Heading Into 2011: Chasing The Probable Top 12 in Sprint Cup Racing (Pt. 10 of 12)
Sitting on the catbird's seat all season long, Kevin Harvick arguably produced his career best effort in his 10 years of Sprint Cup racing.
With three wins, 16 top-fives, and 26 top-10's, his numbers were enough to win a 2010 NASCAR championship - that's if there wasn't a Chase system in place (but that's a lengthy argument for another time).
By far, Harvick and his No. 29 Chevrolet team were the class of the field during the regular season, building on a model of consistency.
Well, for one thing, he paced the field for 357 laps and logged in an average finish of 8.7, which was the best of all the drivers who competed full-time in Cup racing.
In illustration, his consistency was strong, he would've held a points lead of 228 markers over Kyle Busch under the traditional system after Richmond.
Instead, he wound up relegating to third place, 30 markers back, staying in that spot for essentially the rest of the Chase.
Ultimately, Harvick would place 41 points behind five-time Cup winner Jimmie Johnson and just a stone's throw from runner-up Denny Hamlin.
When they look back at this past year, it was a magical one, winning the April 25 running of the Aaron's 499 at Talladega, the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, and the GPS Marketplace 400 at Michigan.
Moreover, they had the most consistent effort of any team, which would usually be the name of the game in winning titles on a seasonal basis.
It'd be understandable if he took his defeat bitterly, as he would've been crowned as the champion in front of the Homestead-Miami Speedway faithful.
Imagine this: just picture how sentimental it would have been if Harvick won stock car's most precious prize, especially considering the journey he had in the Cup ranks.
Be it as it may, as in the case of Denny Hamlin, this isn't a sport that awards the almost winners - after all, the NFL might as well crown two Super Bowl victors during the 2007-'08 season (sorry New England Patriots fans).
Instead, the 2001 Raybestos Rookie of the Year winner, crew chief Gil Martin, and the rest of the No. 29 team have to look forward to the 2011 season, which will be a milestone campaign, as well as an emotional one.
First, their Chevrolet Impala will be adorned in the fashionably black and red trimmed Budweiser colors.
Almost like a match made in heaven (or for the bars), it seems to be a perfect fit with Harvick's "tough guy" image and the gritty nature that is with the famed Anheuser-Busch company.
Secondly, it'll mark Harvick's 10th anniversary in Cup, which came rather prematurely and in a time of sorrow and soul searching.
Taking the reigns after the death of Dale Earnhardt following the 2001 Daytona 500, to say the least, the 34-year-old Bakersfield, Calif. native has accomplished more than anybody could have imagined in the ride that formerly carried the No. 3 Goodwrench Service liveries.
If anything, it'll be an emotional season, especially for the Richard Childress Racing teams, which all starts at Daytona for Speedweeks 2011.
There'll be a heightened level of spirit and competitiveness, particularly with the No. 29 team, which looks to bring home RCR's seventh overall Cup title, which would be their first in stock car racing's most premier division since 1994.
They won't have to look too far for inspiration, if they even need it.
Just one look at the sides of the No. 29 machines and by peering just near the No. 29 decals, there's a tiny No. 3, which essentially fuels this team to keep pressing on in only the way Dale Earnhardt would've competed on any given race day.
One concern with this bunch is if they can duplicate their success of 2010 with the new season ahead.
Somewhat reminiscent of their efforts in 2003, '06-'08, while it's a sport without much control, they have to hope that this isn't one of those "Richard Childress Racing revivals," which seemingly comes in spouts rather than a consistent stretch.
The only thing that this team can do is control elements such as tuning their cars up to optimum condition, ensuring that they can reel off fast stops on pit road, and of course, ensure that Harvick has a chance to win at every stop on the tour.
Something to take note of with Harvick with the 2010 campaign was how he actually kept his composure in check, even when there was a chance to get all riled up like in the past.
Almost as unusual as seeing the Busch brothers, Tony Stewart or Rusty Wallace keeping their cool for a full season, it was a mature Harvick who showed up at the track all year long.
That might be their biggest and most secret ingredient for what could be their most stellar year yet.
Aggressive but smart with wits and confidence, should a few key racers slip up during crunch time, guess who'll be waiting in the wing, intimidating his way to the front to hoist the Cup series trophy?
Let's just say it's a man who goes by the nickname "Happy," which is what he, the No. 29 team, and many fans might be if there's a change of scenery at Homestead-Miami next November.