Harvick will try to defend his Daytona 500 title

Published 12:17 am Tuesday, January 15, 2008

By By JENNA FRYER, AP Auto Racing Writer
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Kevin Harvick never really understood the lore of the Daytona 500 — until he won the race.
His win last season in the ‘‘Great American Race’’ is now the highlight of his 11 career Cup victories, and Harvick couldn’t wait to begin his title defense. He was the first driver on the track Monday morning when the second week of testing began at Daytona International Speedway.
Yes, Harvick won at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and has a victory in the prestigious All-Star Race. But none compares to the door-to-door battle he had with Mark Martin to the finish line in last year’s race. Harvick nipped Martin by just .020 seconds, and NASCAR needed several minutes to watch replays of the finish before validating the electronic results.
Replicating that magic won’t be easy, as Harvick learned last year. His 500 victory was his only points win of the year as Harvick and the No. 29 failed to parlay it into a fast start to the season.
Although his Richard Childress Racing team was entrenched in the top 12 of the points most of the year, he found himself clinging to his position in the Chase for the championship field as the ‘‘regular season’’ came to a close. And when the field was reset and the Chase contenders had equal shots at the championship, Harvick failed to mount a challenge.
Instead it was teammate Clint Bowyer who challenged for the title, giving the Hendrick Motorsports duo of Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon a strong push before the two pulled away for a 1-2 finish.
Bowyer finished third in the final standings, while Harvick was a distant 10th.
Harvick can point to the entire season going awry a week after his Daytona win, when he finished 17th at California Speedway.
While Harvick struggled at times on the track, he was celebrating off of it. He won his first championship as a car owner when Ron Hornaday drove a Kevin Harvick Inc. truck to the title, cementing Harvick’s little organization as a legitimate player in the lower leagues of NASCAR.
But that success has not spurred him or wife DeLana to grow their team much larger. He fields two trucks and a full-time Nationwide Series car, and has plans to run a part-time schedule in a second Nationwide car.
Beyond that, he has no grand illusions of being a mogul.