ANN ARBOR -- It has been more than a hundred races since Dale Earnhardt, Jr., NASCAR's icon by legacy, has forced a checkered flag to flutter in a Sprint Cup Series event. In excess of a thousand days have passed since the sport's most popular driver has been its best during that segment of motorized mayhem called a race.
Kevin Harvick competes with Earnhardt every week as a fellow driver and does everything he can to prevent Earnhardt and anyone else from winning. But Harvick stepped out of his role as the driver manning the cockpit of the No. 29 Budweiser Armed Forces Chevrolet for a moment here earlier this week and spoke as the pragmatic businessman and team owner who wants to see the sport thrive.
He wants to see Junior win.
"I hope so, because Dale's a good person, and obviously he's good for the sport," Harvick said. "Dale winning would be like us all winning."
Harvick came to Michigan to promote next month's racing schedule at Michigan International Speedway that will be highlighted by the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400 Sprint Cup race. He said Earnhardt, whose last Cup win at MIS was in June, 2008, has been getting closer to a return to Victory Lane.
"He's had opportunities to win races, and they've put themselves in position," Harvick said, "and if you put yourself in that position many times, then you're going to wind up winning some races.
"We've seen the confidence grow through the year as they've been a little bit more successful, and once he gets the 100 percent confidence back . . . "
Harvick, who has been in the spotlight recently due to an emotionally charged on-track fracas with Kyle Busch, said he can empathize with Earnhardt and the pressure the son of NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt, Sr., lives under every day.
"I'm just glad I don't have to be in his position, because the scrutiny and the attention and things that come with what he has to go through . . . " Harvick said. "From the outside looking in, it seems unfair."
Harvick, Earnhardt, and the rest of the Sprint Cup regulars descend on MIS twice each season. The June 19 Cup race will be preceded by the ARCA Racing Series event on June 17, and the Nationwide Series race on June 18. The Sprint Cup Series returns to MIS in August, when it will partner with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at the track.
Harvick ranks fifth in points this season among the Cup drivers and has two wins in the first 11 races. The attention this weekend is on Charlotte Motor Speedway and the Coca-Cola 600, but following his win at MIS last August, Harvick said he is eager to get back to the two-mile layout in the Irish Hills.
"Everybody's jacked up about coming up here and excited because we won last year. We feel like we figured a lot of things out," Harvick said about snapping a long streak of less-than-stellar finishes at MIS.
"For us, it's fun because we were able to accomplish something that we hadn't been able to accomplish for the nine years before that."
He tempers that excitement, however, with a slice of reality because Harvick is acutely aware that success in Sprint Cup involves a complex formula, the timely nailing of a series of fast-moving race set-up variables, and an ample dose of luck.
"Confidence is a great thing, but for us, whether we win or lose, we are able to put last week aside. We talk about last week for about five minutes," he said. "Because what happened last week doesn't really matter, even if you won. If you win, everyone is confident, but for us it's really about just trying to focus on what's ahead of us, instead of what's behind us."
Contact Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6510.