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HARVICK DOWNSHIFTS HIS ANTICS.

Byline: TIM HADDOCK Motor Sports

There was a time when Kevin Harvick was the baddest of the good ol' boys of NASCAR. He was the new breed of bucking bronco who reminded fans of short-fused and quick-tempered drivers of the past.

Harvick's run-ins with NASCAR were unprecedented. He was summoned by NASCAR officials after a Craftsman Truck Series race, so he pulled up his Chevy to the infield trailer rather than park it in the garage and walk. He was penalized for rough driving, accused of deliberately spinning cars during races. It went so far as to see Harvick suspended for a race for his actions on and off the track last year.

But what a difference a year makes.

``Just now, I'm starting to see the Kevin Harvick that I knew the year before last,'' said Todd Berrier, crew chief for Harvick's No. 29 Richard Childress Racing team. ``With all the things that happened on the truck, sitting him out and that whole deal on the Cup racing and them pulling the reins back, it toned him down a lot.

``It's a lot easier to pull somebody back than it is to make 'em go harder.''

Harvick, who took over one of the most celebrated seats in NASCAR, succeeding the late Dale Earnhardt, has been working out of a hole since a disappointing run in the season opener at the Daytona 500. He was caught in the middle of a firestorm of debate after the Infineon Raceway event in Sonoma, where Robby Gordon passed him under a caution flag and went on to win the race, thus breaking a gentlemen's agreement between drivers not to pass under yellow.

It's been quite a change in Harvick, who is conscious now of how other drivers, fans and sponsors view his actions and his words.

``I can't let the small things affect what I'm doing down the road with my race team and RCR and the things that we want to accomplish,'' said Harvick, a former NASCAR Winston West champion from Bakersfield who raced Late Models at Mesa Marin Raceway. ``If we sit and dwell on that situation - Robby's supposed to go out and win the road courses, he's supposed to have done that for several years. A couple of years ago, I probably would have been in victory lane choking him, but this year, it was something - I was mad and didn't agree with it and still don't agree with it, and I think a lot of people are those same terms.

``But I think Richard told it to me the best. He said, `You're on the verge of being able to have your best year in Winston Cup. Don't let one situation dictate a lot of different things that can change the way everything's going right now.' Unfortunately, you have to have your guard up and treat (Gordon) a little bit differently.''

The big picture, winning a Winston Cup championship, is something no driver at Richard Childress Racing has been able to focus on since Earnhardt died. But it seems Harvick is looking at the big picture from a new perspective.

``We've come through a lot of things that in the past probably would have caused a bit of turmoil,'' Harvick said. ``Now it's just whatever happened last week, you just have to get over it and not let it affect what you want to do with the big picture.''

And don't think his crew members and teammates haven't noticed. Harvick might be a more tame driver, but he also is becoming a more competent driver.

``They kind of took a lot of that fire out of him,'' Berrier said. ``Because they pretty much said do anything else and that's it. He had to mind himself pretty well.

``But now that we've come along this far this year and not really been in any major altercations with NASCAR, he's starting to be more like the Kevin Harvick he was the year prior to that. When they sit you down in there and explain how the world turns, it does change your life a little bit.''

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- Tim Haddock
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 18, 2003
Words:693
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