When Kevin Harvick was getting ready for his first appearance on behalf of new sponsor Budweiser, a thought suddenly crossed his mind: What the heck do I wear?
So he asked Bud's public relations representative about the attire preferred by the beer company.
"She's like, 'We don't really care. Just wear something comfortable,'" Harvick recalled. "(I said) 'OK!' They just want you to be yourself and have fun."
That's exactly what Harvick has been doing lately – not only with his new sponsor, but in life and racing. On Wednesday, he visited the Crown Beverage distribution facility near Darlington Raceway, wandered through the sky-high stacks of Budweiser cases and then delivered some of the beer to a local Wal-Mart.
It was all he could do to keep a semi-straight face as he pushed a dolly full of beer through the aisleway past confused Wal-Mart shoppers and stocked the cold beverage section with some of the brand's signature red cases. Occasionally, he'd glance around to see if anyone else thought the situation was as funny as he did.
"For me, this has been a very natural fit, because this is just kind of who I am and how I react on a daily basis," Harvick said. "It's been very easy for me to be a part of the brand and fit in."
Wearing a Bud hat, black polo shirt, blue jeans and gray sneakers, it was clear the new sponsor was just another part of the Richard Childress Racing driver's more relaxed lifestyle.
"The biggest thing is he's enjoying life more now," said Josh Jones, Harvick's longtime right-hand man. "If you look at him now, he's so laid-back. He's doing less Nationwide races and focusing on Cup. He's playing golf, he's taking more vacations. And he can be himself in everything he does.
"In general, that kind of atmosphere is just a different world."
Harvick said the simple act of just taking a day for himself during the week – perhaps a round of golf to serve as a temporary distraction from the season – has made a difference. And it wasn't something he used to do.
"As we developed those things last year internally, life just kind of became a lot easier," he said. "It wasn't just the total grind where you didn't have the time to take that deep breath and get everything off your mind for four or five hours. That makes a big difference, when you can kind of just recharge and relax."
Of course, that doesn't mean Harvick is taking his racing career any less seriously. His flirtation with the Sprint Cup Series championship last year has only made him hungrier and more focused on how to win his first title.
Harvick said he's realized that his huge points lead prior to the Chase last season – a 228-point advantage that was wiped out when the playoff began – was relatively meaningless. And it certainly didn't help him during the Chase.
So this year, he said, has meant a change in approach – particularly now that he's already won two races, which may ultimately give him a wild-card berth if he needs it.
"There's a lot of things we can go out on a limb and be aggressive with and try – and if it doesn't work, it doesn't work," he said. "It all might backfire on us, but I feel like with a couple wins, that should give us a pretty good chance if we have to take one of those wild card spots. You can do a whole lot of things you weren't planning on doing early in the season."
Having those two wins in his back pocket has been another factor that has contributed to his relaxed mental state. After a subpar run at Texas last week – which dropped him to ninth in the points – Harvick said he wasn't too upset.
"It's not really that big of a deal, because you've won two races," he said. "So you feel like you have something to lean on, and it doesn't devastate everybody over having a bad week."
Who is this guy? Isn't Harvick the hard-edged, ultra-intense guy who can seem to go over the line at times?
At the track, yes. But away from the pressure of the garage – where he's completely focused – and during events like the one on Wednesday, Harvick can be quite affable.
The media relations are one area, he said, where "I probably didn't do well in the past."
"(Before) it was probably easier for people to see the guy who I was...in the race car, who everybody thought was just kind of an ass," he said. "I'm just competitive. When I'm at the track, I think about what I'm doing, I just want to race for wins.
"Sometimes I just go into the zone and I won't even pay attention to what's going on, because I don't care. I want to know why my race car isn't going faster and what we need to do to fix it."
So Harvick said he's thankful to have had the opportunity to show his other side in settings like the one on Wednesday. And Budweiser – which Harvick said he likes driving for because "I get to drink beer and not get in trouble for it" – should give him plenty of those opportunities.
The focus, though, remains on a championship.
"He tells me every day, "All I'm missing is that Sprint Cup trophy," Jones said. "And he already has a place for it picked out in his cabinet."