Harvick’s new bosses happy after Phoenix win

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Consider Tony Stewart and Gene Haas pleased with their newest hire.

The two co-owners of Stewart-Haas Racing got to celebrate with Kevin Harvick, who dominated today’s The Profit on CNBC 500 at Phoenix International Raceway and claimed his first win as a member of SHR.

It wasn’t an great day completely across the board for SHR. Stewart wound up a quiet 16th, while Kurt Busch’s Top-10 run was spoiled mid-race by a dropped cylinder that eventually led to a blown motor on Lap 292. Second-year driver Danica Patrick was also involved in a pair of spins en route to a 36th-place finish.

But in the end, Harvick saved the day, and Stewart paid a visit to Victory Lane to congratulate him.

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Winning car owner with the winning driver. #NASCAR

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Harvick’s win is also a moment of vindication for SHR, which had to deal with a lot of attention over the off-season for its ambitious expansion to four cars. Harvick and Busch entered the fold from Richard Childress Racing and Furniture Row Racing respectively, while Harvick’s crew chief, Rodney Childers, migrated from Michael Waltrip Racing.

“This is phenomenal,” Haas said to reporters after the race. “I think there was a lot of skepticism last year about what myself and Tony were up to or if there was a lot of madness to this…It’s a great team. There’s a lot of synergy at the shop and people working together. I don’t know what we did, but I think we’ve put together a great organization.

“I have to thank Rodney and Kevin for having the magic that it takes to win these things, and we’ll make sure that we don’t disturb that…It’s a very good feeling [to win].”

Harvick himself noted that air of skepticism surrounding SHR over the winter and admitted that he thought about all the ways things could go awry leading into today’s race.

“You’re trying to think of everything we could do wrong and Rodney’s probably annoyed with me as I’ve come in the hauler and asked about 5,000 questions about probably the dumbest things he’s ever heard of,” he said.

“But all in all, Gene has given us every resource that you could imagine. Tony has been just very supportive of whatever we’ve wanted to do, and Rodney has put together a group of guys that believes in what we’re doing.”

Last Sunday, SHR’s first run at the Daytona 500 as a four-car team was not an especially great one as Harvick, Stewart, Patrick and Busch all failed to crack the Top 10.

But Harvick said that the team refused to get down on themselves after the lackluster outing in the “500.”

“We’ve had some hiccups through the first week and I felt like we were going to have those,” he said. “I think everybody was anticipating those.

“But nobody was pointing fingers. Nobody said, ‘It’s this guy’s fault’ or ‘it’s that guy’s fault.’ Everybody said, ‘Alright, what do we need to do to fix that?’ or ‘What do we need to do to fix this to try to make that better?'”

Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Combined speeds