Nov. 16, 2014
By Seth Livingstone
NASCAR News Wire
HOMESTEAD, Fla.—Kevin Harvick walked into his post-race press conference munching a slice of pepperoni pizza. He ended it with 2-year-old son Keelan on his lap and walked out of the room with a bottle of his sponsor’s beer in his hand.
All pretty normal stuff.
But the 2014 season, to which Harvick applied his exclamation mark Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, was anything but. It was special and quite remarkable for the team, its owners and its driver.
Moreover it was about the combined family that Stewart-Haas Racing had become in the last year, bringing in new faces like Harvick and Kurt Busch and talented behind-the-scenes people like eager-to-achieve crew chief Rodney Childers.
It’s a family that has experienced rough times. Co-owner Tony Stewart, a three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, had personally weathered the darkest season of his career, sitting out three races after his sprint car struck and killed a fellow driver in Upstate New York and failing to win a race for the first time in his career. This week, the spector of domestic abuse allegations hovered around Kurt Busch.
None of that could, however, deter or diminish the accomplishment of the Stewart-Haas family as it related to Harvick’s phenomenal season or virtually flawless performance to hold off Ryan Newman for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400.
“I’m just glad tonight turned out,” Stewart said. “You know, the rest of it’s history. We’ve talked about it over and over. I’m more excited about what this organization and what this group of people has done together. You know, there are a lot of things I would love to change about the last 18 months of my life, but tonight is not one of them.”
Harvick agreed on every count.
“For me, personally, there’s nothing better than to see your friends smile,” he said. “I know (Tony’s) been through a lot this year but very rarely have we talked about those situations. He’s my friend and I want to see him happy. “
Stewart noted that sometimes change can be a good thing and change is what put Harvick in the No. 4 Chevrolet.
Although finishing third in points three out of the last four previous seasons, Harvick had become stale after 13 years at Richard Childress Racing where he won 23 Sprint Cup races and six poles. This year alone he won five Cup races – including the final two – and eight poles.
“I just wasn’t excited about going to work,” Harvick said, reflecting on his move. “I’d known Kurt and Danica and to be part of building something–it really changed my life. Really, (having) my son started that. In evaluation it was (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.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been happier in my whole life than I have been this year–from a personal and professional standpoint. You see all the things that you have around you and you’re lucky. Honestly, I have no idea how much money I make. I love showing up to work. I love coming to the race track and I love what I do.”
Harvick was convinced that Stewart and co-owner Gene Haas were serious about building a winner from the ground up–which the Harvick team literally did, with new equipment, cars and personnel.
“As I look at the decision to come here, I keep coming back to the people and the resources that you have available to you,” Harvick said. “Tony was pretty adamant that we could race for wins and championships. I think, for me, that was really what it was all about.”
Harvick said it wasn’t just his Stewart-Haas family, but the extended family that helped him settle in during championship week at Homestead. More than once he mentioned the support he received from Jimmie Johnson. The six-time premier champion drives for Hendrick Motorsports, which supplies engines and chassis to Stewart-Haas.
When it came to actually winning the race, everything just sort of fell into place for Harvick, who led 54 laps including the final eight once he utilized fresh tires to get by Denny Hamlin.
“I have no idea how I got the lead–no clue,” said Harvick of the closing laps, after Childers’ decision to take four tires left the No. 4 Chevrolet sitting 12th on a restart with less than 10 laps to race. It was as deep in the field as Harvick had been all race.”
It came as little surprise to Harvick that Childers had made the call for fresh rubber, even as Hamlin stayed on the track and Ryan Newman–a close friend and driver he replaced at SHS–gained an on-track advantage by taking right sides only.
“I can drive the car, but these guys have made some bold decisions, whether it be on the pit box tonight, changing the pit crew (prior to the Chase) or whatever it might be,” Harvick said. “I believe in life that sometimes you have to make bold decisions. Sometimes they work out.”