Harvick tweeted Sept. 6 a video of a bull jumping from a ring into the grandstands, causing chaos. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver tagged it with “My mood for the next 11 weeks” and few would argue the accuracy.
If anyone can pull off bull-headedness for 11 weeks, it’s Harvick. He won’t be the most fun to be around and he might be hard to corral, but he believes that attitude will serve him best as he attempts to win his second title in the last three years as the Chase for the Sprint Cup kicks off Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway.
My mood for the next 11 weeks. pic.twitter.com/ewssWFvL7G
– Kevin Harvick (@KevinHarvick) September 6, 2016
Those around him saw that attitude two years ago when he won his first Sprint Cup title. They saw it last year. And the tweet last week didn’t surprise.
“I knew that about [him] two weeks ago,” said Childers as he stood in the garage Friday at Richmond. “He didn’t even have to tell me that.
“But that’s the good thing about him. He can flip a switch when it’s time to make something happen, and I think everybody saw that last week that he was ready to go.”
What people saw a week prior to the tweet was Harvick going full bore on his pit crew following a struggle at Darlington. The public tongue-lashing resulted in two crew members sent to Danica Patrick‘s team with two of Patrick’s pit-crew members all of a sudden pitting a championship contender.
Harvick puts on the blinders and just goes. For nearly three months. It worked to perfection in 2014 when he won the title. It nearly worked in 2015, when he finished second.
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Is that healthy?
“There is nothing healthy about the next 10 weeks,” Harvick said in an interview Tuesday with ESPN.com. “It’s very stressful. It’s hard on your body. It’s hard on your team. You have to be very aggressive in the conversations you have about your car and being very thorough and detailed and not overlooking anything.
“That comes with the territory. That’s the situation everybody is in. It’s a chaotic situation that you have to try to control and maintain.”
Harvick will admit that having such an attitude requires a balance. He felt he did his team a disservice last year, with his closed-fist shove of Jimmie Johnson post-Chicagoland. The two had door-slammed each other, and Harvick, trying to stay out with a tire rub, ended up with a flat.
“The reaction to what I felt like had done wrong to me last year — the reaction I had probably was not correct because it wasn’t the best thing to do for our team at that particular moment,” Harvick said. “You let the emotions kind of get the best of you.
“For me, personally, reacting to that particular situation, knowing the performance of our cars and knowing what we need to get done at Chicago, it needed to be handled differently. It started off by putting us in a bad spot, and that is something you want to try to avoid, especially in the first round.”
Other drivers, even past champions, appear much more relaxed than Harvick. They have intensity but their demeanors might be more of a cheetah or a shark rather than the bull.
They will use speed, or lurk and use sharp teeth. But they won’t appear always on the attack, especially when outside the car.
“We’re all wired differently,” said Johnson, a six-time Cup champion. “We all handle things differently. We all have different ways that we’re motivated.
“For me, that’s not the best way to go about it. I can operate in that space, but to intentionally go there and stay there. It’s a tough one for me.”
While mimicking the bull might be Harvick’s attitude, he knows he can’t just run through other cars on the race track while understanding that he will have to take more than he will give over the next 10 weeks.
All 16 Chase drivers have that attitude. It could come down to how much they are willing to take knowing that retaliation could be just around the corner.
“In order to be the bull, you have to be behind someone,” said Denny Hamlin, who has three wins this year. “I’d rather just be out front and fast all the time.
“There’s times to be aggressive and there’s times to have the mentality to be aggressive and just bull your way through, but ultimately in our sport nowadays it seems like if you bump into a guy, you expect to get bumped or wrecked right back.”
Hamlin can say that because he drives for a Toyota camp that has in some ways dominated the season. Toyotas have won 13 races and led 55.8 percent of the laps.
Harvick led the standings after 20 of the 26 regular-season races, including 16 of the last 17 weeks. He had a 42-point lead wiped away with the Chase reset and now sits six points behind the leaders.
Harvick won in the fourth race of the season, so he knew he would make the Chase. He didn’t win again until Bristol a few weeks ago. Two weeks later when he didn’t win Darlington, the bull in his voice came out. Six days after that, Harvick left Richmond feeling good about his revamped pit crew.
“Every lap matters [now] and every mistake is magnified,” Harvick said. “The guys did a great job on pit road [Saturday] under probably the most extreme pressure that you can put on them aside from racing at Homestead in the championship and they performed well.
“Everything is going well.”
Knowing things are going well, Harvick will need to keep the mood of a bull when he’s at the track. At home early in the week, he will try to remember that he has to relax.
“It’s a hard balance,” Harvick said, “because it is such an intense environment. I don’t know I can live that 24/7. … During the week, you definitely have to give yourself a break from it from a mental standpoint to try to keep your mind and your body as fresh as possible so you can carry that intensity for three days on the weekends.”
Harvick expects others to carry that mentality during the week.
“You have to carry that intensity for 10 weeks — it trickles down all the way through the shop,” he said. “It’s every small, last detail from every person and every position that works on that car in order to carry that intensity. It’s a hard thing to do and be thorough with everything we do.”
Maybe this whole bull-headed thing is a little overblown. All athletes must have laser focus and serious intensity to compete at the highest levels.
But Harvick believes this elimination-style Chase actually can, in some ways, change a person.
“I look at myself, the pictures from 2014 and 2015, you look like two different people from where you started the year to what you end the year,” Harvick said. “You can see the stress in everybody’s eyes and their face and everything that is going on. … It’s fun because it’s such a challenge.”
Oh come on, Harvick. No one can have fun looking that intense, walking by people as if they are invisible to you as you try to do your job.
“It’s such a high intensity level that it becomes challenging to control your emotions and control the things that are going on,” Harvick said. “That challenge of trying to control all that and be competitive and everything that comes with winning races and keeping yourself in contention, it’s that rush and that thrill to accomplish all that is something to me that is a challenge.
“It’s not always fun. But in the end, it’s that rush that drives me.”