Sharing information with your rival’s brother. Getting booed. Working with MMA fighters.
Sounds dangerous, but all are parts of NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick’s life. While the driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s/Budweiser car is best known for his success on the track, he recently restructured Kevin Harvick Inc. and now counts a PGA Tour golfer, UFC athlete and two country music artists as clients.
Harvick, 38, already has qualified for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, which kicks off Sept. 14 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet. He stopped by RedEye’s offices Tuesday to talk about his fighting skills, recovering from a second-place finish and NASCAR’s trouble with red flags.
Finish this sentence: More Chicagoans will embrace NASCAR if …
... the weather stays good.
What is your favorite expansion you’ve made with your KHI management team?
I think for me it’s just been the fact, … how well it’s all blended together. As you have some country music, some MMA, golf and racing and you see how well all the athletes and musicians get along together, each brings their own different set of advantages to each program. So obviously I think the MMA stuff has probably been my favorite with Donald [Cerrone] and everything that we’ve done. We’ve spent a lot of time, a couple fights in Chicago too, it’s been fun to see it grow.
What activity outside of NASCAR would you like to try most?
I’m too old for the MMA stuff. I missed it. In order to be good at that, you’re going to have to be well-rounded in every type of martial arts and wrestling, so it’s a lot of work that those guys go through. That would be fun, but at this point I think golf is probably more realistic for me.
Do you ever get booed at racetracks? How do you handle that?
Oh, yeah, I don’t think there’s a Kyle Busch fan that likes me. You’re definitely going to get some boos. That’s what makes our sport great. If there’s somebody you don’t like, you can boo them and cheer your guy, so that’s what keeps it going around.
What about Kurt Busch [Kyle Busch’s brother] being your teammate?
This is the second year I’ve actually worked with Kurt. Last year, we worked together when I was at RCR and he was at Furniture Row. We kind of had the relationship to share all their information, so Kurt’s a great teammate and he’s great with the cars and has run well throughout the season, so it’s been a good asset for [the] Stewart-Haas [racing team].
Do you get bored during a race, like during red flags [when the race is stopped]? What do you do in or out of the car?
Well, red flags, they hadn’t figured out that it’s really hot in the cars when they’re not moving, so they make us sit in the cars on occasion probably longer than they should. But a red flag just kind of stops the momentum of the race for sure and kind of gets you out of sequence with all the things that are going on and obviously changes the path of the race. I don’t know that I necessarily get bored, but hot definitely.
What’s worse emotionally, finishing second or last?
Probably second, just for the fact that it’s hard to win in our sport, and when you get that close, you think in your mind that you probably could have figured out a way to put yourself in a position to win or have done something different. If you finish last, it’s usually catastrophic failure with a part or a piece, or a big wreck.
Do you have a say in on what goes on your car, fire suit or helmet? Do you design any of that yourself?
I get involved in some of that stuff, and we’ve used a lot of the same people with the helmet design and painting throughout the years. So I got involved in the Jimmy John’s helmet pretty heavily and kind of ventured out to do some different things on the helmets this year. The suits are kind of, they are what they are. The sponsors design them and the team puts all the logos in the right spot, and you just make sure they fit.
What do you think of the new points system and the new Chase? You’re locked in with two wins this season.
Well, I think it’s definitely made it different as far as the way everyone’s approached the season. Everyone’s trying to get themselves a win to get themselves locked into the Chase. The last few points spots are going to be interesting to see how all of that shakes out, but I like the format. It’s going to be intense and a lot of pressure to go through the last 10 weeks to keep advancing from round to round, but that’s what our sport needs.
You won the Chicagoland Sprint Cup race the first two years it ran. What would it mean to you to win again?
It’s been a really good racetrack for us. We just hadn’t put a complete day together to win recently. So the first couple years were definitely fun and to kind of kick this market off into having a strong fan base here and obviously we want to get back to victory lane, so hopefully we can do that this year.
Are there certain tracks, or aspects of certain tracks, that play to your strengths?
Yeah, you know I think [Chicagoland] is very wide and you can run from the top to the bottom, and I think any time the racetrack can have multiple grooves like that for me personally is a track that I tend to do better at just for the fact that you can make up for your car if it’s a little tight or a little loose. I think that the characteristics of this track have definitely gone in my direction as the track’s aged.
Do you bring your family to the racetrack?
I do. [My 2-year-old son] Keelan loves going to the racetrack and being around just the cars and having everybody together. He and [my wife] DeLana probably go to more races than they don’t go to, so as long as they’re not off doing something at the beach or something like that then we can get everybody on the road.
What’s it been like at Stewart-Haas Racing and being teammates with big names like Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick?
It’s been good. I’ve worked with everybody before this year, so I think, as we’ve gone into the year, there wasn’t really a learning curve or anything that needed to be learned about each individual. I already knew everybody, so coming in it was just, how do we make our cars better? How do we make the team better? And everybody’s been doing their thing to try to keep advancing the company, and I think everyone’s done a great job, so I’ve been really happy with the direction of the team and everybody’s been working together well.