Happy Harvick satisfied with 5-win season

Thursday, November 16th 2006, 6:26 am
By: News On 6

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ Kevin Harvick opened the Chase for the championship as the popular pick to win the Nextel Cup title. He made a serious run at it, too.

But it will take a small miracle Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway for Harvick to actually pull it off. No matter to Harvick, who with five wins in this resurgent season is indeed Happy again.

``We've had a great year, though it's been up and down,'' Harvick said. ``But for the most part we're just having fun, and racing as hard as we can.''

It's been some time since Harvick could say those words. The guy who earned the nickname ``Happy Harvick'' during his dominant early years fell on hard times and became downright grumpy.

He wasn't winning and his Richard Childress Racing team was a mess, making Harvick the hottest free agent on the Nextel Cup market. He could have picked almost any ride in the garage, and took his sweet time deciding what would be best for him.

Just three months into the season, though, he decided the slow progress he had seen at RCR was worth a leap of faith and he chose to stay right where he was.

And that's when he really started having some fun again.

RCR made a huge leap shortly after Harvick's decision, and he and teammate Jeff Burton both landed in NASCAR's playoff-deciding format. The team was so hot, Childress absolutely was convinced one of his cars would win the title this year.

So did everyone else, for that matter. Even though Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth were the strongest two drivers of the regular season, Harvick was so hot when the Chase began that he overwhelmingly was picked to win it.

Those predictions looked pretty good when Harvick opened the Chase with an aggressive win in Round 1 at New Hampshire. But he slipped a little after that, and fell as low as sixth in the Chase standings following a 31st-place run at Texas two weeks ago.

But his No. 29 team bounced back last week at Phoenix, overcoming a faulty alternator to score its fifth win of the year. It was a season sweep at Phoenix, and it moved him back up to third in the standings. He trails Johnson by 90 points heading into Sunday's race.

``There's really not a lot of pressure, to tell you the truth,'' Harvick said. ``It's just go out and go as fast as you can and everybody knows that everybody's going to do everything they can do.

``It falls how it falls, and that's just kind of how we've looked at it since the season started.''

Should they fall short of the title, Harvick and crew chief Todd Berrier are confident this wasn't a one-year aberration. RCR as a company finally seems to be back on track. And the company has been out front on development of NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow, which will be phased in beginning next season.

But the 29 team is also clicking, and Berrier said the chemistry has never been better.

``When they go through a year like last year, and then a year like this year, it's just attitude,'' Berrier said. ``All the guys are jacked up and on a roll. It's all about momentum and attitude, and that's the biggest thing we've got going.''

Harvick said that comes from consistency, and notes that the core of his crew has been together for four seasons building its current cohesiveness.

``It's the same bunch that we've had, and we all know each other really well and get along,'' he said. ``When somebody says something that they shouldn't say, everybody doesn't carry it on their shoulders, they just brush it off and it's done with.

``So I think our team is good, and it's just a matter of having it all put together. I think absolutely, we can get better, but just having the experience that we've had this year is going to help us continue to succeed.''

Alas, he'll likely fall short of the title. Although he dominated Sunday on Phoenix, earning the win and the five-point bonus for leading the most laps, Harvick gained only 15 points on Johnson.

Still, they aren't writing themselves off just yet.

``It can happen,'' Berrier said. ``But if it were to happen, we'd have to be on top of our game to make sure we capitalize on it.''