Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Harvick uses golf to forget stress

MARTINSVILLE -- Kevin Harvick might want to blast a golf ball or two right about now.

After all, he's found that "other" sport to be quite therapeutic, and there's no doubt the pressure is on him. As NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series heads to Martinsville Speedway this weekend, Harvick is one of three men who can still call himself a title contender and not have people spit beer in his face with laughter.

The stress-inducer: Those other two guys -- Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin -- are aces at this place.

Hmm ... where are those golf clubs again?

Golf is "a lot of fun for me because it's the exact opposite of what I do on the weekend," Harvick said at a recent media appearance at Chatmoss Country Club, where rain prevented him from showing off his fledgling swing. "It's one of those things, you go to the golf course and it's quiet. It's you against yourself. You don't have to worry about tire pressure, springs, shocks. It's you and the clubs."

Harvick -- who sits in third place in the Cup standings, 77 points behind leader Johnson and 36 behind Hamlin -- doesn't claim to be the second coming of Jack Nicklaus, or even the second coming of Dorf. He's only taken up golf within the past year.

Still, he loves it.

This time of the season doesn't afford him many opportunities to fire at the flags, but he works in a round whenever he can.

"At Michigan, I was [ticked] off after the Nationwide race and I said, 'Screw it,' " Harvick said. "I threw the golf clubs into the car and we went to the golf course down the street and played golf."

A good release, in other words. Asked by a reporter what he did with his frustration before he discovered this activity, he came up with a quick answer.

"Released it on you," Harvick said.

So the old game gets a thank you note from motorsports writers everywhere. But it's not like Harvick actually bothered with many lessons.

"I did for a while, but I got bored, so we just started playing," he said. "That was probably the worst thing that I did -- just go out and start playing. Now I've developed a couple bad habits that I've got to break. I've got all winter to fix that, right?"

Maybe. But if he wins the title, there are all those extracurricular activities he'll have to attend to.

And make no mistake: Harvick can win this thing. He's having perhaps his best season as a driver. He's got three wins, 13 top-five efforts and an average finish of 9.4.

If points were still awarded under the pre-Chase format, he'd have a whopping 249-point edge on the field.

"We had a good first 26 weeks," Harvick said. "Going into the last 10 weeks, you know what's going to happen, you know everybody's going to be pretty close and it's going to be 10 weeks of stress and worrying about how you're going to run this week, how you ran last week, how you're going to gain points, who you need to gain points on.

"For us, we kind of went into a mode where it didn't matter. We didn't chase points for the 10 weeks [before the Chase]. We just raced."

He can't do that now. Knowing where Johnson and Hamlin are on the track Sunday will be a must. Those two have combined to win the past eight races at the 0.526-mile oval, so even if Harvick doesn't beat them, he has to try to leave Henry County alive.

Harvick has never won here, but he does feel at home. He resides about a 40-minute drive from the track, in North Carolina. The proximity allows him to sleep in his own bed and eat at home whenever the circuit visits.

He also hosts an annual go-kart race on his property with friends on the Thursday before every fall Cup race at Martinsville.

"I don't really know how big it is," he said of the go-kart track. "I spray-painted it on the ground and said, 'Pave it here.' They run about six-second laps, so it's a lot like Martinsville. It's pretty tight quarters and a lot of running into each other, just something that we have fun with."

If the fun ends Sunday, be warned: You might hear "fore!" at a course near you.


5:00 p.m. NASCAR Sprint Cup haulers enter infield.


9 a.m. Fan gates open.

10 a.m. NASCAR Camping World Truck Series practice, 80 minutes.

11:30 a.m. NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice, 90 minutes.

1:10 p.m. Final NASCAR Camping World Truck Series practice, 50 minutes.

3:10 p.m. NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying.

4:40 p.m. NASCAR Camping World Truck Series qualifying.

6:15 p.m. NASCAR Camping World Truck Series autograph session in display area.


9 a.m. Fan gates open.

10 a.m. NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice, 45 minutes.

11:15 a.m. NASCAR Sprint Cup Series final practice, 60 minutes.

12:30 p.m. Driver introductions for Kroger 200 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race.

1 p.m. Start of the Kroger 200 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race.


9 a.m. Fan gates open.

9 a.m. Martinsville Speedway track walk on front stretch, 3 hours.

11 a.m. Driver, crew chief meeting in Goodyear Tent.

12:30 p.m. Driver introductions for the TUMS Fast Relief 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race.

1 p.m. Start of the TUMS Fast Relief 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race.

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