Kevin Harvick was the comeback driver on the comeback team of the comeback organization in 2010.
Harvick went from 19th in the standings a year ago to winning the regular season and scoring the most points of any driver during the entire year.
He didn’t win the title – that distinction belonged for the fifth consecutive year to Jimmie Johnson – but Harvick turned a less-than-certain future at Richard Childress Racing into a partnership that could lasts for several more years.
In his 10th full-time season in Cup, Harvick entered the year thinking it possibly would be his last at RCR. The first half of 2009 had been miserable and he was in the last year of his contract.
But a win at Talladega highlighted a first third of the 2010 season that saw Harvick and Childress sign a contract extension, followed by more wins at Daytona and Michigan and a battle for the championship down to the final lap.
Harvick went into the season finale 46 points behind leader Denny Hamlin and 31 behind Johnson.
He ended up 41 points behind Johnson and two behind Hamlin.
“We went down swinging and that’s all you can ask for,” Harvick said.
That third-place finish wasn’t a downer considering a season in which he not only had three victories but 16 top-fives and a series-high 26 top-10s. He had nine top-10 finishes in the Chase For The Sprint Cup.
“We ran with them [for the title], outran them, ran door-to-door with them and felt like we were in contention until the very end,” Harvick said. “It was our best Chase we ever had as far as the consistency of putting ourselves in position to run up front every week.
“That is what you have to do to win one of these Chases. To lose with a 5.8 average finish [in the Chase] tells you how good you need to be.”
One of the keys was that RCR had some of the best engines in the garage.
“We know that the speed is on our car, and if we’re not fast enough in practice, we’re doing something wrong,” Harvick said. “That was the good thing about our cars this year. We knew the cars were capable of running fast. It was up to us.”
Of course, Harvick couldn’t go a full season without a little controversy. He got into a war of words with Carl Edwards, spun out Joey Logano for chopping down on him at Pocono and then had a rift with teammate Jeff Burton at Martinsville.
Season Highlight: The victory at Michigan, his third of the year (fourth if counting the Budweiser Shootout), was the biggest because it came in a race not at a restrictor-plate track. Not to discount restrictor-plate victories, but the victory at Michigan in August capped the Harvick comeback from the doldrums of 2009. It also was big, as any win at Michigan is, for Chevrolet, a longtime supporter of Richard Childress Racing.
Low Point: After leading 57 laps at Martinsville in March, Harvick ended up 35th, 100 laps down after battling brake problems.
Defining Moment: It wasn’t any of his victories. The defining moment came at Auto Club Speedway in the second race of the year, where Harvick had a chance of winning the race. He didn’t, partially because he drove too hard and slapped the wall. This race showed that if Harvick and team could run well without mistakes, it would at the very least remain neck-and-neck with Johnson.
Key Stat: Harvick once again showed that he is a much better racer than qualifier. His average starting spot was 20.97 while his average finished was 8.67.
Outlook: A legitimate championship contender in 2011, Harvick could have another great season and not have as good a year statistically as he did in 2010. Thanks in part to what many consider the best engines currently in the garage, Harvick should be considered a factor in every race, not just restrictor-plate ones.