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NASCAR At Richmond: Kevin Harvick Seeks To Repeat History, One Way Or The Other

Happy hasn't been all that happy too often in 2012, at least from a professional standpoint.

Obviously the birth of his first child will put this year over the top for Kevin Harvick, but his on-track exploits through 25 races have largely left one of the pre-season favorites for the Sprint Cup crown unfulfilled.

Saturday, Harvick will look not only to defend his 2011 triumph in the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway, but to also win his first race of the 2012 campaign. His only top fives of the season are a pair of seconds at Phoenix and Dover, a fourth at Fontana, and a fifth-place finish in Sunday's Advocare 500 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Harvick's struggles have bewildered onlookers. The most obvious difference in this year and the past two seasons, when Harvick won seven races and challenged for the championship in 2010, was that Shane Wilson - not Gil Martin - was atop the pit box. Harvick and Wilson obliterated Nationwide Series teams during one of that division's most dominant championship runs ever in 2006, then followed it up with a part-time campaign that continued the beat-down.

For whatever reason in 2012, they weren't able to get things going, and Martin was re-assigned to the No. 29 team beginning at Bristol. In the second race of the reunion at Atlanta, Harvick led 101 laps - second to winner Denny Hamlin's 105 - and finished fifth at a track that often has been a thorn in the Californian's side despite the fact that he got his very first win there in an emotional 2001 triumph.

Now this weekend, Harvick and Martin head to Richmond looking for their first win in a year and looking to repeat history, one way or the other. Obviously, claiming a win and picking up three bonus points for the Chase would be ideal. If someone else stands in victory lane and the No. 29 team begins the ten-race playoff without a win, Harvick's buddy Tony Stewart will likely be their inspiration.

Of course, last season, Stewart went winless during the regular season - declaring with three races remaining that his team didn't even deserve to make the Chase, that they would be wasting a spot - and then proceeded to go on a five-for-ten romp in the Chase to earn his third series championship.

Harvick is still looking for his first title, which would be the seventh for Richard Childress Racing. The prior six, of course, came with Dale Earnhardt at the helm. Harvick has long stepped out of the shadow of The Intimidator, whom he had the unenviable task of replacing after the legendary racer was killed at the end of the 2001 Daytona 500. He has been his own man with his own identity for years now, with triumphs in the sport's two biggest races - the Brickyard 400 in 2003, the Daytona 500 in 2007 - counting among his 18 victories.

Though this year has, thus far, left the team far shy of their expectations, the reunion of Harvick and Martin and the out-of-nowhere title run for Stewart last year still leaves plenty hope for the No. 29 team and the legions of fans who back the 36-year-old from Bakersfield that this will be Harvick's year to sit at the head table in Las Vegas in December, after all.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.