Lesson from high school remains with Harvick: Be Superman all the time

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. – The kid was 10, more limbs than muscle, but it didn’t take the wrestling coach long to see the youth’s potential. He saw the toughness passed down from the kid’s fireman father. The kid was raw, fierce and hard to pin.

One day, the coach told the kid that he needed to wrestle more often in Saturday tournaments. This would help him improve and possibly lead to a college scholarship and the potential for a better life.

The kid missed those tournaments because he raced go karts. The coach didn’t see a future in that so he talked to the father, told the man what the boy could be. The father said if that’s what was needed, they’d curtail the kid’s racing so he could wrestle more often.

As he listened to the men talking, tears welled in Kevin Harvick’s eyes.


Rick McKinney laughs about what he tried to do with Harvick nearly 30 years ago.

“I’m the guy that almost screwed up his whole life,’’ said McKinney, who spent 25 years coaching high school wrestling and is a seventh-grade life sciences teacher in Clovis, Calif. “He could have been making $60,000 a year teaching and coaching someplace instead of being one of the best drivers in the world.’’

Harvick enters this weekend on the cusp of a second consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. He’ll race Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. for the title Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway on NBC.

Only 15 drivers in NASCAR’s history have won more than one Cup championship. The last three drivers to have won at least back-to-back titles had the surname Johnson, Gordon or Earnhardt.

Harvick is in this position because of a determination harnessed from his wrestling days in Bakersfield, Calif. Alone on the mat against an opponent, a competitor can either wilt or face the challenge. McKinney  steered Harvick through those years, forming a bond that remains between coach and athlete.

“At that particular point in your life, you don’t really know how much you can get out of yourself and you don’t know about that competitive nature that you have inside of yourself,’’ Harvick said of his high school days.

“I think that (wrestling) taught me how to push myself. It instills this different type of mentality that is instilled in your brain when you go through those day‑to‑day wrestling practices and the meets and the matches and the intensity and the days where you just drag yourself out of the room and have to go to class. It’s a hard, hard sport. Those were four of the best years that I’ve probably ever spent in my life in learning about myself.’’

McKinney admits he often tested Harvick on the wrestling mat. Instead of matching Harvick with someone closer to his weight – Harvick notes he weighed about 86 pounds as a freshman – McKinney put Harvick with a heavier teammate in practice at times. Harvick was told he couldn’t stop until he had taken down his opponent. Other drills included the wrestlers starting on their back and told not to get pinned.

Less than 72 hours before his championship quest, Harvick smiled at the memory of completing those drills on a sweat-slicked mat in a sweltering wrestling room.

Harvick also relishes the slogans McKinney repeated. One that McKinney often preached to his team was that “You can’t be Clark Kent when you practice and expect to be Superman and win. Be Superman all the time.’’

A few years back, McKinney was with Harvick at Auto Club Speedway. They talked about putting forth a full effort each time, and McKinney asked Harvick if he recalled one of the team’s slogans. Harvick responded: “Be Superman all the time.’’


Tony Stewart sees Harvick’s focus and determination — not just as an owner or a friend but as a competitor.

So fierce is Harvick on the track that a duel eight years ago remains fresh with Stewart. It was at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Harvick led with less than 20 laps to go. Stewart had the faster car – at one point he got on his radio and said “here kitty, kitty, kitty” – but couldn’t get by.

Stewart pounced when Harvick left a lane low with 10 laps to go entering Turn 1. Harvick responded. He slipped underneath Stewart in Turn 2. They hit and drag-raced down the five-eighths of a mile backstretch before Stewart pulled ahead and went on to win and climb the fence back when he did that.

Stewart likens Harvick’s resolve inside the car to a pair of former champions.

“Kind of compare it as a cross between Dale Earnhardt and Terry Labonte,’’ Stewart said, noting drivers who combined to win nine championships and 98 Sprint Cup races.

“It’s a scenario where you’ve got a guy that the circumstances don’t rattle him. It doesn’t matter what the task is ahead. It doesn’t matter if they’ve had pit strategy that’s got him in the back. It just doesn’t faze him, and it’s easy to rattle guys, but he’s just someone that has that calm, cool nature like Terry Labonte had, but he’s got that aggressive nature like Dale Sr. had, as well, and he’s got a good blend of both that makes him so tough.’’

And dominant. In an era of close competition, Harvick has finished first or second 36.6 percent of the time since last season. To put that into perspective, consider that Truex has scored a top-10 finish in 38 percent of the races during that same time.

Harvick says another key is that he also has learned to better control his emotions in the car. He was known to berate his pit crew on the radio at Richard Childress Racing. While there have been ups and downs since joining Stewart-Haas Racing before last year (crew chief Rodney Childers replaced the pit crew before last year’s Chase and transmission woes had plagued the team this season before a change in brands last week), Harvick has maintained better composure.

“When I came to Stewart‑Haas, I wanted that perception to go away,’’ Harvick said. “I wanted those past moments and radio conversations and things that happened at RCR, I wanted those things to not happen at SHR. That was definitely one of my goals, and yelling at Rodney, who is the calmest, quietest guy in the world, is not going to be very beneficial because it’s just not his demeanor and how he acts towards things. So I think Rodney’s demeanor really helps me.’’


Earlier this week, McKinney emailed Harvick, offering words of advice, including the slogan about being Superman.

They communicate often. Harvick noted that McKinney wrote him before the Dover race in the Chase when Harvick had to win to keep his title hopes alive.

What Harvick had to go through at Dover was just what he had done many times before in wrestling. No place to hide, challenge in front, either get it or be beat.

“I can remember being dead tired, many a times getting my ass whipped in the middle of a wrestling match and (McKinney) looking over between periods and whatever he would say and come back and win the match,’’ Harvick said. “He had that way of saying things to you to say, ‘All right, I can do this,’ and just to motivate you to do things that you might not otherwise have been capable of doing.’’

There’s no more coaching left for McKinney this weekend. He’s imparted the knowledge and infused it with motivational sayings. Now, it’s time for the driver who still calls McKinney “Coach” to take those lessons, combine it with his experiences, and go race for another championship.

Drivers to watch in Clash at the Coliseum


The 2023 NASCAR season will begin with Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum, the second race on a purpose-built track inside Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Although a non-points race, last year’s Clash generated intense interest as NASCAR moved the event from its long-time home at Daytona International Speedway to Los Angeles. The race was rated a success and opened doors for the possibility of future races in stadium environments.

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Year Two will find drivers competing on a familiar landscape but still with a track freshly paved. Last year’s racing surface was removed after the Clash.

Drivers to watch Sunday at Los Angeles:


Joey Logano

  • Points position: Finished 2022 as Cup champion
  • Last three races: Won at Phoenix, 6th at Martinsville, 18th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: Won in 2022

Logano put bookends on 2022 by winning the first Clash at the Coliseum and the season’s final race at Phoenix to win the Cup championship. He’ll be among the favorites Sunday.

Ross Chastain

  • Points position: 2nd in 2022
  • Last three races: 3rd at Phoenix, 4th at Martinsville, 2nd at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: Did not qualify last year

Chastain was the breakout star of 2022, winning a pair of races and generally putting himself front and center across much of the year. Can he start 2023 on a big note? If so, he will have to do so without replicating his Hail Melon move at Martinsville after NASCAR outlawed the move Tuesday.

Kevin Harvick

  • Points position: 15th in 2022
  • Last three races: 5th at Phoenix, 16th at Martinsville, 8th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 10th in 2022

Sunday will begin the final roundup for Harvick, who has said this season will be his last as a full-time Cup driver. He is likely to come out of the gate with fire in his eyes.


Kyle Busch

  • Points position: 13th in 2022
  • Last three races: 7th at Phoenix, 29th at Martinsville, 9th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 2nd in 2022

Welcome to Kyle Busch’s Brave New World. After 15 seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing, he begins a new segment of his career with Richard Childress Racing. He led 64 laps at last year’s Clash but couldn’t catch Joey Logano at the end.

Tyler Reddick

  • Points position: 14th in 2022
  • Last three races: 23rd at Phoenix, 35th at Martinsville, 35th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 21st in 2022

Reddick ran surprisingly strong in last year’s Clash, leading 51 laps before parking with drivetrain issues. He starts the new year with a new ride — at 23XI Racing.

Ty Gibbs

  • Points position: Won Xfinity Series championship in 2022
  • Last three (Cup) races: 19th at Martinsville, 22nd at Homestead, 22nd at Las Vegas
  • Past at Clash: Did not compete in 2022

After a successful — and controversial — Xfinity season, Gibbs moves up to Cup full-time with his grandfather’s team. Will he be the brash young kid of 2022 or a steadier driver in Season One in Cup?







Interstate Batteries extends sponsorship with Joe Gibbs Racing


Interstate Batteries, which has been a Joe Gibbs Racing sponsor since the team’s first race, has expanded its involvement with the team for 2023.

Interstate, based in Dallas, will be a primary JGR sponsor for 13 races, up from six races, the number it typically sponsored each year since 2008.

Christopher Bell and Ty Gibbs will run the majority of Interstate’s sponsorship races, but Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. also will carry the sponsor colors.

MORE: NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

“We’re extremely proud of our partnership with our founding sponsor, Interstate Batteries,” said team owner Joe Gibbs in a statement released by the team. “They have been such an important part of our team for over three decades now, and it’s exciting to have them on board all four of our cars this season. The best part of our partnership is the relationships we’ve built with everyone there over the years.”

Bell will carry Interstate sponsorship in Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum, the All-Star Race May 21, the Coca-Cola 600 May 28, at Texas Motor Speedway Sept. 24 and at Martinsville Oct. 29.

Gibbs, in his first full season in Cup racing, will be sponsored by Interstate at Daytona Feb. 19, Bristol April 9, Nashville June 25, Chicago July 2, Texas Sept. 24 and Charlotte Oct. 8.

Hamlin will ride with Interstate sponsorship March 26 at Circuit of the Americas, and Truex will be sponsored by Interstate July 23 at Pocono.

Interstate was a key JGR sponsor in the team’s first season in 1992.

NASCAR announces rule changes for 2023 season


CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR announced a series of rule changes for the 2023 season that includes outlawing the move Ross Chastain made at Martinsville and eliminating stage breaks at all six Cup road course events.

NASCAR announced the changes in a session with reporters Tuesday at the NASCAR R&D Center.

Among new things for this season:

  • Updated penalty for a wheel coming off a car.
  • Change to the amount of time teams have to repair cars on pit road via the Damaged Vehicle Policy.
  • Change to playoff eligibility for drivers.
  • Cars could run in wet weather conditions on short ovals.
  • Expansion of the restart zone on a trial basis.
  • Choose rule will be in place for more races.

MORE: Ranking top 10 moments at the Clash

NASCAR updated its policy on a loose wheel. Previously, if a wheel came off a car during an event, it would be a four-race suspension for the crew chief and two pit crew members. That has changed this year.

If a wheel comes off a car while the vehicle is still on pit road, the vehicle restarts at the tail end of the field. If a wheel comes off a vehicle while it is on pit road under green-flag conditions, it is a pass-thru penalty.

The rule changes once a vehicle has left pit road and loses a wheel.

Any vehicle that loses a wheel on the track will be penalized two laps and have two pit crew members suspended for two races. The suspensions will go to those most responsible for the wheel coming off. This change takes away a suspension to the crew chief. The policy is the same for Cup, Xfinity and Trucks.

With some pit crew members working multiple series, the suspension is only for that series. So, if a pit crew member is suspended two races in the Xfinity Series for a wheel coming off, they can still work the Cup race the following day.

The Damaged Vehicle Policy clock will be 7 minutes this season. It had been six minutes last year and was increased to 10 minutes during the playoffs. After talking with teams, NASCAR has settled on seven minutes for teams to make repairs on pit road or be eliminated. Teams can replace toe links on pit road but not control arms. Teams also are not permitted to have specialized repair tools in the pits.

NASCAR will have a wet weather package for select oval tracks: the Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Lucas Oil Raceway Park, Martinsville, Milwaukee, New Hampshire, North Wilkesboro, Phoenix and Richmond.

Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said that teams have been told to show up at these events prepared for wet weather conditions as they would at a road course. That includes having a windshield wiper. Wet weather tires will be available. 

“Our goal here is to get back to racing as soon as possible,” Swayer said. “… If there’s an opportunity for us to get some cars or trucks on the racetrack and speed up that (track-drying) process and we can get back to racing, that’s what our goal is. We don’t want to be racing in full-blown rain (at those tracks) and we’ve got spray like we would on a road course.”

NASCAR stated that it is removing the requirement that a winning driver be in the top 30 in points in Cup or top 20 in Xfinity or Trucks to become eligible for the playoffs. As long as a driver is competing full-time — or has a waiver for the races they missed, a win will make them playoff eligible.

With the consultation of drivers, NASCAR is expanding the restart zone to give the leader more room to take off. NASCAR said it will evaluate if to keep this in place after the Atlanta race in March.

NASCAR stated the choose rule will be in effect for superspeedways and dirt races.

NASCAR eliminates stage breaks for Cup road course events

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CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR will do away with stage breaks in all six Cup road course races and select Xfinity and Truck races this season, but teams will continue to score stage points. 

NASCAR announced the change Tuesday in a session with reporters at the NASCAR R&D Center. 

MORE: NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

NASCAR stated there will be no stage breaks in the Cup road course events at Circuit of the Americas (March 26), Sonoma (June 11), Chicago street course (July 2), Indianapolis road course (Aug. 13), Watkins Glen (Aug. 20) and Charlotte Roval (Oct. 8).

There will be no stage breaks for Xfinity races at Circuit of the Americas (March 25), Sonoma (June 10), Chicago street course (July 1), Indianapolis road course (Aug. 12), Watkins Glen (Aug. 19) and Charlotte Roval (Oct. 7).

There will be no stage breaks for the Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas (March 25).

In those races, stage points will be awarded on a designated lap, but there will be no green-and-checkered flag and the racing will continue.

The only road course events that will have stage breaks will be Xfinity standalone races at Portland (June 3) and Road America (July 29) and the Truck standalone race at Mid-Ohio (July 8). Those events will keep stage breaks because they have non-live pit stops — where the field comes down pit road together and positions cannot be gained or lost provided the stop is completed in the prescribed time by NASCAR.

NASCAR has faced questions from fans and competitors about stage breaks during road course races because those breaks alter strategy in a more defined manner than on most ovals.

Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said the move away from stage breaks at road courses was made in collaboration with teams and response from fans.

“When we introduced stage racing … we took an element of strategy away from the event,” Sawyer. “Felt this (change) would bring some new storylines (in an event).”

NASCAR instituted stage breaks and stage points for the 2017 season and has kept the system in place since. NASCAR awards a playoff point to the stage winner along with 10 points. The top 10 at the end of a stage score points.

It wasn’t uncommon for many teams to elect to pit before the first stage in a road course race and eschew points to put themselves in better track position for the final two stages. By pitting early, they would be behind those who stayed out to collect the stage points. At the stage break, those who had yet to pit would do so, allowing those who stopped before the break to leapfrog back to the front.