Daytona 500 Week: New Fox Sports Analyst Kevin Harvick is ready to guide viewers inside NASCAR Racing.

0
113

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Kevin Harvick had to figure it out on the fly his very first time in the broadcast booth, when Fox Sports picked the driver to be a guest analyst during the 2015 Xfinity Series season-opener at Daytona International Speedway.

Everything was going just fine until, with nine laps remaining, Kyle Busch slammed head-first into a concrete wall and emerged from his crumpled car clearly injured. It took Harvick more than two minutes to offer his first cohesive thoughts.

“We’ve been lucky as competitors to this sport evolve with the safety, and when you hit one of those concrete walls, and you’ve been hitting these SAFER barriers, you have no idea the difference in what it feels like,” Harvick said then. “When you hit them head-on like that, it is a violent, violent impact.”

It was in that moment that lead broadcaster Adam Alexander knew Fox had found a future television personality. Harvick, just hours away from competing in the Daytona 500 the next day, was able to relay details to viewers beyond the scope of an announcer who had never been in a NASCAR race.

Harvick’s information was concise, direct and impactful. Busch ended up with two broken legs.

“I would say most everything with Kevin that you see on TV and you hear from him is completely natural,” Alexander told The Associated Press. “I remember his first day in the booth, Kyle Busch got into that horrible accident, and those are the kind of circumstances that are the most difficult to handle and you really don’t know how someone is going to react until put in that situation.

“The emotions that can come out can change the way you execute as a broadcaster. It’s a lot easier to celebrate when someone wins, and not as easy to be critical or show concern when someone is injured. I just remember that day, watching the way Kevin reacted to that and how he handled an adverse situation. And I felt at that time, ‘Man, this guy’s got a lot of upside when it comes to knowing how to be a broadcaster.’”

Harvick’s broadcast time steadily increased with Fox Sports to the point he became the network’s top analyst whenever it did “Driver Only” broadcasts for the Xfinity Series. As a full-time racer, there was no way to use him for the main event, even as Fox drooled over his availability following Jeff Gordon’s broadcast retirement at the end of the 2021 season.

Fox used a two-man booth of play-by-play caller Mike Joy and new regular analyst Clint Bowyer with guests filling the Cup Series void the next two years as it waited out Harvick’s eventual retirement. He made 2023 his final season of competition and made his Cup broadcast debut two weekends ago with the Clash at the Coliseum.

Harvick’s new job ramps up with Wednesday qualifying for the Daytona 500 and he closes the week by calling Sunday’s “Great American Race.” It will be the first time since 2002 that Harvick, the 2007 race winner, will not be part of the Daytona 500 field.

Harvick said he’s made the mental shift already to his new profession.

“We were really able to close the page on the driver piece of it and that was a relief, I think for me, going to the racetrack and actually being able to walk into the garage and not have to worry about how fast my car is gonna go,” Harvick told AP. “At the Clash, like I was just walking in to say ‘Hi’ to people to see what was going on and try to pick up some insight. It just felt like there was no stress. There was no anxiety of getting ready for the race because for so many years I’ve walked in with my head down, thought process solely focused on competition.”

He said he has enjoyed the transition and noted a recent interview he did with Busch, a former rival, was a completely different conversation than one the two had ever had as competitors.

“I told him I can’t wait because I competed against you for so long, and you’re so good at what you do,” Harvick said. “I can’t wait to watch how he and others do that on a weekly basis. And it’s not just Kyle. I’m looking forward to being able to enjoy the sport that I have been part of and have loved for so long and talk about it and then take my headset off and not worry about anyone being mad at me.”

Harvick noted as much as he signed off from the Clash, where he and former teammate Bowyer bantered throughout Harvick’s second trial by fire. If the 2015 debut was tough with Busch’s crash, it was simply a precursor to the unknowns of live television.

Because of a massive storm headed toward Los Angeles, NASCAR made an on-the-fly decision to cram the two-day event into one Saturday night show. Pam Miller, a producer at Fox and one of the catalysts for bringing Harvick and other active drivers into the broadcast booth, said Harvick was up for the challenge.

“It was good to see that the reps we’d gotten in and some of the practices we had, we could see our developments of what we’ve been trying to do as far as different ideas and getting him comfortable,” Miller told AP.

But Miller never had a doubt in Harvick’s capabilities or what he’ll be able to deliver.

“From the moment he emerged, he was very candid, very open to doing things,” Miller said. “It was very obvious that he wasn’t shy. He seemed like the perfect personality to bring to the audience and try to get people engaged.”

___

AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing  by Taboola