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Harvick Doesn't Care if He's a Pariah

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ Kevin Harvick is sorry for the wreck he caused during a qualifying race for Sunday's Daytona 500. He's not about to change, though. And if he's a pariah in the NASCAR garage, so be it.

``I just drive by the seat of my pants, and some guys don't like that,'' Harvick said. ``It doesn't bother me. I'll go out and stand on the gas tomorrow.''

In another era, he might been treated with grudging respect. After all, Harvick races hard and doesn't really care what anyone thinks.

Instead, he's one of the most unpopular drivers on the Nextel Cup circuit, viewed by many of his rivals as an impetuous loner who doesn't care how many cars he wrecks along the way.

``It's hard to find young guys who have the ability to get the job done and want to run fast every lap,'' Joe Nemechek said. ``But you've got to have some common sense to go along with it.

``Kevin Harvick is Kevin Harvick.''

Harvick's latest run-in came Thursday during the second 150-mile qualifying race. Coming through turn two, he nudged leader Jimmie Johnson from behind, sparking a major crash that took out Johnson, Harvick, Mark Martin, Rusty Wallace and Nemechek.

Harvick, Wallace and Nemechek sustained enough damage to force them into backup cars for the 500. Martin's crew spent Friday furiously trying to repair his mangled vehicle.

The crash victims were livid at Harvick, saying he had no business ``bump drafting'' Johnson as they came through one of the high-banked turns. Some wondered if the move had anything to do with a simmering feud between the drivers that goes back to last season.

Johnson called for Harvick to be fired by his team and fined by NASCAR. Nemechek derisively tossed a water bottle at Harvick after they were treated at the infield care center.

NASCAR officials summoned Harvick and Johnson to their hauler and told them to shake and make up _ or else. Another incident will likely result in heavy fines and maybe even a suspension.

That would be nothing new for Harvick,

He received a one-race suspension in 2002 for rough driving _ the first driver in Cup history forced to sit out a race. The following year, NASCAR levied a $35,000 fine for a meltdown at Richmond, where Harvick intentionally banged into Ricky Rudd's car after they tangled late in a race.

Harvick admitted he was at fault for Thursday's wreck, but insisted it was nothing intentional. NASCAR accepted his explanation, but also ordered Harvick and Johnson to work at their differences at a private, one-on-one summit.

With that out of way, both Harvick and Johnson said Friday that all is forgiven.

``A day makes a big difference,'' Johnson said. ``We got together and talked everything out. Today is a new day. We'll start with a new sheet of paper.''

Just don't expect a kinder, gentler Harvick when the green flag drops on Sunday. He has no intention of changing his aggressive driving style just because he's not well-liked in the paddock.

Maybe Harvick races so hard because of the seat he had to fill at Richard Childress Racing.

When Dale Earnhardt was killed in a last-lap crash at Daytona _ Friday was the fourth anniversary of the Intimidator's death _ Harvick had the unenviable task of replacing a seven-time NASCAR Cup champion.

Harvick won in just his third career start, the first of two victories in 2001. He won again each of the next two years, but slumped to 14th in the points during a winless '04 season.

``He was put in that car,'' Nemechek said. ``It would be tough for anybody who was put in that situation.''

While the 29-year-old Harvick is linked with other ``Young Guns'' such as Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Ryan Newman, he's never had a close relationship with other drivers from his generation. He spends much of his time with his wife, DeLana, whom he married in Las Vegas just two days after making his Cup debut in 2001.

``Kevin kind of keeps to himself,'' said Kyle Petty, who's never had any problems with Harvick. ``When you look around at most of the younger guys ... they all hung out together. But Kevin stuck with DeLana.''

Harvick has never minced his words, either, another trait that rubs some of his rivals the wrong way.

``He pretty much speaks his mind,'' Petty said. ``There's nothing wrong with that. You can say what you feel as long as you back it up.''
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