RICHMOND, Va. -- For all the recent talk about repaving and reconfiguring certain race tracks, folks seem to forget that Richmond International Raceway underwent its own transformation in 2004.
But not Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 29 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. Kevin Harvick
Harvick remembers the way he used to run on the old RIR surface. True, he was then just starting out in his Cup Series driving career. True, he only ran six Cup races on it. True, he finished second in his second career start at the .75-mile track as a rookie in 2001.
But in five other career starts before the 2004 repaving, he had only one other top-10 finish and had an average finish of 19.4. It wasn't until the place got repaved that Harvick really started to get the hang of the short track -- and it has shown in the results he's posted since then.
Beginning in 2005, Harvick went on a string where he finished in the top 10 in 12 of 14 races at RIR -- culminating in his second career win at the track this past fall in the final race before the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup. In addition to the two wins and the 12 top-10s, Harvick also has recorded five top-fives during that stretch and his average finish is a stellar 9.6.
"Yeah, this has been a great place for us," Harvick said Friday. "For whatever reason, we've run well here over the years."
Harvick said the Richmond track is a perfect example of how certain facilities don't take as long as others to have a repaved surface turn racy.
"I think on the paving side of it, it seems like this track has worn out a little bit more than some of the other tracks," Harvick said. "I don't know if that's because it just feels like it because of the tire being softer that they bring here and it wears out quicker. It seems that the asphalt is worn out, but maybe it's just the tire.
"It takes time. Obviously this is a lot smaller race track than a Charlotte or Kansas or one of those styles of race track, so it takes probably less time to get it back to where you want it to be."
Harvick said it's not necessarily true that drivers never want tracks repaved. He said it's more accurate to say that they just want track operators to take the proper time to get the repaving right.
"Really, as a driver, you don't care. If it can be a repave like we had at Phoenix, where they go in and they really take the amount of time and effort to make sure that the grooves are [broken in], that would be OK," Harvick said. "I think if every track was treated like that, it would probably be less controversy on a repave than what we've had. Because really, Phoenix, you haven't heard much about that because of the preparation and effort that they've put into those particular races to make sure that the grooves are wide.
"So, if we can do that, I think that was a good lesson for everybody; but it just takes time and it just depends on where it is and what track it is. You look at Darlington [after repaving] and it really hasn't lost any speed. It's just lost color. And I've always said that the asphalt might be one of the biggest reasons that the tracks don't age. There are no rocks or anything in the asphalt to wear the tires out and [the cars] don't lose speed. Charlotte has been that way for a long time."
Harvick said track owners simply aren't all that receptive to drivers when they make such suggestions.
"They all just kind of turn around and walk off when you tell them things like that," said Harvick, smiling. "You feel like you don't get heard on that stuff."
Harvick does intend to be heard from before Saturday's Capital City 400 is over.
"We obviously have had good success here at this race track, so we come here expecting to be in contention to race in the top five for a win. That's pretty much the expectation," Harvick said.
Harvick, who is sixth in the point standings, gave up ownership and operation of Kevin Harvick Inc. at the end of last season. He said he thinks he has benefited from giving up the fielding of teams in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck series, with the biggest payouts from deciding to back out of the demanding ownership role still to come.
"I think the effect on the driving side of it has been a lot more than I had anticipated," Harvick said. "I've been able to be really in tune with my Cup program and really pay attention to understanding more about the engineering side of it because that's really what drives the sport. So I've been spending more time with my engineers and the crew chief [Shane Wilson], as well."
Plus, he simply has less to worry about. When there was a problem Thursday with inspection of the No. 33 Nationwide car he drove in Friday's Nationwide Series race, he simply deferred all questions to car owner Richard Childress. Those were questions he would have had to field himself as a Nationwide owner last year, taking away time and energy that he prefers to use now to help him focus on his Cup ride.
"With having everything at Richard's [shop], the Nationwide and the Truck stuff, it just flows," Harvick said. "And when there are problems like we had [Thursday], you don't hear about them. They just handle them. You show up and you drive the car and they handle the politics that go with situations like that. It's been a much bigger relief than I had anticipated." Related: Sadler mystified by inspection issue at Richmond Menzer: What's good for drivers not always good for fans Repaved Phoenix has plan to lay rubber in second groove