CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Kevin Harvick smiled wide in pictures with fans Wednesday morning in Chattanooga.
The veteran NASCAR driver was happy to be in the Scenic City to help celebrate the grand opening of Ollie's Bargain Outlet on Brainerd Road, but understandably his mind was elsewhere.
"The part of being in a racecar is the part you enjoy the most, so I'm excited just to get back into that and the grind of doing it week to week."
That grind starts Friday for Harvick and his fellow Sprint Cup drivers when they finally hit the pavement at Daytona for their first official practice of 2013, and this weekend's exhibition Sprint Unlimited (formerly known as the Bud Shootout) will be a fresh start for Harvick in more ways than one.
Harvick finished a eighth in the Cup standings in 2012 as both he and his Richard Childress Racing teammates struggled to find consistency. He returned to his old crew chief, Gil Martin, and finally snapped a 44-race winless streak in the second-to-last race of the year at Phoenix, but it hardly saved a disappointing season.
"We finished in the top ten and we managed to win a race, but that's not what we were hoping for," Harvick said of the follow-up to back-to-back third-place Chase finishes.
The goal in 2013 is a bounce-back year, but that is easier said than done considering the arrival of the new Gen-6 racecar.
Teams have been able to go through a few testing sessions throughout the brief offseason, but there's still plenty to learn.
"I think everyone is really anxious to get the cars in race conditions and put everybody on the track at the same time to get a real understanding of where we are, how the car is going to handle and what we need to work on week to week," Harvick said.
Last year was also tough off the track, where Harvick was in a high-profile contract negotiation with owner Richard Childress.
It was finally made official last month that he'll make the jump to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014, but he says all his focus remains on winning that elusive championship in his lame-duck season at RCR.
"When everything was first talked about, everyone was emotional about the whole situation, but our goals are the same," Harvick said of his relationship with Childress. "We want to go out and win races, be competitive, and do the things that it takes to move forward.
"For the most part, not much has changed."
Harvick is happy to have those distractions and a new deal behind him, but he knows new drama is just around the corner.
Never one to shy away from controversy, the 12-year veteran of the Sprint Cup circuit has learned to expect the unexpected across a nine-month schedule. What's changed is how he handles it.
"There's always something there to be talked about," Harvick said. "We talked about that (Stewart-Haas deal) as early as possible to get over the emotions and things that come with it so we could focus on this year and put ourselves in position to make the chase and be there at the end of the year.
"We're excited to get back in the car and get started."