CONCORD, N.C. — Kevin Harvick had already made a loud statement in winning his second Coca-Cola 600. He had another just as important one to make about his focus in his final season with Richard Childress Racing.
Childress, the only Sprint Cup boss Harvick has known, was asked about his driver’s dedication as the two part ways after the year. That’s when Harvick stepped in and took the microphone.
“It’s not just ‘Kevin,’ ” he said. “This is something that (Childress) and I sat down and talked about as men and just really focused on what’s most important for our sponsors and the guys on this team and this organization. That’s the important thing.”
Harvick knows it would be easy to coast through the season before riding off to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014. That, he understands, is no way to go out.
“It’s too important to the people that put in the hours and hours and hours, the people that put in millions and millions of dollars,” he said.
Harvick has shown that drive this year. He won at Richmond last month and backed that up by pushing past Kasey Kahne on a final restart and holding on to win NASCAR’s longest race for the second time in three years.
Harvick’s team is on a major roll after a slow start to the season. He was fifth at Darlington two weeks back before his latest victory moved him up to seventh in points.
Childress was disappointed in losing the driver he picked to fill the seat of the late Dale Earnhardt in 2001. But the car owner long ago accepted the business of NASCAR that leads people in different directions. That, however, doesn’t change the goals for this year.
“Like I told Kevin,” Childress said, “I wish him the best of luck at the end of the year, but right now we got a job in front of us.”
Harvick survived one of the wildest nights of racing anywhere. He was 14th 100 miles in and seemingly stuck in the back of the pack when things began to change.
Harvick’s machine was not damaged by a fallen nylon rope that had been used to drive the Fox Sports overhead TV camera. The collapse delayed things about 30 minutes for cleanup and repair.
Later on, Harvick avoided incidents and accidents that took out Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth — all pre-race favorites.
“Kevin was really digging all day long,” Childress said. “This is a grueling race.”
Still, it didn’t look as though Harvick had enough to beat Kahne, who won this race in 2012 and led the most laps with 156 out of 400. On the 11th and last caution, Harvick came in for two tires while Kahne stayed out. And that proved the difference as Harvick’s fresher rubber quickly drove past Kahne.
“It really was a no-brainer,” said crew chief Gil Martin.
Harvick thought so, too.
“The only frame of mind I was in was, ‘Don’t screw up.’ I knew they put me in the best position to win the race,” Harvick said.
Expect more of that this season. Harvick’s second victory puts him in prime position for one of the two wild-card entries into the 12-man championship chase should his results fall off.
Harvick plans to bide his time, stay out of trouble and strike at the right moment — something he’s done better than anyone at Charlotte the past few years. He was third entering the final lap in 2011 when Earnhardt Jr. ran out of gas some 700 feet from the finish line. This year’s victory was just as surprising, perhaps because Harvick wasn’t much of factor until the end.
“Obviously, you want to run as fast as you can, but it really doesn’t matter until the end,” Harvick said. “We backed into a few of them.”
It was Harvick’s 21st career Sprint Cup victory and the fifth time in 13 seasons with Childress that Harvick has won multiple races.
Harvick thought his eyes had failed him when he noticed the rope on the track. He was simply glad the damage to drivers and fans wasn’t more severe. There were 10 fans hurt in the collapse, three who were taken to hospitals. All, Charlotte Motor Speedway said, were treated and released after receiving care for minor injuries.
Harvick and Childress believe even bigger things may be ahead for the No. 29 team before the year is done.
Along with Harvick, Paul Menard stands eighth in points, hopeful signs for a race team that hasn’t captured a series title since Earnhardt won for Childress in 1994.
“I honestly think RCR is ready to contend for the championship this year,” Childress said.