To say that 2009 has been a struggle for Kevin Harvick and the No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil team would be a severe understatement.
Winless since the '07 Daytona 500, Harvick currently has an average finish on the year of 22nd, two DNFs and currently sits 23rd in the points standings.
The good news? This week, the NASCAR Sprint cup Series races into Richmond, a track Harvick is very good at.
“All the flat tracks have been out strong point through the years. As we go to the flatter race tracks during this point in the season, it's always something we look forward to. I grew up (racing) at Phoenix on the flat tracks.
Most everything we raced out there was pretty flat and kind of worn out, so that's the kind of technique I grew up racing with. That's just something we've put a lot of effort into and we've always been kind of good at it.”
Between his Nationwide and Cup career, Harvick has 36 starts, five win, 16 top fives and 25 top 10s.
The racing got off to an early start when Happy took 11th in Tony Stewart's fifth annual Prelude to the Dream on Wednesday night.
It was an even busier weekend for Harvick once he reached Richmond International Raceway, with a long all-in-one Nationwide Series practice, followed by Sprint Cup practice and qualifying for both events.
Harvick finished practice and Happy Hour 18th and 19th on the speed chart, respectively, and qualified later that day for the Cup race in the 19th position.
“I think our Jimmy John's Chevrolet was pretty good,” Harvick told Andy Petree during Nationwide Series practice. “The hard thing to tell is the tires fall off so much we don't want to dial ourself out to a tire that's fallin' off.”
Unhappy with his qualifying lap, Harvick took the green flag for the Virginia 529 College Savings 250. But don't think he let that stop him--by the lap nine restart Harvick was up to 14th and continued to work his way through the field.
By lap 19, Harvick had ended heated side by side battles with David Reutimann and Jason Leffler, and passed 10th place car Brendan Gaughan to enter the top ten.
The No. 33 Jimmy John's Chevrolet was eighth when the second caution of the night came out on lap 41, when the leaders came down pit road a lap later. Harvick was complaining to his crew about needing more forward bite. A slow stop by the team sent the owner driver back five spots, and he restarted 13th.
“Four freakin' spots...five freakin' spots. We can't have fast cars every week, every week on pit road. Telling you, the wheel's loose too.”
Despite the poor stop, Harvick was back in eighth by lap 56 after passing his Cup teammate, Clint Bowyer. He and rookie Trevor Bayne had a great side by side battle for fifth, with Harvick coming out on top by lap 80.
On lap 124 Harvick was in fourth when, under caution, he brought his No. 33 Chevrolet down pit road for the second time of the night. The team had a 15.8 second stop and lost just one stop, slipping to fifth.
Harvick stayed consistently in the top five, running third on lap 179, and thanks to lap traffic began making headway on the leaders thirteen laps later. Running on the outside, he blew by second place Carl Edwards on lap 196, and closed in on leader Denny Hamlin.
The two began to run side by side on lap 199, but Hamlin prevailed. Harvick, though, wasn't ready to give up and made another run the following lap, and stayed on the inside of Hamlin when the two approached lap traffic.
Harvick did clear Hamlin, but the No. 20 Z-Line Toyota came back on the outside and maintained his lead.
On lap 203 Hamlin got loose before hitting the start finish line on lap 203, clipping the No. 33 and causing damage to the right rear. Hamlin managed to save his car and the race stayed clean, with Harvick gaining the lead.
As Edwards began gaining on the leader, Harvick was told he was five laps short and told to conserve.
Debris brought caution on lap 227, bringing the leaders down pit road for their final pit stop of the night. Again, the No. 33 pit crew lost a spot on pit road, allowing Edwards to beat Harvick off pit lane.
Harvick made a run on Edwards on the restart with 20 to go, but it was to no avail. Edwards was able to extend a second lead over the No. 33 and take the victory, broken foot and all. Happy came home second.
“We were there at the end, just came up a little short,” Harvick said, thanking his pit crew and calling the contact between he and Hamlin “typical here a Richmond.”
Though he wasn't looking to qualify for the Race to the Chase, Richmond was an important race for the No. 29 Richard Childress Racing team. After their second place finish last week in Atlanta, Happy and the crew looked to continue to build momentum for 2010.
Starting 14th, Harvick was happy as he took the green flag for the Chevy Rock 'n' Roll 400, telling crew chief Gil Martin "I'm just riding...that's the scary thing."
Harvick ran consistently in the top fifteen all night long, battling side by side with David Stremme for 11th earlier in the event. He and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. would also have a heated battle as Harvick entered the top 10 going into four on lap 36.
From the lap 64 restart, Harvick continued his strong run, hovering around seventh after a fourteen laps of battling Kyle Busch and Earnhardt, Jr. With a hundred laps in the books, Happy had made his way to fifth and looked to be backing up his second place finish last week in Atlanta.
Harvick became disgruntled after the lap 207, telling his crew they "absolutely ruined" his No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet, and fell to sixth after being passed by Sam Hornish, Jr. on lap 251. After teammate Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch passed him, Harvick ran eighth by the following lap.
"I'm doing all I can to hang on," Harvick said on lap 277, continuing to struggle with the chasis changes his crew made. This grew worse on lap 282, when the crew had a dismal stop on pit road.
"I don't even know why we race," the driver snapped. "I can't remember the last time we gained on a pit stop. We've taken ourselves completely out (of contention in the pits) tonight."
He would restart on lap 288 in 11th, and was quick to re-enter the top ten just seven laps later. Harvick continued working his way back up through the field, racing bumper to bumper for three laps with Brian Vickers, making a move to the inside on lap 309 to capture the eighth position.
Happy would pass Jimmie Johnson on lap 313, but pit stops again cost him a spot as he fell back to eighth after stops nine laps later.
Harvick resumed his battled with the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet, as the two ran side by side and eventually retained his eighth place position from him before final pit stops came on lap 383.
"We absolutely suck on pit road," Harvick complained to his crew, who cost him two spots on pit road. "It's not fair to sit in this thing and know you've gotta pit like that. How many weeks are you gonna let it go?" Happy also had issues with his Nationwide Series pit crew the night before, as they lost several spots on pit road throughout the night.
On the lap 387 restart, Harvick stalked Bubble driver Brian Vickers, who was battling Hornish, Jr. in the No. 77 to gain the necessary points to guarntee him a Chase spot. He would remain behind Hornish, Jr. and brought the No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet home ninth. Teammate Clint Bowyer also ended up with a top ten on the night, finishing sixth.
It was Harvick's fifth top 10 on the season.
Thanks to NASCAR.com and Harvick's official website for the quotes used in the articlek, and thanks to Racing Reference for the stats used. For Tony Stewart's Lugnut Report, click here. For Richmond's Lugnut Reports, click here for Jeff Burton and here for Denny Hamlin.