MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Kevin “Happy” Harvick was anything but last week after he blamed his No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet pit crew for missing a chance to win the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
And the frown on his face hadn’t disappeared Saturday at Martinsville Speedway where he is life and death to remain a contender for the 2010 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship if he doesn’t win Sunday’s Tums Fast Relief 500.
This is the same Harvick who came into this year’s Chase with the best record in all of NASCAR.
He had dominated the series for most of the 26 races that led up to the start of NASCAR’s version of playoffs.
But once the green flag waved at New Hampshire to start the final 10 events of the season, Harvick’s regular visits to victory lane stopped.
Although he has maintained enough top finishes — 5th at New Hampshire, 3rd at Kansas and 7th at California — he has lost ground to both points leader Jimmie Johnson and second-place Denny Hamlin.
He currently is 77 points back of Johnson.
If he loses any more ground on Sunday, it’s wait ’til next year time in the RCR garage.
So desperate is Harvick for a win over both his rivals that he not-so kiddingly suggested that he just might have to wreck Johnson’s No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy if that is what it takes.
At least that was his reply when asked if he needed to hit a home run at Martinsville to keep his hopes alive of stopping Johnson from winning his fifth consecutive Sprint Cup trophy.
“Or, just hit him,” Harvick said. “No, I’m just kidding, kinda.”
Harvick’s team owner Richard Childress is equally concerned about the No. 29’s performance since the start of the Chase.
On Saturday that concern translated into action when Childress replaced all seven of Harvick’s pit road crew members with those from the No. 33 team of Clint Bowyer.
Bowyer, who sits 12th and last in the Chase, had been getting the best pit stops of any of the three RCR teams in the past five races and admitted that he’s “taking one for the team” with this move.
Harvick will need all the help he can get after blowing Friday’s qualifying with a relatively slow 95.521 m.p.h. lap that puts him 36th on the grid to start on Sunday.
That’s 35 spots behind Hamlin and 17 spots behind Johnson when the race goes green.
Harvick admits while there is more pressure to win now that there is only five chase races left, he isn’t about to gamble all his chances away with some rash moves at Martinsville where the track’s tight little half-mile confines tend to breed crashes.
“I feel like we need to win a race in the next five to make it happen, but when you start forcing things to happen, you’ll wind up with a 35th (place finish) and then you’ll be done,” he said.
“To be in the game, you have to be close enough to be a part of the game.
“We’ll just go out and do what we know how to do and start going forward over these last five weeks.”
However he frames it, Harvick has to know that Sunday is make or break time and history certainly isn’t on his side at Martinsville.
He has never won here, nor has he ever recorded a Top 5 finish in his 18 starts at the short oval.
Harvick must realize that even a win may not be enough if Johnson and Hamlin — who have combined to win the last eight races at Martinsville — both get top five finishes today.