In his garage at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Kevin Harvick flashes a knowing look from beneath his racing armor. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images
Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Talking Atlanta racing, bad reffing and the DH with Kevin Harvick

He certainly has an idea about how to race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The defending Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 champion is a bigger front-runner here than that guy in the stands with the price tag dangling from his Alabama hat.

In 11 top-10 finishes at AMS since 2008, Harvick has led a total of 1,152 laps. And he expects to lead a few more before it’s over. Perhaps as soon as this Sunday’s race.

This is where he won his first NASCAR Cup race, back in 2001 just weeks following the death of Dale Earnhardt, after drawing the unenviable task of assuming Earnhardt’s ride. “A lot of things changed for me the day that we won that race in Atlanta,” Harvick says.

This is where he just feels comfortable, where, he always seems to hold, “a firm conviction with the things in a car I want to feel.”

If it can be said of any living soul, it can be said of Harvick that here is the master of Atlanta traffic. Although he’s not so quick to claim the title. He was in town for the Super Bowl, and not even this driver could negotiate that. “It was faster to walk than to drive in a car,” Harvick said. 

His ideas are in no way confined to the 1.54-mile oval of asphalt south of Atlanta. The prerogative of being an old hand (he’s 43) and being accomplished (he has won a series championship, a Daytona 500 and 44 other races, including eight just last season) is the freedom to speak one’s mind. Among drivers, Harvick has the reputation of someone who will run out of gas long before he runs out of thoughts and opinions.

For instance, when asked to step outside his own sport and comment on somebody else’s game, he came up with an idea for the NFL and its officiating that’s a little revolutionary.

If the ref on the field can’t recognize a blatant pass interference call when it happens right in front of him (think Rams-Saints), why have him there at all? 

“There could be less officials on the field,” Harvick said. “You look at what we do in NASCAR, with people sitting in a trailer officiating pit row. We got rid of all the officials on pit row. You almost don’t need a live ref at a game, you could officiate it all from a camera in today’s world. As ticky-tacky as all that stuff is you could have more people looking at it if you just got rid of the (on field) refs.”

Five years ago, Harvick had no stomach for the NBA. Then his son got interested, and brought him along for the ride (he’s a Charlotte Hornets and Carolina Panthers season-ticket holder). Now he doesn’t even mind all the travelling that’s never called. “It’s all about the show,” he said. “If it’s going to be a great dunk and you need three steps to do it, go ahead and do it. That doesn’t bother me.”

He likes the designated hitter. No staunch traditionalist, he.

He doesn’t seem all that bothered by college basketball’s one-and-dones: “Having to go spend a year in college is not the worst thing. I think it probably could be two, just to get life under control.”

He isn’t exactly riding soccer’s wave of popularity, not yet: “I hate anything that ends in a tie. That’s the only thing that frustrates me about soccer, half the games end in a tie.”

And the NFL doesn’t know how to do overtime: “It’s unfair, the fact that the first team to get the ball can score a touchdown and the game is over all because they won the coin flip. I like the way college football does the overtime. I think that would be better suited to the NFL than the way they do it now.”

Harvick ranging far afield from his chosen sport is really not such a reach. After all, his diverse interests led to forming an eponymous management group that in addition to racers represents a handful of golfers and UFC fighters. He is a media guy, too, working occasionally on the TV side and hosting a SiriusXM radio show called “Happy Hours.”

(His guest this week was seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson – “One of the most disrespected great drivers that have ever come through this garage,” Harvick declared.) 

On the topic of big-time NASCAR racing, Harvick has never been shy with his suggestions. He is an equal opportunity idea guy.

Lately, he has stumped for scheduling changes to shake up the staleness of a long season. Harvick has advocated moving the series’ all star and championship races around to different tracks rather than being anchored as they are now. Here’s a guy who wouldn’t mind shaking up his sport a little bit. 

And he believes, as NASCAR changed its leadership last year, his sport is moving in that direction. 

Said Harvick, “There’s a great group of people who have a great plan and are pushing things really hard right now for a change in culture and a change in direction. That’s very refreshing. It’s going to be drastic. It’s time for that. And I’m glad to be a part of it.

“Anytime there’s a plan, I’m not going to raise the red flag and say we need to change, because there are so many things changing now for the good.” 

Should the grand plan start to go sideways, he’ll let you know. 

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