Archive for Saturday, February 19, 2005

Harvick stirs up plenty of trouble

February 19, 2005

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— In another era, Kevin Harvick might have been treated with grudging respect around the NASCAR garage. He races hard and doesn't really care what anyone thinks.

These days, that's enough to make him one of the most unpopular drivers on the Nextel Cup circuit, many of his rivals viewing him 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 for Sunday's Daytona 500. 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" the lead car 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 likely will result in heavy fines and maybe even a suspension.

That's nothing new to Harvick,

He received a one-race suspension in 2002 for rough driving. The following year, NASCAR levied a $35,000 fine after he flipped out at Richmond, intentionally banging into Ricky Rudd's car after they tangled late in a race.

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

With that out of way, both Harvick and Johnson said Friday that all was 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 driving style just because he's not well-liked in the paddock.

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

Maybe Harvick drives 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 championship.

Harvick won in just his third career start, the first of two victories in 2001.

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