|Kevin Harvick, driver of the #29 Jimmy John's Chevrolet, walks in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Good Sam Club 500 at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Ala., Oct. 21, 2011. (JASON SMITH/Getty Images/AFP)
TALLADEGA - Each of the 12 drivers in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship has a pet name for Talladega Superspeedway.
Almost none of them can be repeated in a family newspaper, so for the sake of being polite most just call it the “wild card.” As in almost anything can happen and usually does at the huge 2.66-mile banked oval in central Alabama.
Kevin Harvick, who sits second in the Chase five points behind leader Carl Edwards, refers to Talladega as “the beast.”
The trick, said Harvick, will be to try one’s best to tame that beast for 495 miles of the Good Sam Club 500 on Sunday and let the last five miles take care of themselves.
What makes doing that hard, he said, is that there are “42 things you can’t control” at NASCAR’s biggest oval.
Harvick, driver of the No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, was, of course, referring to the other 42 drivers who are on the track with him when the green flag drops to start the race on Sunday.
“That does become really the hardest part of the way that the racing at Talladega is now,” he said.
Harvick was talking about teaming up with a driver he can trust in the two-by-two tandem racing that is all the vogue now at the super speedways and, equally important, staying away from drivers who you don’t trust, either because of their reputation for reckless driving or their inexperience.
“It is especially important on the re-starts and things like that and when they are bunched up ... that is when things get hairy,” he said. “You have to have a lot of faith in the guy in front of you.”
Harvick said he will seek out RCR teammate Paul Menard to hook up with both during the race and, hopefully, at the end of the race when he wants to be in a position to be at the front.
“I feel like myself and Paul have been through a lot of situations that will (make us) better this time than we were last time,” he said.
Harvick finished fifth in the spring at Talladega, being pushed by Menard’s No. 27 Chevrolet.
Harvick said he hasn’t decided yet which he wants to be — the pusher or the pushee — as the final laps count down.
“(It) depends on how late in the race it is, on how many chances you take,” he said. “Being the pusher, you are just committed. You hold it wide open and you hope to feel the guy in front of you if he starts to drag the brake (if) there is something coming, you need to be ready. A lot of it is just off of feel. It is definitely not off of sight, from the second car.”
Harvick, who said that while a win on Sunday would be a great way to go into the final four races of the 10-race Chase, it will be a tough challenge as Talladega is the most mentally taxing track on the NASCAR circuit.
“There are a thousand different scenarios that are constantly running through your mind as to where you need to be on the race track,’ he said. “Do I need to be high, do I need to be low, am I on offence, defence, what is happening?
“Those are constant evaluations of the situation that you are in as you are going through the five to go, four to go, three to go, two to go, and where you put yourself.”