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Published: Thursday, 4/18/2002

Harvick fast at setting lows

BY DAVE WOOLFORD
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Isn't that Tony Stewart with the pink cheeks singing amid the baritones?

The recent sour, off key, wrong octave antics of Kevin Harvick have certainly made Stewart, the one-time Bad Boy of NASCAR, look like a choir boy.

Meanwhile, Harvick faces the music. If he so much as even kicks the tires on the NASCAR transporter - the woodshed of Winston Cup - he could double his trouble, which is already triple that of anyone else who races under the NASCAR banner.

And if he's looking for support among his peers, he might as well be driving a dune buggy in the desert.

Take Ward Burton for instance:

“He's lost the respect of lot of people because of his childish behavior. I'm not going to sit here and say I'm perfect by any means and that I haven't made mistakes and lost my temper, but he loses his every week.”

There are some who think that Harvick, who took over from the late Dale Earnhardt at Richard Childress Racing last year, is trying to create a bad-boy image, much like Earnhardt had, but one that didn't spill over to off-track confrontations.

“He's acting like somebody he shouldn't be acting like,” said Tommy Baldwin, Ward Burton's crew chief. “That kid couldn't fill Dale Earnhardt's shoes. He can't drive like Dale Earnhardt; nobody will be able to get away with the stuff he did. That kid is not even close to shinning Dale Earnhardt's shoes, and he needs to wake up and start driving the proper way and stop shooting that mouth off.”

In unprecedented action by NASCAR, Harvick was not allowed to participate in last Sunday's Virginia 500 and was later fined $35,000 and put on probation for the remainder of the season following two on-track incidents with driver Coy Gibbs in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event last Saturday at Martinsville.

Harvick reportedly said over his two-way radio that he was going to wreck Gibbs, and despite warnings from NASCAR, did so anyway. When summoned to the NASCAR transporter for consultation after the race, Harvick reportedly said that if officials wanted to talk to him they could come to his motorcoach. He later relented.

His probationary period extended an earlier probation that carried through Aug. 28, the result of a post-race grabbing and shouting row with driver Greg Biffle following a NASCAR Busch Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 23. Harvick waited until the race was over and then raced to Biffle's pit to physically activate his animosity.

This goes way beyond double secret probation.

“I like to think if you're going to drive Dale Earnhardt's car, you need to do what Dale Earnhardt did, and 99 percent of the time he just kept his mouth shut. And his actions spoke louder than his words,” said Bill Wilburn, crew chief for Rusty Wallace.

Harvick is considered one of the best young drivers on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit. It's just that his anger indicator light is always flashing. After taking over for Earnhardt after Earnhardt' death in the 2001 Daytona 500, Harvick won two races, finished ninth in the Winston Cup points and also captured the Busch Series championship.

He ran 70 races in NASCAR's top three series last season. Maybe he's experiencing residual withdrawal effects, even though he has turned his attention almost exclusively to Winston Cup, where he's currently 20th in the point standings.

Harvick has been unavailable for comment, but issued a statement that has a profound public relations spin. He thanked those who have offered support, apologized for demeaning Childress and team sponsors and supposedly said, “I'm still learning how NASCAR works and what is involved in the decisions they make.”

What is involved is blatant disregard for the rules, both written and implied.

“I just think it was probably NASCAR saying that they had enough,” said Bill Elliott. “He [Harvick] kind of did it to himself. He failed to realize that when you're on probation no matter what NASCAR series it is, it's across the board. When you do blatant things, such as spinning someone out, it's time for the sanctioning body to take action.”

Harvick might have also set himself up for some paybacks from other drivers he's rubbed - literally - the wrong way. He might get jostled a little more than normal at Talladega Sunday, but he won't be able to retaliate or his next suspension will be “indefinite,” according to NASCAR.

Talladega is the fastest and one of the most dangerous venues on the Winston Cup schedule. It's not a place for retribution.

“In our sport, I'm a firm believer that there's a racing god,” said driver Bobby Hamilton. “What goes around comes around. If somebody does something to you intentionally, NASCAR will take care of it if you let them take care of it.

“We're working our tails off and we've gotten things a lot safer. And we don't need to go through another year of what we just went through.

“You need not carry any grudges whatsoever when you walk through the gate at Talladega.

“If you've got a problem with a guy - and NASCAR won't like this - but you need to go out the gate and to a store or somewhere, and punch him in the nose or something.”



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