Harvick Enjoys Largest Points Lead of Season: Fans Enjoy the Personality

Hank EptonCorrespondent IMay 9, 2010

DARLINGTON, SC - MAY 08:  Kevin Harvick, driver of the #29 Shell / Pennzoil Chevrolet, looks on from the grid prior to the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup series SHOWTIME Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on May 8, 2010 in Darlington, South Carolina.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jerry Markland/Getty Images

It seems either good news or bad news can be a strong motivator for Richard Childress Racing.

Kevin Harvick stormed from a 35th starting position to finish sixth at Saturday’s Southern 500 at Darlington.

It’s his fourth consecutive top 10 finish and his tenth top 15 finish in 11 races this season.

It completes a rebound from his one blemish: a 35th place finish at Martinsville following brake problems.

Harvick’s Darlington performance comes in the wake of reports that he’s close to completing negotiations to remain at RCR for the foreseeable future, and his win at Talladega came following the news that four year sponsor Shell-Pennzoil will be leaving after the 2010 campaign.

The 110-point lead Harvick enjoys headed into Dover is the largest margin held by any driver this year, and a 52-point gain at the Monster Mile will ensure that Harvick will take the points lead into June with merely a start at the 600 mile marathon at Charlotte on Memorial Day weekend.

Dover has been daunting for Harvick, he’s posted two top five finishes and six top 10s for an average finish of 18th.

Charlotte has also been an enigma for the points leader, and while posting an All-Star win there, in points races he’s not fared as well: one top five and three top 10s in 18 starts for an average finish of 21.2.

It’s one of seven tracks where his average start is worse than his average finish.

Now take all of those numbers and throw them out the window.

At this point last season, Harvick was in 21st in the standings, and wouldn’t climb into the top 20 until the last race of the year at Homestead.

Through Darlington, he had posted just two top-10 finishes and five finishes of 30th or worse.

What a difference a year makes.

The 11 races to close out the ’09 season started to show a glimmer of hope, with five top-10s and just one sub-30th finish during the stretch.

Better cars, a happier driver, and some good racing luck have allowed Harvick to reel off one of the finest starts of his 10-year career.

Around the Internet, you can feel the Jimmie Johnson fatigue.

His poor runs make bigger headlines than his good finishes, because they’re rare—like unicorns and flying monkeys.

People are excited about Harvick because in some ways, and to many fans, he’s a bit of a throwback.

He can be difficult with the media at times, but if you can tolerate the trouble, he often gives a good quote.

He lacks some of the PR-conscious vanilla-speak that has become the norm in the sport.

Maybe someone outspoken is just what NASCAR needs to break out of its current mold.

NASCAR says it’s allowing personality to come out on the race track through self-policing, now a driver with some color is leading the points.

Harvick seems to deviate from the 21st century driver template.

He’s opinionated, caustic at times, humorous at others, and invariably interesting.

His species is getting rarer by the season in the Sprint Cup series.

In short, his success is probably good for the sport.

Harvick may very well be on his way to a championship, and then again he may not.

His being in the hunt for one is just enough for now.

Thanks Kevin, you’re making it interesting for all of us, and welcome back to championship form.