FORT WORTH, Texas – Winning is still everything to Kevin Harvick.
Not just on the track for the Stewart-Haas Racing driver but also in terms of building a star athlete into a transcendent brand whose boundless popularity can carry a sport.
After qualifying second Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway, Harvick was asked who could be the next driver to “move the needle” like a Tiger Woods in golf.
He said there was one active driver who could, and one former driver who had the chance but didn’t.
“The guy that has the most potential is Chase Elliott with the traditional NASCAR fans,” Harvick said. “There’s a difference between a superstar and an megastar. In the past, a superstar wasn’t a megastar because of the fact that he didn’t win enough. Chase Elliott is the next guy that can be a megastar, but you have to win.
“When you have a guy like Tiger Woods, he’s won and won and won and won and won and won. Danica (Patrick) had a personality. She didn’t perform well. She could have been a megastar as well. Danica didn’t perform well. In the end, performance trumped superstar to megastar. And if you want to be a megastar you have to perform and win. That’s the effect that a guy like Tiger Woods has.”
Patrick was Harvick’s SHR teammate for the past four seasons before retiring after this year’s Daytona 500.
It isn’t the first time Harvick has spoken out about the need for popularity to be linked to winning. Last year, he said Dale Earnhardt Jr. had “stunted” NASCAR’s growth because he lacked a championship (Earnhardt recently said the comment still stung).
Harvick clarified some of his position Friday, explaining that neither he nor seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson could become megastars because they lacked the necessary pedigree.
“It’s something that when you look at a guy like Jimmie Johnson — and Jimmie and I have had this conversation — we don’t have that capability from that traditional, roots family standpoint that you can be that guy,” he said. “There’s only a few people that come through the sport that can be that guy. Jeff Gordon came through, but he won a lot in the beginning. He was that young guy that kept winning and won championships and had that immediate impact as far as catching everyone’s attention.
“After you get in here for a few years and don’t catch everyone’s attention you just kind of wind up being one of the guys unless you end up winning a lot.”
Harvick said it would help if there were a few more natural rivalries among the younger set.
“I think when you look at the dynamic between Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, that’s the dynamic that we have the potential to have right now with the group of young racers that have come in,” he said. “But somebody has to step up and be that winner. Who’s the young winner? Who’s going to be the guy that’s going to go against (Martin) Truex (Jr.) and challenge him for the championship that he’s defending and win races?
“I’m happy with where I’m at. We’re winning races and gaining momentum and doing all the things we need to do. If we keep winning you’ll keep gaining that same momentum with the fans and hopefully we can keep doing that. … I love to talk about it because it’s very interesting.”
He also can be very honest in his self-analysis.
“The fact of the matter is that I’m never going to be Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Chase Elliott,” Harvick said. “You’re not going to have that connection the hardcore roots with the fans. Tony (Stewart) was popular but he was never going to be an Earnhardt. As you look at it right now, Chase has that potential. I’m fortunate to have a solid fan base. It seems like we keep gaining momentum from a fan side of things and hopefully that continues.”