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After divorce from RCR, Kevin Harvick looks forward to honeymoon with Stewart Haas Racing

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Divorces are never easy, even if the eventual parting is amicable. You can’t help but look back at the good times and wonder, “What happened? What went wrong? How did we get to this point?”

That’s kind of the emotional spiral Kevin Harvick went through last season, his final season with Richard Childress Racing. After 13 seasons with RCR, Harvick chose to take his freedom and his talent elsewhere.

Sure, he could likely have stayed at RCR for the rest of his Sprint Cup career, but Harvick couldn’t help but wonder if a new kind of magic might be more welcoming and productive at another address.

That’s why he decided after a great deal of soul searching and discussion with wife Delana and various friends and advisors that if he was ever going to try something and someplace new, 2014 was going to be that year.

The divorce with RCR was finalized after last season’s ending race at Homestead Miami Speedway. It was Harvick’s last day with RCR; the very next day he began his new marriage with Stewart Haas Racing.

One might think that SHR might be the worst place for Harvick to wind up at. After all, he’s got three teammates – Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick – all with the same superiority complex. But rather than question whether such a mix would work, Harvick couldn’t sign on the dotted line fast enough.

“What everybody’s overlooking is the fact we have four alpha drivers here that have alpha personalities,” Stewart said. “The great thing is we all have the advantage of understanding each other and having similar personalities like this.

“I think everybody, what their first thought is, is probably the opposite of what the reality is. We’re a great support system for each other. Every one of us has had our battles at some time, either with each other or the media or whatever the group is that the battles have been with, so we all understand and can relate. Everyone of us can understand what somebody else is going through and can be a great support system. That’s what teams are about, is support.

“(The media) may lean on that angle that it’s got a great opportunity to be a disaster, but we look at it as a great opportunity to be a huge positive and a great match for four great personalities and four great drivers to work really hard together and can understand and relate to each other.”

It’s that kind of philosophy that was a key part of why Harvick welcomed the opportunity to join forces with Stewart, one of his best friends and a three-time Sprint Cup championship winner, as well as former champ Busch and Patrick.

Teaming with Busch, in particular, has been interesting. The duo has hated each other for years. Yet here they are now, together as teammates. It just goes to show that NASCAR is made up of some pretty strange bedfellows.

Remember Clint Bowyer a few years back when he was Harvick’s teammate? Bowyer got into an on-track scrap with Michael Waltrip and proceeded to call Darrell’s little brother “the worst driver in NASCAR period.”

Two years later and Bowyer signed to drive for Waltrip.

Strange bedfellows, indeed.

It’s not like Harvick was fed up with RCR, but when he saw other drivers change teams and see their careers reinvigorated, it really got Harvick thinking.

Matt Kenseth, who left Roush Fenway Racing after nearly 15 seasons to race for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013 and the resulting success Kenseth had (seven wins, finished second in the championship to Jimmie Johnson) was kind of the final push Harvick needed to move on to somewhere else.

“I talked to Matt a few times just about how he did things,” Harvick admitted during last week’s NASCAR Media Tour in Charlotte. “And the one thing I took from him that was probably the best piece of advice that I could get was after Homestead, just hit delete on everything you think and everything you know and just enjoy the learning curve of starting over, figuring everybody out and creating new relationships and different theories on how the car drives and how the engines react.

“Everything is new, that part has been a lot of fun for me, and that was probably the best piece of advice he gave me.”

Although he characterizes himself as someone who typically doesn’t like change, particularly for change’s sake itself, Harvick’s departure from RCR and resurfacing at SHR was yet another significant change for him over the last few years.

He sold his Camping World and Nationwide Series race teams a few years ago, became a father for the first time and started evaluating the rest of his Sprint Cup career, however long that may be.

And while he could have stayed at RCR, Harvick’s gut, business sense and competitive nature told him if he was indeed ever going to go somewhere else, this was the best time for him to do so.

As a result, it was hello SHR, goodbye RCR.

“I don’t think it was that I could never win a championship (at RCR), it’s just that we hadn’t won a championship there,” Harvick said of one of the key reasons that led him to leave the Childress camp. “It was 12 years or whatever it was and we hadn’t won a championship, so it was kind of like what do we need to try to figure that out and hadn’t never not been able to accomplish that in any division I’ve raced in in my whole racing career.

“Just a lot of things happened, we sold the race teams, we had our son and just one thing after another kept getting evaluated, and I just didn’t feel like I was making any progress in getting closer. And I felt like with Tony and Gene (Haas) and the commitment they had made to have already won a championship with their team, and their alliance with the Hendrick bunch and Hendrick engines was something I felt was intriguing to go try and win a championship.

“It wasn’t that I couldn’t (win a championship at RCR), it was more that I hadn’t.”

Admittedly, because he announced his intentions to leave RCR early last season, it resulted in an awkward situation of essentially being a lame duck driver. Still, Harvick went out on good terms, winning four races, having 21 top-10 finishes and ultimately finished third in the final standings for the third time in his career and the third time in the last four seasons.

While he could have coasted through his final season at RCR, Harvick did the exact opposite: he drove perhaps harder than he ever has in his career, intent on leaving RCR with that elusive championship. While he fell short, he has no regrets with the way things played out.

“Last year was just a grind, just very tense, just an awkward situation to be in from a driver’s standpoint,” Harvick admitted. “Everybody knew everybody was going in a different direction the year after, but you had to try to keep the focus on the racing and not on the business side and the hurt feelings and all the things and emotions that came with the position we were in.

“Luckily, I had a group of guys that just wanted to race and really didn’t care about or get involved in the politics, and we were able to make it through there and have a good year. Everything ended fine and here we are today.”

Harvick hopes to emulate what Kenseth did last season when he moved to JGR.

“Part of the reason why I came to this team was to try to figure out how to win a championship,” Harvick said. “Tony has done that, Kurt has done that, as an organization Stewart Haas Racing has done that.

“I expect to win and race for a championship. That’s why I came here.”

Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski

IMSA: Polesitters set at Lime Rock Park

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No. 67 Ford. Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Polesitters have been set following qualifying for Saturday’s Northeast Grand Prix, the next round on the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season. It doesn’t feature the Prototype class but does have the other three classes (Prototype Challenge, GT Le Mans, GT Daytona).

Colin Braun has the class pole in Prototype Challenge in the No. 54 CORE autosport Oreca FLM09, with Braun qualifying instead of teammate and co-driver Jon Bennett. The top four cars were only separated by 0.154 of a second.

Most PC teams opted to qualify their Silver-rated drivers instead for the two-hour, 40-minute race, which left Braun with a decided advantage going in over the lesser experienced pros or gentlemen drivers alongside.  But Braun only barely held on for the top spot.

Braun’s best time was a 48.824-second lap around the 1.53-mile Lime Rock Park bull ring.

Robert Alon edged into second at 48.840 in the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Oreca FLM09 he shares with Tom Kimber-Smith. “TKS” and Michael Guasch won this race overall last year.

James French posted a 48.930 in the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports entry he’ll share with Kyle Marcelli, good for third on the grid. That team seeks to atone for a near-miss here last year, when it was leading overall before Conor Daly collided with then-GTD class leader Christopher Haase at the downhill in his No. 48 Paul Miller Audi to open the door for PR1.

French was only just ahead of Jose Gutierrez in the third Starworks Motorsport entry, the No. 7 Aviation American Gin entry at 48.978 seconds that he’ll share with Sean Rayhall this weekend.

Richard Westbrook took another GT Le Mans class pole for the Ford Chip Ganassi Racing outfit with its No. 67 Ford GT he shares with Ryan Briscoe. Westbrook ran a 50.748 best time.

That No. 67 car has been on a roll, having won the last three races in class since the car’s first triumph at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in early May.

The No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM, No. 4 Corvette C7.R and No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE were second through fourth, thus making it four different manufacturers in the top four spots.

Spencer Pumpelly took the first GT Daytona class pole for Change Racing in its No. 16 Lamborghini Huracán GT3, a car he shares with Corey Lewis.

Pumpelly edged fellow Georgia resident Andrew Davis in the first of two Stevenson Motorsports Audi R8 LMSs, the No. 6 car, ahead of Matt Bell in the No. 9 Audi. Davis shares with Robin Liddell, Bell with Lawson Aschenbach. Pumpelly’s best lap was 53.148 seconds to Davis’ 53.178.

Christina Nielsen was fourth (No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3) with Madison Snow (No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3) completing the top five in the 14-car class.

The two-hour, 40-minute race begins Saturday at 3 p.m. ET on FOX, live there, and also live via IMSA Radio.

Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge

Two cars that haven’t won yet this year are on the pole for Saturday’s two-hour, 30-minute Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race from Lime Rock Park.

CJ Wilson Racing has the pole in GS with Danny Burkett, who co-drives the team’s No. 33 Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport with Marc Miller, edged Canadian countryman Scott Maxwell in his No. 15 Multimatic Motorsports Ford Shelby GT350R-C he shares with Billy Johnson.

Meanwhile in ST, the No. 25 Freedom Autosport Mazda MX-5 of defending class champions Chad McCumbee and Stevan McAleer have that class pole over another Mazda from Riley Racing and the No. 93 HART Honda Civic Si.

Haryanto’s F1 future unclear beyond Hungarian GP

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 22: Rio Haryanto of Indonesia and Manor Racing walks in the Paddock  during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 22, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Rio Haryanto’s future in Formula 1 with Manor remains unclear beyond this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix, but the Indonesian driver is hopeful he will see out the season.

Haryanto became Indonesia’s first F1 driver at the beginning of the year in Australia, enjoying backing from state-owned oil company Pertamina.

Haryanto conceded over the Monaco Grand Prix weekend that he was unsure of seeing out the season due to a shortfall in funding that only secured his seat until after this weekend’s race in Hungary.

When asked if he will be racing in Germany weekend, Haryanto told reporters: “I think so. We will see.

“Obviously if you see me at Hockenheim, then I think that would secure the whole season.”

Haryanto’s manager Piers Hunnisett offered a similar verdict to Reuters.

“We’ve got to be positive and hope Rio will be in Germany,” he said.

“We’ve had many promises which haven’t come true. We keep working hard and it is our plan to be in Germany.”

Haryanto has recorded a best finish of 15th so far in F1, and has outqualified Manor teammate Pascal Wehrlein in half of their races together.

Besides its race drivers, Manor also enjoys ties with 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi and GP2’s Jordan King, both of whom enjoy junior roles with the team. Rossi is the team’s reserve driver.

Should Haryanto not race in Germany, Rossi would not be able to step in given the clash with the Honda Indy 200 IndyCar race at Mid-Ohio.

After Hungary, the next four F1 races clash with IndyCar weekends, including the season finale at Sonoma on September 18 that shares a date with the Singapore Grand Prix.

Rossi, for his part, addressed his own future in a recent USA Today Sports interview with Brant James.

“I’m definitely deciding between Formula 1 and IndyCar,” Rossi told James at the Toronto weekend.

Renault planning no further F1 engine updates until 2017

20 MAGNUSSEN Kevin (dnk) Renault action during the 2016 Formula One World Championship, Grand Prix of Hungary from July 22 to 24, Hungaroring, Budapest - Photo Francois Flamand / DPPI
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Renault is not planning to introduce any major updates to its engine over the remainder of the 2016 Formula 1 season, preferring to focus resources on next season’s power unit.

Renault entered 2016 looking to make big gains after a difficult season that saw its relationship with Red Bull sour over the quality of its power unit.

Significant progress was made, allowing Red Bull’s Max Verstappen to take the first Renault-powered victory in 18 months at the Spanish Grand Prix.

A major update was introduced to the power unit in Monaco, allowing Red Bull to make up ground on Ferrari and help Renault’s works team to find more pace.

Although another engine update was thought to be planned for later in the season, Renault engine chief Remi Taffin confirmed on Friday that attention had now been turned to 2017.

“I think it will be next year,” Taffin said when asked the next update would arrive.

“The big step we will have will be next year’s engine, race one.

“Until we get to the end of the season now we will be working on the specification we have now, trying to extract the most out it.

“But there won’t be any more let’s say big step as we had for race one and six.”

Taffin said he took pleasure in the progress Renault has made since last season, but believes that there is more ground to be made up.

“I think it only be a good satisfaction, because where we were coming from was a difficult year last year,” Taffin said.

“Now we can see the improvement on track and everything we got out from the factory to the track was working well, so that was a good step forward, either first race or actually Monaco/Montreal specification we introduced.

“It’s all working well. I just have to say we’re on it, but we have a good way to go.”

Porsche leads Friday WEC practice at the Nurburgring

Porsche 919 Hybrid, Porsche Team: Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley, Mark Webber
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Porsche edged out Audi and Toyota to lead both practice sessions ahead of this weekend’s FIA World Endurance Championship round at the Nurburgring in Germany.

In the first on-track action for the WEC teams since the 24 Hours of Le Mans last month, all three of the LMP1 manufacturers debuted their high-downforce aero kits introduced for this weekend’s race.

The Le Mans-winning no. 2 Porsche crew of Romain Dumas, Neel Jani and Marc Lieb headed up a one-two finish for the German marque in their 919 Hybrid car, edging out the no. 1 team by 0.047 seconds.

Audi followed close behind with Marcel Fassler and Andre Lotterer – missing regular teammate Benoit Treluyer due to injury – finishing two-tenths shy of the fastest time in third place.

The three-time Le Mans winners drew closer in second practice, finishing just 0.014 seconds behind the no. 1 Porsche as Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber and Brendon Hartley set the pace.

The second Audi R18 followed in third place, but with just 1.3 seconds separating the six LMP1-H cars, the battle over the rest of the weekend looks set to rage on.

“We can’t read too much into today’s lap times, as it is race conditions that count,” no. 1 Porsche driver Mark Webber said.

“But we got the maximum out of today and the most information we could. The Nürburgring is fantastic for these fast cars, and we we’re happy to see the sun all day.

“Car number 1 is in good shape and we’re looking forward to qualifying tomorrow.”

In LMP2, G-Drive’s no. 26 Oreca led both FP1 and FP2, enjoying an advantage of over one second in the evening. Manor finished second ahead of Strakka in FP1 before the two teams swapped places at the end of FP2, both running with revised line-ups since Le Mans.

GTE Pro offered a tight battle between Aston Martin Racing, AF Corse and Ford through the day. The no. 97 Vantage V8 shared by Richie Stanaway and Darren Turner posted the fastest time of the day in FP2, leading the pair of Ferrari 488 GTEs in P2 and P3.

AF Corse led FP2 in GTE Am from Larbre Competition, having trailed behind the no. 98 Aston Martin Vantage earlier in the day.