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Harvick steering in right direction

Jay Hart
Yahoo Sports

DAYTONA, Fla. – There's something to be said about resilience.

The last time Kevin Harvick didn't finish a race was 2006, a stretch of 80 races. So when his car suffered damage early in Saturday night's Budweiser Shootout, and Harvick twice lost the draft at the massive Daytona International Speedway, where drafting means everything, you knew he'd finish, but winning was out of the question.

So how did Harvick wind up in victory circle?

"The car was fast, fast since we unloaded it," he said after winning his first Bud Shootout. "I was excited going into the race, thought we had a chance to win."

It helped that the race format included a 10-minute break, which was plenty of time for Harvick's crew to bang out the fenders and make it competitive again. That part they've always been pretty good at.

Where they've struggled is in unloading a fast car.

Harvick didn't need to prove he can win at Daytona. He got a 500 under his belt when he beat Mark Martin to the line in 2007. But if he has any chance at winning a championship, he does need to prove that he's fast enough to lead laps and win races.

A win in an exhibition race isn't enough evidence to reach a verdict in Harvick's favor, but it does give the entire Richard Childress Racing team – an organization that's on pins and needles wondering if the work they did in the offseason is going to be good enough to compete with the championship-proven Hendrick Motorsports – a boost of confidence.

A year ago, Harvick willed himself to a fourth-place finish largely on his ability to stay on the track. It was a strategy based on attrition. While the others headed to the garage mid-race every so often, Harvick never did, so he never took a huge hit in the points standings.

But he didn't get that huge points boost that comes with leading laps and winning races, either.

In short, he was always very good, never really bad and rarely very great.

I expect that to change this season, though I can't say it's a belief based on anything more than speculation and a confidence in Richard Childress, himself. He has a track record based on five-year plans that yielded him six championships with Dale Earnhardt. Heading into this season, Childress is on the back end of his latest plan, one geared toward giving his team the power under the hood it needs to compete with the big boys.

"I think over the last five years we've had moments of everything we needed to do, but we just needed to put it all in one year," Harvick said. "Last year, from Chicago on we ran in the top 10, top five every week. We've got all the ingredients … I think we're all a lot calmer than we were five years ago. Relaxed … That means a lot.

"I'm not going to sit up here and promise you we can beat the 48 [Jimmie Johnson], because they've been pretty strong the last three years, but right now we don't think anybody can beat us."

Will the speed Harvick showed Saturday continue?

Because Daytona is a restrictor plate track, it isn't a great indicator of speed that will carry through the entire 36-race schedule. So we really won't know the answer to that question until the circuit hits California in two weeks.

Still, winning the way Harvick did Saturday night – coming not just from the back of the pack but from way back of the pack itself – shows once again that Harvick will always be there in the end. And if this season he has the power to go with his resilience he's going to be a real threat.

One more thing …

Tony Stewart has to be recognized for his third-place performance. Going into the race, no one knew what to expect from Stewart and his new team. Conventional wisdom says it should take him a year to get Stewart-Haas Racing up to speed.

So far, it's taken him one race, and he's already put to bed the question of whether he can win this season. The answer is yes. He nearly did so Saturday night.