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The Wrestler: Kevin Harvick Uses Past Athletic Experience To Deal With Championship Fight

It's hard to imagine a time when Kevin Harvick wasn't the scrappy, hard-nosed NASCAR driver he is now, but forget what you know about Harvick for a moment and picture this:

Harvick was a scrawny freshman wrestling in the 98-pound weight class on the junior varsity team at North High School in Bakersfield, Calif. And he wanted to quit.

His coaches, though, urged him to persevere. And so the kid kept at it and stayed on the team, pushing himself through what he called "the hardest thing you could ever challenge yourself to do." He eventually won the CIF sectional title as a 140-pound senior.

Why do we bring this up now? Because Harvick, who has a chance to win his first Sprint Cup championship on Sunday, has applied many of the lessons from his wrestling days to his racing career – and this year's title chase.

"This type of situation is more similar (to wrestling) than (racing) on a week-to-week basis because it's kind of that last-match, last-race," Harvick said. "You have kind of that same emotion.

"You know, going into it, you don't feel like there's any way they're going to beat you. Obviously we're at a deficit, but in our minds, we feel like they shouldn't beat us; we feel like we're better than they are. And that's just that mentality that was instilled in me in wrestling."

As a wrestler, Harvick learned quickly that if he thought there was a chance he could get beat, he would. Because of that, he said, "I never go into a weekend feeling like, 'We're gonna lose.'"

The same holds true for Sunday.

Harvick knows it's going to be tough to overcome a 46-point deficit to Denny Hamlin and also out-point Jimmie Johnson in the process. But his mentality is this: "I sit here thinking we're going to beat both those guys and there's nothing that's going to get in our way as far as beating them."

In wrestling, there are individual matches that add up for a total team score. So while individuals can win, the team may ultimately come up short. Harvick drew a comparison between that and this weekend's fight, saying even if he wins the race, it may not be enough for the "team trophy."

But he promised to give it his best shot.

Harvick played soccer and baseball up until high school, because he could participate in them during the week and still race on the weekends. As he got to high school, wrestling (a winter sport) was the only sport he could play during the racing offseason.

And to hear him tell it, he's glad he stuck with wrestling – as difficult as it was at the time.

"It was the best thing I ever did to prepare me for this level," Harvick said. "You want to quit about every other day, but you have these great coaches that give you these great speeches as to why you should keep pushing forward.

"It was never about being content with how good you were at the time, it was, 'How are you going to get better? How are you going to get in better shape? How are you going to learn this move?' It was you against yourself."

Sounds like a NASCAR commercial, doesn't it?