Labonte among them — have never won the 500. Harvick knows how difficult the race is to win and the value of having won it.

“It’s not something I take for granted,” Harvick said of winning the Great American Race. “Because I’ve been a part of a lot of Daytona 500s and it always seems like something happens or goes wrong or doesn’t go exactly the way it needs to. But it’s been a great race for us. We’ve been in position to win more of them and it only rolls around once a year.”

3. What winning the Daytona 500 means

Harvick said it wasn’t until he won the 2007 Daytona that he fully grasped the impact of what it meant.  “You hear  people that have won that race say, ‘It’s just not like winning any other race.’ And once you win it, you see the magnitude of everything that comes with it,” said Harvick. “To win our sport’s biggest race is an honor more than anything.”

4. The Harley J. Earl trophy

Every Daytona 500 winner since the first race in 1959 has his name on the trophy, which is named for Earl, the former General Motors designer. “In my opinion, the biggest thing about it (winning the Daytona 500) is just the names on the trophy,” said Harvick.  “When you look at the names on that trophy, it’s basically the who’s who of NASCAR, what’s made our sport what it is today. It’s pretty cool to be a part of that trophy.”

5. On the work that goes into Daytona Speedweeks

Every team wants to win. But with an entire offseason to prepare, the work that goes into Daytona cars and planning is like no other. “You look at (Speedweeks) as kind of its own separate season,” said Harvick. “Everybody knows that this is our biggest race and the preparation that naturally comes with it because of our offseason.”

Which could be good or bad.

“When you have the offseason, you have more time to overthink it and detail the cars out and sometimes really over-detail them,” said Harvick. “In all honesty, sometimes you probably spend too much time trying to get your cars as prepared as possible.”

6. Keeping an even keel during Speedweeks

NASCAR teams are in Daytona for a long time, and that can be wearing. “Speedweeks in general is its own mental game,” said Harvick. “Because you can go there sometimes and you’re slow and you have all week to figure it out and you just take it apart piece by piece and try to make it better.

“Sometimes you can go there and be fast and get caught up in an accident, tear up your primary car,” said Harvick. “Or it just goes smooth. You never know how Speedweeks is going to go and you have to be mentally prepared not to take advantage of the highs early in the week of winning a qualifying race or (The Advance Auto Parts Clash) or something along those lines. … You really have to understand it’s a long week and a lot of things can go right, but a lot of things can go wrong. You just have to ride the rollercoaster as the week goes on.”