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

F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on NBCSN, NBC Sports App this week

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After five years and 98 Grands Prix broadcast since 2013, NBC Sports Group’s coverage of Formula 1 concludes with the 2017 season finale from Abu Dhabi at the Yas Marina Circuit this week.

The lights come on for the day-into-night Grand Prix of the year as the sun sets on five years of broadcasts, original content and additional digital specific features such as Paddock Pass.

For Abu Dhabi this week, all of the race, qualifying and second free practice will be live on NBCSN with first and third free practice live on the NBC Sports App. The race returns is back in the usual morning a.m. time slots after three mid-day races in Austin, Mexico City and Sao Paulo, and a pair of overnight affairs in Kuala Lumpur and Suzuka. Formula 2 coverage of its season finale from Abu Dhabi also airs both on NBCSN and online.

With this the final race of the season before F1’s winter break, there’s still a handful of things to get sorted even though Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes have wrapped their respective championships.

Sebastian Vettel (Brazil) and Max Verstappen (Mexico) have won the last two races, with Hamilton’s most recent win coming at Circuit of the Americas. Will it be any of these three that wrap the year on a high or could any of their teammates – Kimi Raikkonen, Daniel Ricciardo or Valtteri Bottas – upend the script?

Mercedes has won the last three races in Abu Dhabi, Hamilton winning in 2014 and 2016 with Nico Rosberg taking the 2015 crown.

Vettel and Hamilton have three wins apiece in Abu Dhabi, Vettel having taken all of his with Red Bull in 2009, 2010 and 2013, and Hamilton adding a 2011 McLaren triumph to his last two with Mercedes. Raikkonen (2012, Lotus) and Rosberg are the other Abu Dhabi winners, and while both Vettel and Raikkonen have won in Abu Dhabi, Ferrari never has in the first eight races here.

The last place up for grabs in the constructor’s battle is for sixth, with Toro Rosso (53 points), Renault (49) and Haas (47) separated by only six total points. Toro Rosso and Renault got into a nasty war of words in Brazil, and will part ways after the weekend.

Felipe Massa signs off his career in F1 for the second and expected final time at Williams, and with Toro Rosso having confirmed Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley last week, his seat is one of only three left to fill for 2018, and the most attractive.

McLaren and Honda also bring to an end their partnership after three troubled seasons, but on the bright side will look to score points for a third straight race together, which hasn’t happened since the Hungarian, German and Belgian Grands Prix of 2016.

As ever, and perhaps for the final time as a collective unit, Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett will be on the call with Will Buxton reporting from the pits and paddock.

Here’s the F1 schedule, with stream links and TV network if applicable:

  • Practice 1: Friday, Nov. 24, 4 a.m.-5:30 a.m. ET (Streaming)
  • Practice 2: Friday, Nov. 24, 8 a.m.-9:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Practice 3: Saturday, Nov. 25, 5 a.m.-6 a.m. ET (Streaming)
  • Qualifying: Saturday, Nov. 25, 8 a.m.-9:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Pre-Race: Sunday, Nov. 26, 7 a.m.-8 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Race: Sunday, Nov. 26, 8 a.m.-10 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Post-Race: Sunday, Nov. 26, 10 a.m.-10:55 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Race (Replay): Sunday, Nov. 26, 7 p.m.-9 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • F2 Race: Sunday, Nov. 26, 6 a.m.-7 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • F2 Race (Replay): Sunday, Nov. 26, 9 p.m.-10 p.m. ET (NBCSN)