Author: Bob Pockrass
Date: Nov. 16, 2014
HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Kevin Harvick left a racing organization where he achieved a great deal of success to drive for friend Tony Stewart with the expectation of achieving even greater success, reaching new heights and lifting a Sprint Cup trophy over his head.
Harvick hit the jackpot in the first year of his move to Stewart-Haas Racing. And he hit it well before he ever had a shot at the 2014 Sprint Cup title, which he captured Sunday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Some of the benefits started right away at his first test with his new team last December, where Harvick felt speed and comfort in his car and knew he would have the equipment to win races and championships.
But beyond the sheet metal and the engines and the hundreds of pieces that go on a racecar, Harvick felt right away he had made the right move from Richard Childress Racing, the only Cup team he had called home for the first 13 years of his career and where he finished third in the standings in three of his last four years.
“Whether I finished third or fourth or whatever the case was, I just wasn't excited about going to work,” Harvick said after his championship celebration. “I needed to be excited about going to work, and this just gave me an opportunity to race with one of my good friends.
‘I'd known (SHR drivers) Kurt (Busch) and Danica (Patrick), and to be a part of building something, it really changed my life in a new direction. And, really, my son (born in July 2012) started that, just in evaluation of (wife) DeLana and I looking at things and saying, ‘What's going to make us happy?' Because in the end if you're not happy, nothing is going to work like it should.”
Harvick, who usually has a stoic look or a mischievous grin, had a pure pearly-white smile going Sunday night after he captured the 2014 Sprint Cup title by winning the Ford 400.
He didn’t have those smiles often at the end of recent seasons. After one of those third-place finishes in the standings, he demanded a totally new road crew. More than a year before his third-place finish in 2013, had decided that he would leave to drive for Stewart, who had won the 2011 Cup title as an driver/co-owner.
Stewart’s first order of business was to get Harvick a crew chief, and they put a full-court press on Michael Waltrip Racing’s Rodney Childers.
“I wasn't even going to take the job until Tony got in his airplane and flew to Concord (N.C.) to meet me one night, and then he got back on his plane and went back to Indiana,” Childers said. “And on my drive home, I said, ‘If anybody is willing to, number one, do that for me and spend that kind of money for me, they're going to look after me.’
“He looked me in the eyes that night and said, ‘We're going to do this.”
Things didn’t come easy. Harvick won two races during the regular season but seemed to have many more slip through his fingers thanks to bad calls, bad parts and bad luck that had to nearly overwhelm him, Childers and a group of mechanics working together for the first time in 2014.
“Kevin (says) that we dated for a year,” Childers said. “We really did. Like after six months of talking like every other day and text messaging every day and all, like there wasn't a bit of (tension) going into the season.
“Going into that first test in December, there's never been any of that. It's just been believing in each other and believing in our team.”
That belief didn’t keep them from making some hard choices. Stewart helped make the decision to give his pit crew, the one that won Stewart’s 2011 title, to Harvick for the Chase.
They brought some confidence that appeared to calm Harvick, who won three of the final six races of the season, including the last two — one to advance to the championship round and then the finale where four drivers were eligible for the title.
“When it comes to the bottom of the ninth, and you've got to make something happen, that's the guy I want in my corner and that's the guy that Gene (Haas) and I want behind the wheel of our cars,” Stewart said.
“I think he demonstrated those two weeks why he was capable of being in that scenario at the end and making this happen.”
He couldn't have done it without Childers. While championship contender Denny Hamlin stayed out instead of pitting late in the race and another contender, Ryan Newman, took only two tires, Childers had his crew bolt on four fresh tires with 17 laps to go. Harvick came out 12th and his prospects looked bleak.
But the cautions fell Harvick’s way. He snatched the lead — and the championship — from Hamlin with eight laps remaining. He finished a half-second ahead of Newman for all the glory.
Harvick’s wife, DeLana, cried. So did Childers. Stewart beamed like a happy older brother.
“I don't think I've ever been happier in my whole life than I have been this year just for the fact, from a personal standpoint, from a professional standpoint, and you see all the things that you have around you, and you're lucky,” Harvick said. “I'm pretty lucky to be able to do what I used to pay to do for a hobby.
“You show up and you're having fun doing it, and it's like a hobby, honestly. I have no idea how much money I make or what I do. I love showing up to work. I love coming to the racetrack and love what I do. And it's been a long, long time since I can sit up here and honestly tell you that I love the experience of everything that's been around me.”
To view this article as it appears on SportingNews.com, click here.