A couple of words in S.D. Grady’s weekly commentary got my attention this week.
As a foreword, I always read her commentary because I love that perspective. My position as a race official, most often as a flagman, was somewhere between the fan’s view and that of a competitor, and I always identified with what the fans were seeing.
With that being said, the two words that caught my attention were “learned move” in describing Kevin Harvick‘s slingshot off the fourth turn and through the tri-oval at Talladega, used to nip Jamie McMurray by less than the length of his hood at the start/finish line. The fact that it came on the third and final GWC attempt is immaterial (although it seems that requiring three of those things, just daring it to happen, is another matter for discussion).
Her statement reminded me of Kevin Harvick‘s two wins in the Kroger 200 Nationwide Series race at O’Reilly Raceway Park.
I’m beginning to realize that Harvick is one of the more astute drivers out there today, and he seems to use his practice time to particular advantage. In a post-race interview at Talladega, he admitted that he had practiced that move and worked on the timing. All of that apparently came in pretty handy at the finish.
I can recall my son, while still in his teens when I first went to what was then-IRP in 1985, commenting on the action on that .686-mile oval. The accepted fast groove was up high, and Matt said, “Y’know, Dad, if you could get one to handle down on the inside here, you’d blow everybody away.”
I believe it was 2001, after I had officially left the employ of NHRA but was helping for the big events, when in the 200-lap (then) Busch Series race, Harvick went to the bottom side in the latter stages of the event, worked his way to the front, and won going away.
After the race, I got to give Richard Childress, Kevin, and DeLana a ride up to the helicopter landing zone in my golf cart. While waiting for Kevin to have just one more photo taken, I mentioned it to Richard. He just grinned and didn’t say anything.
We talked about it, and I made mention of it in the results story I sent out, but apparently nobody was paying attention. Except Richard and Kevin, maybe, and they already knew about it.
Five years later, I was watching that race on television from my present domicile in Kentucky and history repeated itself. Harvick took the low road and, as the only car down there, picked up his second checkered flag in the event. As a matter of fact, with about 25 laps to go I got a phone call from my son, asking if I was watching him do it again.
This time, somebody asked him in the post-race interview about finding that low groove, and he admitted to having practiced it.
I think he said something to the effect that everybody else seemed to be wondering why he was working the low side in practice and figured he couldn’t get the car to handle. Like I said, apparently nobody was paying attention in 2001.
As a matter of fact, he alluded to the previous victory, saying, “We did the same thing here when I won this race in 2001.”
What does all this prove?
Well, first that Kevin is pretty sharp, and second, that practice isn’t just for getting your car as fast as it will go.
It’s also about figuring out a way to win.