CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Nicknamed “Happy,’’ Kevin Harvick can be anything but that at times.
“I have no problem being the bad guy,’’ the former Sprint Cup champion says.
But there is a method to Harvick’s ways.
While his outbursts can be public — Harvick called out his pit crew after they cost him a chance to win last month’s Southern 500 — he says it’s all about being the best.
“I’m going to push everybody’s buttons, and I would expect them to push my buttons,’’ said Harvick, who has scored the most points in the regular season each of the past two years. “I think that’s a mutual respect that we have with our team amongst each other.’’
As the Sprint Cup Series gets on track Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway to begin the second round of the Chase, Harvick is the only driver who has yet to be eliminated since the format was adopted in 2014. He’s advanced all seven times, including last year at Dover when he had to win to transfer to the second round.
Harvick is the only driver who has been able to compete with the Toyotas all season. He’s the only non-Toyota driver to rank in the top five in laps led. He is third, having led 1,219 laps (Martin Truex Jr. is first with 1,594 laps led).
His team has been among the top cars the past three years, another sign to Harvick that his methods work.
“If I have to be the bad guy to bring things up and get them out there and for us to address them, I know everybody is going to respect that from within our organization and our team because we want to get better and we want to win,’’ he said. “But you have to balance that.’’
Harvick says how some view him is stilted. He’s not always yelling at his crew or team. He’s congratulated them after wins and encouraged them during races, yet he knows his outbursts get the most attention.
“I go with my gut,’’ Harvick said. “I go when I think things need to be pushed and pressed. You have to know that there are different people that like to be pushed and pressed and some people you have to handle delicately.
“I think there is some pretty thick skin on my team, and they know we’re there to be successful.’’
Harvick said he’s been pleased with his pit crew, which went through some changes late in the regular season.
“At the level our team is and the level they have performed at on pit road, the last few weeks has been at the level that is equal to the performance to our race cars,’’ Harvick said of his crew. “That’s what you’re looking for.’’
While much of the focus will be on Truex, who led a record 392 of 400 laps to win at Charlotte in May, Harvick has finished runner-up in each of the past two races at this track. It was four years ago that he last finished outside the top 10 at Charlotte.
“This is a championship team,’’ Harvick said. “It needs to be a championship team from the performance on the track, in the shop, on pit road, from the driver’s seat.’’
And to those who don’t view his tactics positively?
“The people who want to gripe about me, they aren’t our fans anyway,’’ he said. “My fans want to win.’’