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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

Longtime Knoxville Raceway promoter, Ralph Capitani, dies

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Photo via @KnoxvilleRaces Twitter
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Knoxville Raceway likely wouldn’t be what it is as one of the country’s most renowned short tracks without the work of Ralph Capitani.

Capitani has died following a battle of cancer (according to Speed Sport), news of which was announced Monday by the track. The longtime promoter at the track was born in 1932.

Capitani, better known as “Cappy,” oversaw a huge rise in the stature and popularity of the track’s premier event – the Knoxville Nationals – after taking the reins as the track’s new race director and promoter in 1978.

Some of the elements Capitani worked to implement were improved facilities, purses, safety standards, car counts and audience, the latter of which saw the Knoxville Nationals eventually make it to TV. He also established the Knoxville Raceway Hall of Fame.

In his 40th year at Knoxville in 2007, Capitani said the prestige of the Knoxville Nationals remained incredible.

“I think the Knoxville Nationals is the best sprint car race of the year, bar none,” he said in 2007, via InLappedTraffic. “It is the only time you see ALL of the best sprint car drivers competing on the same playing field. It is a United States and Internationally wide event.”

He retired from the track at the end of 2011.

Knoxville Raceway released a statement confirming Capitani’s passing, and thanking him for all he did to put the track and race on the map.

A portion of the statement reads: “A visionary in the sport, Cappy aimed to make sprint car racing at Knoxville Raceway grander, the purses bigger and the grandstands fuller. He achieved them all with a smile on his face and a hearty handshake for every team owner, driver, crew member and fan that ever crossed his path.”

IndyCar’s last big pre-season test occurs this week at Sebring

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Conor Daly. Photo: IndyCar
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Pre-season testing for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season will conclude this week with all eight full-season teams having two days at Sebring International Raceway’s short course on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Sebring marks the closest venue to simulate street course conditions; four of the first eight races are street races while only one street race, Toronto, occurs in the second half of the season.

Although this is private testing, this will be a de facto “spring training” on the 1.5-mile road course for teams to see what the others are running all at once. IndyCar’s official spring training, the Prix View test at Phoenix International Raceway’s 1-mile oval, occurred on February 10-11.

The bulk of the field runs tomorrow, with seven of the eight teams set to test – the only exception is Andretti Autosport. Andretti is listed to test on Wednesday.

All but one of the 21 full-season drivers expected for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg season opener on March 12 will test this week. The one not listed is Sebastien Bourdais of Dale Coyne Racing; Bourdais and Ed Jones tested at Sebring in January prior to the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

They’ll be joined by the three drivers making their test debuts, all for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: Robert Wickens, Luis Felipe “Pipo” Derani and Luis Michael Dorrbecker.

Wickens tests tomorrow as part of his planned ride swap with James Hinchcliffe, with Derani and Dorrbecker set to test on Wednesday.

Sebring is usually a hotbed for tests over the IndyCar offseason. This year saw A.J. Foyt Enterprises (in late January with Chevrolet) and Chip Ganassi Racing (in early January with Honda) premiere their new manufacturers and aero kits at Sebring, among other teams that have tested here.

Although the test season has seen an increase in interest this year, the regular season starts in St. Petersburg and returns to NBCSN with Long Beach on April 9.

F1 Paddock Pass: 2017 launch roundup (VIDEO)

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The NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass returns today with a recap of the remaining launches of the 2017 Formula 1 cars that occurred over the weekend.

Williams was first to reveal a rendering of its 2017 car, but it wasn’t a formal launch. Sauber’s online launch properly kicked off proceedings last Monday, before Renault, Force India and Mercedes did actual launches, and then Ferrari (online) and McLaren (in Woking) both launched on Friday.

Official launches then followed for Williams, Red Bull, Haas and Toro Rosso over the weekend. Haas had pictures of its car leak the day before its planned launch as it was a filming day on track.

In this edition of Paddock Pass, NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton and producer Jason Swales recap the remaining cars revealed over the weekend.

Previous Paddock Pass editions from this week are below:

Testing continues this week with days two through four of the first test at Barcelona.

Alonso’s McLaren struggles on first day of F1 tests

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MCL32 on track  during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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MONTMELO, Spain (AP) Troubled Formula One team McLaren has gotten off to a wretched start in preseason testing.

Fernando Alonso spent most of the first day waiting to get back out of the garage after his car broke down following just one lap at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on Monday.

What the team identified as an “oil system” malfunction to its Honda-made engine kept the two-time world champion out of action until after the lunch break. Back behind the wheel, his 29 total laps was the lowest amount of the 11 drivers who participated.

Alonso also posted the second-slowest time, more than three seconds off the leading pace set by Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes. Only Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson was slower.

“It’s disappointing,” Alonso said. “You work for three months and at the track on the installation lap something breaks down and you lose the day.”

This misstep is the latest technical hiccup to plague McLaren since it paired up with Honda.

One of F1’s most successful teams with eight constructor titles and 12 driver titles, the British outfit has struggled since it switched from Mercedes to the Japanese automaker before the 2015 season.

After earning just a combined 27 points from Alonso and Jenson Button in the first year with Honda, the team showed some growth last season with 76 points and two fifth-place finishes. But that is still a far cry from the glory days of the Woking-based team whose last race win was in Brazil in 2012.

For his part, Alonso hasn’t won a race since he claimed his 32nd victory back in 2013 at the Spanish Grand Prix while with Ferrari.

“It is fair to say that after the difficulties we had the last three seasons, it’s a nice temptation for the media,” Alonso said.

“From the point of view of the team, we are disappointed and sad to arrive to the first day of testing and not run.

“We are focused on what we have to do to make up the lost time. We know that we have four days for each driver and now one day is gone to prepare for the world championship.”

Stoffel Vandoorne, who has replaced Button, will get his turn for McLaren on Tuesday.

McLaren team chief Eric Boullier acknowledged that the relationship with Honda is far from perfect.

“It is like any marriage, you can have some ups and downs,” Boullier said. “We went through a lot of stress through the last couple of years, but we have a positive and constructive relationship and I don’t expect this to change in the future.”

The opening test will run through Thursday.

The track near Barcelona will host a second round of testing from March 7-10 before the season starts at the Australian GP on March 26.