Sitting atop the points standings in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is a man who some fans feel hasn't proven a thing since being rushed as an emergency replacement for one of motorsports' most storied racers of all-time.
Dubbed affectionately as "Happy," Kevin Harvick has many reasons to be just that, especially with the kind of season he's compiled thus far in 2010, leading the tour in the title chase with a slender 19 point margin over the streaky Kyle Busch.
Still, after the kind of seasons he's had in the top series of stock car racing, being first nearly halfway in the year is a pretty good seat for the Bakersfield, Calif. native.
"I think all of the stats from the past are out the window, considering how everything has gone this year," Harvick said earlier in the week. "I think that with the way our cars are running, we can run in the top five on any given weekend.
"At this particular level of racing, you have to have it all together to be able to run in the top five, and that's what you have to do to win a race in this series...everything this year is all about winning races and keep everything moving forward toward the Chase."
That's exactly what Harvick has done this season, which is a different approach to races than in years' past for the usually hard-charging and aggressive driver. There's a sense of confidence with the 2001 rookie winner, particularly with his No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet team.
You get the feeling that he knows his Richard Childress Racing group is ready to attack every weekend, focused on gaining maximum points, and if at all possible, victories.
Immediately when the season kicked off in February, Harvick announced his assault in the Sprint Cup tour with a victory in the non-points race, The Budweiser Shootout. While it was his second time winning the event in as many years, this victory felt a tad different for the 34-year-old leadfooter.
So far in 2010, Harvick has had quite the sterling season, placing seventh in the eventful Daytona 500, followed by a pair of runner-up efforts at Fontana and Las Vegas, ninth at Atlanta, 11th at Bristol, 35th at Martinsville, 13th at Phoenix, seventh in Texas, a win at Talladega, third at Richmond, sixth at Darlington, seventh at Dover, 11th at Charlotte, and fourth at Pocono.
When the numbers add up, it translates into consistency, which may seem like a curious phenomenon given Harvick's tendency to melt down at any given time in the season.
Whether that happens or not this year remains to be seen, although it's possible that he's channeling that anger and frustration into one driven by determination and being a pest as far as garnering those great finishes while other drivers focus on victories.
As is the case in any sport, the object of racing is to place first and beat the competition on a weekly basis, and essentially speaking, that's what Harvick and his No. 29 team are doing weekly. Though lacking in multiple victories, the fact they've been to Victory Lane already and have one truly disappointing result just means this team will be difficult to beat down the stretch.
Sure, the talk of Chevrolet presides with Hendrick Motorsports, which has three of its star drivers sitting in the top 12 in points. When you win four straight titles, the glory and spoils go to the team that's basically put NASCAR on its knees in terms of trophies, money, and ratings.
However, it may be the year when the "Class of 2001" may remind fans in NASCAR nation that they've still got some tricks up their sleeves.
With Kurt Busch, the driver whom Harvick labeled as "Rubberhead," having a fantastic season, "Happy" knows he has to keep on pressing for results, which means those coveted top-fives and 10's that will spell out "c-h-a-m-p-i-o-n" when the confetti falls on the asphalt of Homestead-Miami Speedway in November.
Sunday's Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400 (Live, Sunday at 12 PM ET on TNT) will be the latest test for Harvick and his competition, which will certainly be one of the more strategy-based events at the always sweeping and fast Michigan International Speedway.
While Harvick has his work cut out for him with a 31st starting position, it's nothing that the No. 29 team cannot overcome, especially with the kind of season they've had after 14 races.
Having qualified outside the top 20 in the past two races, the Shell crew overcame their Friday struggles with top-11 efforts on race day at Charlotte and Pocono.
It remains to be seen if this good streak continues for Harvick and Richard Childress Racing, which seemingly has its renaissance every two or three years.
If they can hold their own for the rest of the season, Chevrolet will undoubtedly hoist a sixth straight driver's championship. However, it'll be a man dubbed "Happy" who will be all smiles, especially given how far he's come along since racing the bullrings and short tracks of those dusty California fields and deserts in the late 1990s.
He'll have earned this one, just as he's given it his all to become a true NASCAR superstar in the 21st century.