A week away does little to deter Harvick

Wednesday, April 24, 2002

The camera shot started at his feet and slowly panned up to show Kevin Harvick lounging on a golf cart during pre-race activities. With a sly smile, he leaned in close and sent a message to the national audience.

"I'm back," he announced in a mocking tone.

Yes, NASCAR's newest bad boy has returned after being parked for one race, and little has changed.

"I don't really think that NASCAR wants an apology for anything," said Harvick, who was forbidden by the sanctioning body to drive at Martinsville Speedway two weeks ago for a series of incidents.

He was cleared to race last week at Talladega and returned to the track humble, but he refused to say he was sorry for his actions.

Harvick, first put on probation for scuffling with Greg Biffle after a Busch race at Bristol last month, was penalized for bumping and banging with Coy Gibbs during a truck race at Martinsville. When the sanctioning body had seen enough, he was called off the track, and he pulled his truck up to the NASCAR hauler to discuss it.

At some point during that meeting, NASCAR decided Harvick needed to be taught a lesson.

So they told him to go home and not to bother showing up for the Winston Cup race. It was the first time in the sport's 54-year history a driver was punished for rough driving.

Harvick got the message loud and clear. But the brash, 26-year-old driver who inherited Dale Earnhardt's ride following his death last year has vowed not to change his aggressive style.

Doesn't matter what kind

"I like to race the race car. I don't care if it's a late model, I don't care if it's a street stock, I'm going to go out and race the car as hard as I can," he said. "I just want to win the race, and a lot of times that doesn't work anymore.

"But I did learn that we can win races, we can do a lot of things, but unless I can walk up into that trailer, sit down in that office and have a normal, decent conversation with them, then I'm not going to get anywhere."

There's a lot more to it than that.

When Harvick burst onto the Winston Cup scene last year in a competitive car, it didn't take him long to make enemies.

When he showed he could bump with the best of them, the veterans took exception. When his aggressiveness crept too close to the unwritten code of conduct, he picked up the nickname "The Instigator," a play on Earnhardt's nickname "The Intimidator."

Now he's on probation for the year as punishment for his actions at Bristol and Martinsville, and it will be open season on him for retaliation.

There's little Harvick can do about it -- the slightest slip could get him sent home again, and every driver knows it.

"They're going to try to use him as a pingpong ball," his crew chief, Kevin Hamlin, said. "Wouldn't you?"

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