Or Determined Champion?
Kevin Harvick, one of the most popular and successful drivers currently in the Cup series, has had a hard time rallying his team this year.
Known for his intensely competitive nature, Harvick has been the instigator of many notable confrontations with other drivers. However, the former Sprint Cup Champion also exhibits a pattern of heated exchanges with his own team.
Back in the 2014 season, Harvick consistently voiced displeasure with his pit crew, stating the car was always fast; however, the pit crew was often slow. As his team entered the 2014 Chase, he and Tony Stewart swapped pit crews. Harvick claimed the 2014 Championship with Stewart’s pit crew and carried them into the next season. For 2015, Harvick’s pit crew frustrations seemed to subside.
2016 has been a different story.
The driver’s temper first flared back up at the May Dover race after unfortunate circumstances saw him lead a total of 117 laps [losing the lead twice on pit road] before a 15th-place finish. Among his many choice words for the pit crew, “terrible” was one that drove his point home.
The New Hampshire 301 in July saw Harvick lose a total of 14 spots between two poorly executed pit stops. The driver had this to say about the race: "I'm disgusted to tell you the truth. It’s the same thing every week. We just make mistake after mistake, and until we clean that up we don’t have a chance to win races putting ourselves in a hole every time we make a mistake. It sucks because the cars are plenty fast, but we are just not executing."
NBC analyst Dale Jarrett agreed with Harvick’s frustrations, but not his methods: “The facts are there, you don’t have to tell the world that we had bad pit stops, that was quite obvious. But he is right in the fact that if they’re going to be a championship contending team, then these pit stops need to get better.”
Essentially, Jarrett proposed Harvick’s message should have been private with the team and not broadcast to the fans.
Tensions between driver and crew came to a boiling point just before the Chase at the Southern 500, historically one of racing’s most coveted- and watched- events.
The 4 car was undoubtedly the car to beat. Leading 214 total laps and repeatedly recovering from poor pit stops, Harvick was forced to drop from 1st to 12th with only 80 laps to go after a crew member accidently knocked the lugnuts off a swapped tire. Harvick still managed a 2nd-place finish; however, a Darlington trophy would have been attainable if not for the crew’s frequent mistakes.
“I’m over being a cheerleader. These guys get paid good money. They need to do a better job.”
Harvick didn’t just call out the crew this time; he called out his crew chief [Rodney Childers] and a Stewart-Haas Racing executive [Greg Zipadelli] for the mistakes.
Former teammate and NBC analyst Jeff Burton agrees with the driver: “[Harvick]’s a great teammate to have because he’ll complain about some things and make things get fixed that you may not have to complain about. So, he’s always pushing buttons in an effort to be better, and that’s part of what makes him a future Hall of Famer.”
Harvick calling out his own team did create change, as he received replacements from teammate Danica Patrick’s pit crew at the end of September.
As his issues with the crew were attempted to be resolved once again, it seems his temper towards his own guys bled over to teammate drivers instead.
Following minor contact on the cool-down lap of the Talladega Superspeedway Hellman’s 500 [the second elimination race of the Chase], Harvick promptly found teammate Kurt Busch still sitting in his car, and met him with a punch to the head.
Although Busch was guarded by his helmet, the ongoing aggressive behavior of Harvick towards his team might not paint any pretty pictures for the audience.
Is this the antithesis of Championship behavior, or are his actions creating a stronger team dynamic? Is he forcing SHR to bend to his will? Will they crumble under the driver’s ever-increasing pressure, or will the team rally behind Harvick's leadership and claim the 2016 Championship?
If you’ve got some wisdom to share, post it in the comments section.