------------------------------ Originally Published Friday, June 22, 2001 -------------------
Harvick making racing proud
By Bill Poindexter
Record Assistant Sports Editor
SAN FRANCISCO - It was just eight years ago that Kevin Harvick won the Late Model championship at Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield, six years since he was rookie of the year in the NASCAR Southwest Series, three years since he won the Winston West points title and four months since he was named to replace NASCAR's best-known driver on the Richard Childress Racing team.
Yes, Harvick has traveled a lengthy distance in a short time, and under difficult circumstances.
But all is well with the 25-year-old native of Bakersfield as he prepares for his first NASCAR Winston Cup race at Sears Point Raceway this weekend.
After all, it was just three months ago that Harvick did the late, great Dale Earnhardt - and NASCAR - proud by recording his first Winston Cup victory in histhird Winston Cup race, a record in the modern era. Harvick now has six top-10 finishes in 15 starts and is ninth in points heading into the Dodge/Save Mart 350, which begins with qualifying today.
"The season has gone better than we could have ever planned it out," Harvick said Thursday. "The results have been pretty phenomenal."
It's been a pretty phenomenal rise up the NASCAR ladder for the kid who began driving go-karts when he was 5. And living in Bakersfield, his heroes weren't Earnhardt and Richard Petty. It was Indy 500 legend Rick Mears.
"I always wanted to be like Rick Mears. I grew up wanting to race Indy cars," said Harvick, an open-wheel fan.
Only his dad wasn't an open-wheel guy. He was into stock cars, so that's where Harvick's steering wheel was pointed. He competed in the Southwest Series from 1993-95 and raced at, yes, Stockton 99 Speedway and Altamont Raceway Park.
It's his short-track upbringing that continues his short-track love. His favorite track on the Winston Cup circuit? Bristol, because it's like Mesa Marinwith twice the banking.
He has vivid memories of Stockton 99, too.
"I remember there was a big metal building in the back with a sign that said,'No guns allowed in the pits,' " Harvick said. "Stockton was a cool racetrack, the kind of place where you get to bang."
Harvick is doing some serious banging this season - twice as much as everyoneelse, in fact. Harvick took Earnhardt's place without giving up his quest for
the Busch Series championship. Harvick is competing in both series. That's 69 races total.
"The fact of the matter is, we're getting two years of seat time in one year," he said. "Racing in both series has benefitted us more than it has hurt
Harvick was the Busch Series rookie of the year in 2000. He finished third inpoints and won two poles and three races.
This year, Harvick has won two Busch races, most recently last Saturday in the inaugural Busch event at Kentucky Speedway. Sunday, he finished 15th in the
Pocono 500 in Pennsylvania.
Helicopter and plane rides escorting him from race to race.
But he's loving the double duty, especially the Winston Cup part of the deal.
"NASCAR is a unique breed of sport," Harvick said. "It took me awhile to get used to racing next to the Bobby Labontes and Dale Jarretts. It's been quite
a career so far."
As expected, Harvick has met resistance because he isn't Earnhardt. But winning March 11 in Atlanta helped.
"That's the most exciting thing I'll ever do in my Winston Cup career. It was good for everybody involved, not only our race team but the whole sport,"
Harvick said. "The fans, for the most part, it's been 100 percent (supportive). But naturally, you have the critics that don't want you to do good."
Being back in California, and with family and friends in the house, Harvick shouldn't have to worry about that this weekend.@
n To reach assistant sports editor Bill Poindexter, phone 546-8289 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org