Kevin Harvick on switching pit crews to start the Chase: ‘You have to do what you think is right and go forward’

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CHICAGO – In baseball, if a team falters, it’s typically the manager that gets fired.

But in NASCAR, if a pit crew falters, you can’t fire the driver.

That’s the situation Kevin Harvick and the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team were in all season. While things got better during the second part of the 26-race regular season, there were still too many mistakes by the boots on the ground servicing Harvick’s race car.

As a result, SHR took the unusual step earlier this week of switching Harvick’s pit crew with the more experienced group of team co-owner Tony Stewart.

While surprising in its timing – right before the start of the Chase for the Sprint Cup – the move became one of necessity if Harvick was going to be a serious contender for the championship.

“Everybody talked about it and just felt like this was the right thing to do for now with the opportunity we have and give those guys a little time to still hopefully get Tony to victory lane (this season) and be competitive and be in the same environment and do all the same things,” Harvick said during Thursday’s Chase Media Day in downtown Chicago.

“It’s definitely a hard decision, but sometimes you have to make those hard decisions. … You have to look at both sides of it and understand where we are and what we have to do. It’s a tough decision for everybody to make, and you just have to do what you think is right and go forward.”

Will the change in pit crews make a significant difference for Harvick’s title hopes? There’s certainly precedence: Chad Knaus switched up Jimmie Johnson’s pit crew with that of Jeff Gordon’s with just two races remaining in the 2010 season.

Even though Johnson’s crew had taken him to four straight championships at that point, Knaus felt that a fifth one was not in the offing unless drastic measures were taken.

The move paid off with big dividends as two races later, Johnson won his fifth straight Cup crown. It’s questionable whether he would have done so without the pit crew swap.

While Harvick admits his pit crew was fast, it still needed more work on consistency and maturity, elements that could not be risked in the upcoming 10 races of the Chase.

“The biggest thing is, as a group, my guys have done a good job on speed and probably just lacked a little consistency,” Harvick said. “Another 10 weeks and the off-season to get everything fluid as possible heading into next year is probably (best). … It’s kind of the fortunate/unfortunate position we’re in.

“When you look at the 14 group (Stewart’s team), they’ve been together for a really long time, and raced for and won a championship as a group. We just have the access to that experience and to give our guys a little bit of time to mesh and to get that consistency. They’ve got the speed, it’s just getting that consistency that they need to get started for next year.”

Harvick is not throwing anyone under the bus by any stretch. He even went somewhat to an extreme to compliment what is now his former pit crew – but which will be back with him come the start of the 2015 season.

“They do perform well,” Harvick said. “They just have to work on the consistency, and a lot of that just comes with time.

“… My guys are going to do great. They just need time to go through all the situations that all these pit crews that have been together for a long time and have seen those pit hoses get stepped on, tires get hung and lug nuts fall off. It just takes time, and the team they are now isn’t the team they’re going to be when the green flag drops in February at Daytona.”

On another front, while the 16 drivers in this year’s Chase have mixed opinions on whether a champion can emerge without winning a race in the 10-event playoff, Harvick agreed with Jeff Gordon in the belief someone could win it all and not win a race in the Chase.

“I think you could go through the whole format and not win a race and win the championship,” Harvick said. “There’s so many different ways this whole thing can shake out.

“…The way this deal is set up is you can see one of the favorites get knocked out in the first two rounds and then they go back in stride after that because they have nothing to lose. … I think there’s a balance that, for us, that we’ve tried to focus on. It’s not something that you want to switch the flip on and off in how you call a race or run a race.”

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Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing
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To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

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“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.


Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”