Tough early days on 4 team lead to championship opportunity for Rodney Childers (VIDEO)

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With Kevin Harvick coming on board this season to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing, the team had an almost Herculean task of pulling together everything they would need to be competitive.

When his crew chief, Rodney Childers, recalls those tough early days, you can hear the marvel in his voice about how it all got done.

“There’s not too many people that would’ve went through that, and I really expected people to work a couple months, realize how bad it was, then turn around and walk out the door – and nobody ever gave up,” he said today during a NASCAR teleconference.

And now, because of all that effort, Harvick, Childers and the No. 4 team are one race away from capturing a Sprint Cup championship in their first season together.

Harvick earned the automatic berth to this Sunday’s Sprint Cup Championship Race at Homestead-Miami Speedway thanks to his win last weekend at Phoenix International Raceway.

It left Childers pondering everything they had been through and also about being able to do something he’d long wanted to do as a crew chief.

“For me, personally, I’ve wanted to be part of something like that for a long time,” he said. “I’ve wanted to race for a championship and I’ve never really had that opportunity, so to be able to do that is just something exciting to me.

“…It’s emotional for everybody and it’s important to everybody.”

The No. 4 SHR team won in its second start ever at Phoenix in the spring, but while they would win again at Darlington in April, the group became known for having one setback after another destroy chances for more victories.

The pile of otherwise superb performances that were ruined through either mechanical failures, pit crew gaffes, or mistakes by Harvick himself grew. But Childers said that he was expecting such things to occur as the team jelled together.

“We had parts and pieces that had never been raced before,” he said. “We built race cars that had never been tested before. When we started the season, we didn’t have a single chassis, a single radiator, oil cooler, rear-end housing, oil lines, fuel lines – there was none of that stuff that had never been raced before.

“Everything [SHR] had raced before…We didn’t use any of it. I kinda expected us to have those kinds of problems until we all got it figured out.”

But now, with the team seemingly firing on all eight cylinders, Childers looks back with pride.

“That’s been the coolest thing, to see how hard everybody worked to get all that stuff done,” he said. “When we showed up at Daytona [at the beginning of the year], I was like, ‘Man, I can’t believe we’re even here. I can’t believe we got all that stuff done.’

“So to be competitive as we have been all year was – I really thought it would be June before we really got going. There’s a lot of hard work that went into all of it.”

And to Childers, seeing that hard work has helped fuel Harvick’s own competitive spirit.

While Harvick has shown his frustrations at times this season about not converting speed into wins, he’s also worked to keep spirits up on the team as well.

It’s something that Childers appreciates, and so, he and his team work to do their best for him. In turn, it makes Harvick work equally to do his best for them.

“I think just being around all of these positive people on the race team and people wanting the same thing that he does – he’s competitive and he wants to work so hard that he expects everyone around him to work just as hard,” he said of his driver. “So when he sees that, it makes him tick.

“If he knows we’re at the shop and doing everything we can possibly do and giving 110 percent, then he’s gonna give 110 percent.”

Valtteri Bottas fastest in Friday F1 practices for Russian Grand Prix

F1 Sochi Valtteri Bottas
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SOCHI, Russia — Valtteri Bottas paced both F1 practices Friday for the Russian Grand Prix on Friday as Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton was slowed by damaged tires in the first session.

Bottas turned a fast lap of 1 minute, 33.519 seconds in the second session that bettered Hamilton’s 1:33.786.

Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo was more than a second behind Bottas in third at 1:34.577, followed by the McLaren Racing duo of Carlos Sainz Jr. (1:34.723) and Lando Norris (1:34.847).

In the first F1 session at Sochi, Valtteri Bottas set the pace with a time of 1 minute, 34.923 seconds, beating Ricciardo by half a second. Max Verstappen was third quickest in his Red Bull, a further 0.147 back.

Hamilton could only manage 19th fastest after locking up his tires and leaving them with a flat spot. Ferrari again struggled to find pace with Sebastian Vettel ninth and Charles Leclerc 11th.

HISTORY IN SIGHTLewis Hamilton aims to tie Michael Schumacher’s record

The first session was briefly red-flagged when Nicholas Latifi crashed his Williams. Carlos Sainz Jr. spun his McLaren backward into a barrier and broke off his rear wing.

Verstappen spun during the second session but avoided damage to his car.