|Kevin Harvick, driver of the #29 Budweiser Chevrolet, stands in the garage on Friday during practice for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. (Getty Images)
JOLIET, ILL. - The last thing Kevin Harvick wants is to be cast in the role of the bad guy heading into NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship Sunday in the GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.
Last year Harvick took it upon himself to go after Denny Hamlin in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota when Hamlin accused the Richard Childress Racing team of cheating in the lead-up to the Chase.
The result was that a distracted Harvick all but threw away the first Chase race at New Hampshire trying to give some payback to the No. 11 car.
Some suggest that it cost Harvick his chance to win his first championship.
But try as he might not to step on any toes as the 2011 Chase starts, the lead driver for RCR in the No. 29 Chevrolet finds himself right up to his hips in another controversy this time around.
Jeff Gordon, who lost to Harvick in a late-race duel at Richmond International Raceway last week, wondered aloud this week whether Paul Menard — Harvick’s teammate at RCR — spun his No. 27 Chevrolet deliberately to bring out a caution.
Harvick used the caution to beat Gordon off pit road and used his superior re-start to keep the No. 24 Chevrolet behind him.
The win put Harvick in a tie at the top of the Chase points race with Kyle Busch — each having four wins this season.
Now Gordon — and a lot of other drivers — feel that Harvick was handed the victory via Menard’s spin. And NASCAR bosses have launched an investigation into the incident.
Harvick, meanwhile, just wants to distance himself from any fallout.
“There’s a lot of things that we could debate and Jeff’s just debating the things that he’s been told,” Harvick said Friday at Chicagoland. “There’s no message, there’s no anything.”
Harvick said he wasn’t even aware that it was Menard who spun out to bring out the caution until after it happened; he never considered it might be part of any team orders to get past Gordon on the race track.
“We did the job that we needed to get done and won the race,” Harvick said. “There’s nothing that needs to be riled up or create a controversy. There’s nothing there.
“It’s something where people have opinions and I have an opinion and that is not anything against Jeff Gordon or anybody involved. He’s just asking questions and that’s what he should do.”
Harvick said he has worked hard his season to put his entire focus on winning a Sprint Cup championship for RCR, something that hasn’t been accomplished since Dale Earnhardt won his final championship in the No. 3 RCR Chevrolet back in 1994.
Harvick said he doesn’t want the Gordon allegations to cloud what matters to him most — bringing home the Sprint Cup trophy.
“You have to focus on your own team,” he said. “Right now, there’s 500 people at RCR and that’s really the only thing I care about.
“I don’t care what anybody says. I know Jeff is a very good driver and he’s been here before racing for championships and he wants to stir as much stuff up as he can, but we’re going to focus on our job and race as hard as we can and do what we have to do.”
Harvick has gone as far as to divest himself of his Nationwide and Camping World Truck series teams so he can put his full resources behind the No. 29 team.
“I feel good about where I’m at personally and professionally,” he said. “I feel comfortable with a lot of the things and decisions that have been made.
“I feel comfortable with where the performance of the car has been the last two weeks, but look, everybody’s here to do one thing and that is to win the championship. You have to focus on your own stuff.”