No. 29 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevy
Team: Richard Childress Racing
Crew Chief: Shane Wilson
Average Start: 18.8
Average Finish: 11.5
Races Led: 17
Laps Led: 403
% Laps Completed: 98.1%
Points Finish: 3rd
2011 in a Nutshell
For most drivers winning four races and finishing third in points would be cause for celebration. Except Kevin Harvick isn’t most drivers. And despite turning in another fine season which saw him once again challenge for the series crown, it wasn’t enough. Frustrated with the lack of communication between he and crew chief Gil Martin, not to mention the numerous races where the 29 team struggled to find speed, sweeping changes were made almost immediately after the checkered flag waved at Homestead. Enter Shane Wilson whose job it will be to lead Harvick to that elusive first series crown and find the consistency which eluded the 29 bunch throughout 2011.
Reasons to Believe
He has consecutive third-place finishes in the standings along with seven combined wins the last two years … Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, Kevin Harvick is the primary focus at Richard Childress Racing. Everything and anything that can be done to help him win the championship will be done … New crew chief Shane Wilson has worked with Harvick in the past, which should make the transition seamless … Intermediate tracks, which used to be an Achilles heel for this team, are now some of their best tracks as evident by their wins the last couple of years at Michigan, Auto Club Speedway and Charlotte … No surprise considering he drives for Richard Childress, Harvick is an ace on the plate tracks … Harvick has had success on flat one-mile ovals, road courses, superspeedways, mile-and-a-half’s, and pretty much everything in-between … This team is great at salvaging a bad day where they’re just off and turning it into a good day with a solid result … No driver is better in the closing laps than Harvick.
Reasons to Doubt
He is just an atrocious qualifier who has little to no desire to get better … Doesn’t communicate well with his team, especially when his car isn’t where he wants it. Instead of offering feedback, Harvick tends to just rant … Gets in stretches where he’s virtually invisible … The “Championship or bust” mantra could easily backfire … This team is consistent but isn’t consistent enough as they need to string together more consecutive top-10 finishes … Being the crew chief for Kevin Harvick comes with an extremely short shelf life … Harvick used to be great at Bristol, but his results have fallen off noticeably the last few years … Did a team which finished third these last two years really need a change atop it’s pit box?
Area of Strength: Homestead
The easy answer is Daytona and Talladega, but let’s instead highlight a lesser known strength of Kevin Harvick. If he finds himself is in the thick of the championship fight going into the last race of the year at Homestead, the competition should be concerned. Despite being winless there, the South Florida track is one of Harvick’s best, as he’s finished in the top-10 nine times in 11 races, and has an average finish of 7.9.
Area of Weakness: Winning in the Chase
In 2010 and ’11 Kevin Harvick had no problems winning during the regular season. But once the Chase starts, his winning ways go by the wayside. At least it’s been that way since 2006, the last time Harvick has posted a victory in a Chase race.
Best-case Scenario For 2012
After coming close the last two years, Kevin Harvick clears the final hurdle and wins his first championship and the first for Richard Childress since 1994.
Worst-case Scenario For 2012
The pressure to win the championship becomes too much for a team that at times still has chemistry issues. The result is a considerable drop in wins, top-fives and top-10s, with the team barely missing out on the Chase.
In Their Words
“I think if we could combine the two Chases (2010 and ’11), that would make a great Chase. We were very consistent in 2010. We were very inconsistent in 2011. We had speed in 2010, we didn’t have the speed we had in 2010 that we had in 2011. I think you need a combination of those two things. You have to have the capabilities in your cars of speed like Stewart had last year so that you can have a couple of bad races so you can go out and knock out a couple of wins. I think if you have that speed in your car and that capability no matter how bad a day you have a couple of races you can go out and overcome consistency with wins.”
Predicted Number of Wins: 1
The Racing Geek’s Final Thought
For a team which finished the year third overall, there sure were a lot of changes on the flagship team for Richard Childress Racing. If the gamble proves to be correct, and a change in leadership is what the 29 team needed, then Harvick should again be in the thick of the championship picture. If not, and he and Shane Wilson fail to gel, then a step back is almost certain.