INDIANAPOLIS -- As a kid growing up in the same hometown as Rick Mears, there was no bigger goal for Kevin Harvick than someday racing at the storied Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Harvick could only hope he'd someday join Mears, a four-time Indianapolis 500 champion, on the list of Indy's winners.
He did it last year, making his way to Victory Lane in NASCAR's Brickyard 400. The Indy victory made Harvick the toast of the town back in Bakersfield, Calif., just as Mears had been so many years before.
"Winning the Brickyard is the biggest thing I've done in my career," Harvick said. "To know the aspirations I had as a kid, and to grow up and actually go to Indianapolis and win at the Brickyard, is probably almost unrealistic when you think about it.
"When you grow up and you want to do something, nine times out of 10 you don't get to go it that way. I'm pretty lucky to be able to do what I do and to bring back a lot of thoughts and dreams and things."
His return trip for Sunday's race couldn't come at a better time.
The Brickyard was his only victory of last season, and he hasn't won since.
His Richard Childress Racing team failed to finish a race last weekend for the first time in 58 events -- his streak of consecutive finishes is the NASCAR record -- and saw his position in the top 10 of the points standings fall into serious jeopardy.
With just six races left before the chase for the championship begins, Harvick is clinging to the 10th spot in the standings and several drivers are within striking distance of taking the final playoff position away from him.
"As far as we're concerned, what happened last weekend is well behind us," Harvick said. "All we can do now is try and win the Brickyard for the second time in a row and start a new streak."
If anyone can make it two in a row at Indy -- no one has, although Jeff Gordon has three Brickyard victories -- it's Harvick. He has a 5.67 average finish at Indianapolis, the best of drivers with two or more starts.
Harvick will get some serious competition from Tony Stewart, an Indianapolis native who is almost desperate to score a win on his home track.
The track is so special to Stewart, he's been known to lose control of his emotions here.
Two years ago, he punched a photographer after the race in a blowup over his disappointing finish. Then last season, he led a race-high 60 laps but made a late pit stop and never got back into contention. He faded and finished 12th, then stormed off, never discussing a finish that team owner Joe Gibbs described that day as a "heartbreaking."
Stewart tested at Indy this year, hoping the extra practice will be enough to send him to Victory Lane.
"Just showing up there for a test, it sends goose bumps down your spine for somebody like me that grew up around Indianapolis Motor Speedway," Stewart said. "Everybody's question normally is 'What is it going to mean to win there?' It will be one of the biggest ones of my career obviously, if not the biggest win as far as an individual race."