INDIANAPOLIS - As the defending champion of the Brickyard 400, Kevin Harvick is as confident as he can be on the eve of the race. Harvick knows there would be no better time to return to victory lane.
With just six races to go before "The Chase for the Nextel Cup" begins, Harvick is 10th in the points race - the final qualifying spot for the final sprint to the championship. A strong run here will solidify his position, while a win would significantly strengthen it.
"Winning here, it's the biggest thing I've done in my career," said Harvick, who also won the pole last year. "To do what we did last year and know the aspirations I had as a kid and to grow up and actually go to Indianapolis and win at the Brickyard - not in an Indy car but in a stock car - is probably almost unrealistic when you think about it. When you grow up and you want to do something, nine times out of 10 you don't get it to go that way. I'm pretty lucky to be able to do what I do and to bring back a lot of dreams."
Harvick, who has not won since his Brickyard victory in 2003, returns to the Speedway feeling like he has a formula.
"Winning here, it does a lot for your confidence, just knowing we've done well every time we've been here and knowing the sensation of winning at the Brickyard," Harvick said. "It feels good to win anywhere, but it's a little bit more exciting here. It has a little bit more meaning than anywhere else. It's definitely exciting to go back, and I'm looking forward to running well and hopefully, running out front again."
There is a lot of nostalgic value in racing here, said Harvick, who grew up in Bakersfield, Calif.
"I think as far as stock car racing goes that the Daytona 500 is still the marquee event," Harvick said. "But for me personally, I grew up racing and wanting to race Indy cars and wanting to race in the Indy 500 someday, so for me it was probably as big a win as anything."
RUSTY WANTS IT ALL, JUST ONCE: Rusty Wallace has been blessed over his 25-year career on NASCAR's top circuit. The St. Louis native has won 55 races, and a season points championship in 1989. He has finished in the top 10 in the season championship race 16 times. But the big ones have continually slipped from his grasp.
Despite his laundry list of accomplishments, Wallace has not been able to win the Daytona 500 or the Brickyard 400. He takes another shot at the latter at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway tomorrow.
"I have said for a while that I would like nothing more than to win a Daytona 500 and a Brickyard 400 before I hang it up," said the 47-year-old driver. "Those are really the last two on my hit list. For most of us, these are the biggest races and the ones that carry the most prestige. We get another shot at Indy, and we are fully focused on getting a win here."
Wallace has finished in the top 10 in nine of the 10 times the Brickyard has been run. He has been second three times, and fourth on two occasions.
"We've been so close," he said.
TV MAKES JARRETT A CELEB: After winning a series championship and a bunch of races, you would expect Dale Jarrett to have long since settled into the role of celebrity. But even after three wins in the Daytona 500 and two victories in the Brickyard 400, Jarrett's star power did not really take off until he started doing commercials for his principal sponsors - UPS, Coca-Cola and Ford. Jarrett said the television deal has made him a very recognizable face after two decades in stock car racing.
"It has opened doors and opportunities for me, no question about it," Jarrett said. "It is something that I have had a lot of fun doing, really a lot more than I ever expected. And now, no matter where I go in the country, people recognize me from those television spots."
LEFFLER PRACTICE LEADER: Jason Leffler was the fastest in yesterday's practice session, with a lap of 184.460 mph. Casey Mears was second fastest at 184.222, while Sterling Marlin was third at 183.337. Points race leader Jimmie Johnson had the fourth-fastest lap in practice at 18.104.22.168691 -86.14996