Top 10 NASCAR Driver of the Year 2011:
8 December 1975
Bakersfield, California USA
Richard Childress Racing
Surely 2011 has been a very successful season for Kevin Harvick? Four wins (at California, Martinsville, Charlotte and Richmond) and 19 top ten finishes over the season culminated in third place in the championship, just behind the titanic struggle for the title between Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards. You'd expect Harvick to be satisfied at a decent year's work in 2011, right?
You'd be wrong. Harvick is clearly distinctly less than happy at his inability to improve on the same position in which he finished the championship in at the end of 2010. That sense of hitting his head on a potential glass ceiling - that he might be thwarted from taking the next step up and clinching the title - seems to be at the front of his mind right now. For that reason, he's been clearing the decks of all the things he's seen as potential distractions this year in order to give himself as much chance as possible of finally claiming the title in 2010. To that end, he's shuttered his eponymous Nationwide and Truck team, Kevin Harvick Inc. (rolling the Nationwide side back into his Cup team's operation so that he can still race in that series when it's helpful to do so) and also made changes to his crew, requesting that Richard Childress replace his current crew chief Gil Martin with Shane Wilson in 2012. The message that comes out is that no former partnerships or friendships will be allowed to get in Harvick's way next season.
There's also been the small matter of the ongoing season-long feud between himself and Kyle Busch. Perhaps Harvick was using this conflict to boost his aggression and competitiveness in the races, but might it also have been a distraction to his own races? The run-ins with Busch started as early as the second race at Phoenix - a tap from Harvick sent Busch into the wall and to the back of the field early in the proceeding - but it wasn't until Darlington that the situation flared up into an altogether different magnitude. A seemingly routine three-wide incident between Harvick, Busch and Clint Bowyer was followed by Busch blaming Harvick and deliberately sending the #29 spinning after the yellow came out. Harvick was incensed but waited until after the race to stalk Busch around the track, block the #18's entry onto pit lane and then jump out of his car to run over to the Toyota and try and deliver a punch through the driverside window. Busch gunned his engine and shunted the #29 aside to escape: neither driver came out of it well and both received NASCAR sanctions.
It was the start of a feud that continues to this day, with Harvick making it clear that he was targeting Busch and seemingly dragging in both his RCR Cup team mates and his KHI-employed drivers to hound Busch at every opportunity in every series. Even Harvick's Cup team boss Richard Childress got in on the act, marching down pit lane to punch Busch in the face after a Truck Series race incident at Kansas. Ultimately the campaign probably worked, a rattled Busch making a season-defining misjudgement at Texas by dangerously taking out KHI's Ron Hornaday Jr. under yellow and incurring the wrath of NASCAR in the process. Harvick's revenge was complete - but had it come at the cost of taking his eye off the ball in the Cup championship?
Top 10 NASCAR Driver of the Year 2011 results so far:
6. Jeff Gordon
7. Marcos Ambrose
8. Jimmie Johnson
9. Kasey Kahne
10. Dale Earnhardt Jr.