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

Podcast: James Hinchcliffe might find a silver lining in disguise at Indy after ‘an emotional roller coaster’

Richard W. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway
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INDIANAPOLIS – No one could blame James Hinchcliffe for going incognito at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend, and he might do exactly that on the eve of the Indianapolis 500.

But it won’t be because the SPM driver is bummed about missing the biggest race of the IndyCar season. Actually, it’s because the crushing disappointment of getting bumped from the field a week ago might have a silver lining.

“I’ve heard all these stories from way back when to the present day of what it’s like just outside the speedway on Saturday night before the race,” Hinchcliffe said during a new episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast that was recorded and released Saturday. “Up Georgetown (Road), in the Coke Lot, you hear all these crazy stories about all these crazy parties and the rest of it.

“And honestly, we’re always isolated in our little bubble inside the speedway in the drivers lot. Part of me is tempted to dress up in disguise and just venture out there and see what it’s all about. I’m very tempted to do that and maybe document some of the exploits out there.”

And if Hinchcliffe lingers well into the night? Well, it’s not as if he has a 500-mile race to worry about Sunday.

“I know the (track’s) cannon is going to go off at 6 a.m. (Sunday) and wake us up, but I have fewer responsibilities tomorrow than most of my colleagues,” the Canadian said with a laugh.

Of course, it still has been one of the longer weeks in the life of a 31-year-old who is ranked fifth in the points standing and seemed on track for a career season. Before Indy, Hinchcliffe’s average finish in the first five races was 5.8, including a third at Barber Motorsports Park.

But the momentum screeched to a halt when his No. 5 Dallara-Honda was knocked out of the field in the closing hour of the opening day of qualifying at the Brickyard last Saturday.

Hinchcliffe gamely accepted the outcome with a series of graceful interviews shortly afterward and has maintained a brave face during a week of promotional appearances

“It’s been an up and down week,” he said. “It’s been an emotional roller coaster. The term good days and bad days doesn’t even apply. You have good hours and bad hours.

“The busier I’m keeping myself, the better I’m feeling. There were times you have that little driver tantrum in your head like, ‘I don’t want to do any of this stuff because I’m in a bad mood! And blah, blah blah.’ But talking about it helps you get over it, and staying busy takes your mind off it a little bit.”

Still, there is no escaping the reality of when the green flag falls on the 102nd running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

“Sunday is probably going to suck,” he said. “There’s no way around that. The start of the race is really going to suck. Then when I see how hard it is out there, I might think it sucks a little less.”

It has been easier to swallow because of “fan support that has just been completely overwhelming,” and Hinchcliffe of course has a perspective about Indianapolis that few have after a near-fatal practice crash in 2015 (“(Missing the race) actually wasn’t the worst day I’ve ever had at Indianapolis Motor Speedway”).

His comeback from the brush with death brought his team closer together, and he’s hoping the latest spate of adversity will do the same.

“One of the hardest parts was just being back with the crew right afterward, getting back to the garage and seeing a group of like 10 grown men literally brought to tears over what just happened,” said Hinchcliffe, whose team misjudged the amount of time left in the session after a tire vibration problem quickly ended what would be his final attempt. “It shows you how much this race means. If we had a really bad crash at Detroit on Saturday morning and couldn’t get the car fixed in time for Sunday. We’d all be like, ‘Man that really sucks. We’ll fix the car and come back next week.’

“But not getting to start Indy, man, is just such a gut punch for these guys and for all of us. But at the same time, it brought us closer as a group. There were mistakes made that we’re going to learn from. There’s no doubt that we come back as a stronger unit because of this. Emotionally, from a preparation point of view, from an execution point of view.”

There was a jolt of positivity from a second-place finish in a pit stop competition Friday. Hinchcliffe’s team, which has posted the fastest pit stop in two races this season, fell to Scott Dixon’s team in the final after pulling out a surprise victory over Will Power’s crew from the non-preferred right lane in the semifinals.

“Even if we beat Dixon in the finals, it wouldn’t have felt as good as that win did,” Hinchcliffe said. “It was such an awesome performance. The guys have been killing it in the pits. It’s definitely a point of pride for us.

“It was fun to get back in the car and do something for the fans and do something for the boys. We won a check at the end of the day. Add it to the beer fund and go have a fun Sunday night.”

Other topics discussed in the podcast:

–How and why he became a popular star by learning how to showcase his affable personality early in his career;

–Why the IndyCar Series needs a driver to play the villain role;

–An expanded explanation of why he believes the Indianapolis 500 should be separate from the championship;

To listen to the podcast, click here for Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play or play the Art19 embed below: