Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Harvick: Open-wheel drivers will struggle with transition to NASCAR
NEW YORK -- Defending Daytona 500 champion Kevin Harvick questioned whether the successful open-wheel drivers switching to NASCAR this year will be able to make a smooth transition.
"Coming straight into the Cup Series is going to be harder than any of them would have imagined," Harvick said Tuesday at a luncheon in anticipation of the 50th running of Daytona on Feb. 17.
He believes they'd be better-served by gaining experience in the Nationwide or Craftsman Truck Series before moving up to NASCAR's top level.
"I think they all went down the wrong road," Harvick said.
Former Indianapolis 500 winners Dario Franchitti, Sam Hornish Jr. and Jacques Villeneuve are making the change this year. Longtime open-wheel driver Patrick Carpentier is also switching. Another Indy 500 champion, Juan Pablo Montoya, did it last year.
There could be as many Indy 500 winners as Daytona 500 champs in the field at Daytona. Franchitti, Hornish and Montoya are guaranteed spots; Villeneuve could qualify. Only Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Harvick are guaranteed spots among the Daytona winners, with others needing to qualify.
Daytona International Speedway opens this week for practice for the 500, and the first round of qualifying is Sunday.
"It just takes time to establish that foundation," Harvick said. "A lot of people from the outside looking in say, 'Well, I race Formula One. There's no reason I shouldn't be able to race the Sprint Cup Series.' If you can get over the ego part of it, racing the Truck Series or the Nationwide Series, you'd be better off, I think."
The 32-year-old Harvick's rise to Daytona 500 champ began with stints in the Truck Series and what was then called the Busch Series. There are so many small details newcomers must become accustomed to, Harvick said, that it can be overwhelming to try to adjust at the top level.
"I just feel like racing for a championship and really getting that week-to-week grind out of the way in the truck or Nationwide and doing it almost out of the spotlight is a lot better," Harvick said. "When you wreck [in the Sprint Cup], they're going to say, 'Oh, there's that open-wheel guy, he's wrecking again.' It's almost unfair, but it's just the situation they've all put themselves in."
Montoya won a Cup race, a Nationwide race and rookie of the year honors in 2007. Harvick doubted that the other open-wheelers would achieve the same success because he believes Montoya has superior car control.
"On the road courses, those guys are fantastic racers," Harvick said. "Those are the races where those guys are really going to shine. But these ovals, it's hard to just adapt from a 1,200- to 1,400-pound Indy car to a 3,500-pound stock car."