2014 Sprint Cup championship preview: Kevin Harvick

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Driver: Kevin Harvick
Age: 38 (will be 39 Dec. 10)
Full-time seasons in Sprint Cup: 14
Career starts: 501
Career wins: 27
Career top-5 finishes: 113
Career top-10 finishes: 228
Pole positions: 14

* 2014 record to date: 35 starts, four wins, 13 top-five and 19 top-10 finishes. Eight poles. Laps led: 2,083. Average start per race: 9.2. Average finish per race: 13.3. Lead lap finishes: 26.

* Highest single-season finish to date: Third, 2010, 2011, 2013

* Season finishes to date: 2001 (ninth), 2002 (21st), 2003 (fifth), 2004 (14th), 2005 (14th), 2006 (fourth), 2007 (10th), 2008 (fourth), 2009 (19th), 2010 (third), 2011 (third), 2012 (eighth), 2013 (third).

* Homestead Record: 13 career starts, 0 wins, 5 top-5s, 11 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Second in 2003 and 2008. Average start: 14.0. Average finish: 8.1.

* Year-by-year finishes at Homestead: 2001 (seventh), 2002 (20th), 2003 (second), 2004 (10th), 2005 (eighth), 2006 (fifth), 2007 (19th), 2008 (second), 2009 (third), 2010 (third), 2011 (eighth), 2012 (eighth), 2013 (10th).

Will “Freaky Fast” finally earn his long-awaited first career Sprint Cup title?

Kevin Harvick has waited nearly 14 seasons to be in the position he is today. He’s long been considered a championship contender, but has never been able to seal the deal.

Will he finally be able to do so Sunday in the Sprint Cup championship-deciding season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway?

From an experience standpoint, Harvick has the most of the four title contenders. But in his first season at Stewart-Haas Racing, Harvick and his team had some definite and noticeable growing pains, particularly on pit road.

It was for that reason that Harvick and SHR switched pit crews with teammate and team co-owner Tony Stewart just before the start of the Chase, an unusual move of timing. And while there have been a few bobbles along the way, there is no question that Stewart’s crew has helped get Harvick to where he is now.

“The progress that we’ve made this year is really something that I think we’re all proud of,” Harvick said, “just for the fact that we were able to knock off a win early, we were able to overcome so many problems, we’ve won a race in the Chase now, we’ve gotten this far in the championship race and we’ve done really well as a group.

“We’ve built a race team from scratch, really from not one nut or bolt in a trailer and not one race car. Everyone has done a great job and everyone at SHR has given us the financial ability and all of the tools that we needed to go about building a race team how we wanted to. It’s been a lot of fun to be a part of.”

Harvick came close to winning the Sprint Cup championship several times during his 13-year tenure at Richard Childress Racing. Even though he threatened to leave the team at least twice along the way, he always returned.

But after the 2012 season, Harvick decided it was time for a change, that perhaps he had run his course at RCR. So he announced 2013 would be his last season, and that he would be headed to SHR for 2014.

In an interesting twist of irony, the man who Harvick replaced at SHR, as well as who essentially replaced him at RCR, is one and the same, and also finds himself in the final four Chase contenders: Ryan Newman.

Still, Harvick feels he made the right move by going to SHR and now he stands just 400 miles away from that long-awaited championship trophy and ring.

I think for me and my confidence, when I climb into the car every week, I know that thing is going to be fast, and if it’s not, I know we can figure out what we need to do to make it better,” Harvick said. “I’m just really proud of everyone at Stewart-Haas Racing and particularly my team for everything that we’ve built this year and been a part of.”

Harvick’s overall record at Homestead is quite respectable, especially the fact that in his 13 starts there, 11 have ended up in top-10 finishes.

While a top-five may potentially win it for him (and he has five of those, as well, at HMS), a win is the only thing Harvick has on his mind for Sunday’s race.

That way, he won’t have to worry about counting points. As the saying goes, “May the best man win.”

And Harvick believes he indeed will be the best man Sunday.

“This is all about winning a championship,” Harvick said. “That’s what we all show up for. We all want to be competitive on a weekly basis, but at the end of the year, you want that championship trophy.

“I think I’ve been fortunate to have won all of the marquee races and won at different race tracks, Nationwide championships, Truck championships as an owner, so we’ve been able to achieve a lot of things.

“That Cup trophy is the one thing that’s eluded us up until to this point. I definitely want to check that off of the list and be able to experience that for not only myself, but for all the guys that work on my car and haven’t been able to win that championship either. It’s been fun and hopefully we can reach that goal if not this year, at some point.

“We’re going to approach it as having a good time, having fun and really try to keep it as low key as possible, just for the fact that this is what we all signed up to do — to race for a championship and to go to Homestead and just have a chance,” Harvick said. “So, let’s go down there and go for it and see where it all winds up.”

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IndyCar’s ‘Phoenix’ flying into 2023 season: Romain Grosjean enjoying the pilot’s life

IndyCar Romain Grosjean pilot
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – The IndyCar driver known as “The Phoenix” already has taken flight before the 2023 season, and newly licensed pilot Romain Grosjean also got a head start on the opener.

Fulfilling a dream several years in the making, the Andretti Autosport plunged into aviation training over the offseason. Since beginning with online studying last August, Grosjean quickly progressed to earning his licenses for multiengine planes and instrument ratings while completing 115 hours of flight time.

He has landed twice at Albert Whitted Airport, whose primary runway also doubles as the front straightaway on the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg street course.

“Just to land on the start-finish line, that was pretty cool,” Grosjean said during IndyCar Preseason Content Days ahead of the Feb. 2-3 test at The Thermal Club. “The air traffic control guy was like, “Yeah, left on Acre Five, turn, and then back. I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s the last corner of the racetrack, I’ll take it and go back to the pit lane. He was like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, that’s true.’ So it was quite funny.”

Grosjean, 36, said he had wanted to become a pilot since he was 30 but was discouraged by Europe’s complicated and time-consuming licensing process (“to go to ground school twice a week, and with our life, it’s impossible”). He was inspired again last year by (now former) teammate Alexander Rossi, who flew to some 2022 races after earning his license a couple of years ago.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” said Grosjean, who had grown “bored of waiting in the airports.”

He plans to fly to nearly all the races this year (“if the weather is good enough, I’ll be flying”) and jokes about being “commercial by the end of the year, so then I can take Roger (Penske). Roger can pay me to fly him around to races if things go bad with racing.”

Grosjean’s social media has been filled with posts about his new hobby, which afforded him the opportunity recently to take his wife to Key West for lunch from their home in the Miami area.

The trip took 37 minutes there and 41 minutes on return and highlighted why Grosjean loves flying: “Freedom. Freedom to go anywhere you want, anytime you want. It’s the beauty of it. We can go to the Bahamas for a day if we want to. Anywhere. I think that’s just great to know that you can do whatever you want.”

It’s reminiscent of the cross-country trip across the Midwest in an RV that Grosjean took with his family during the summer of his 2021 rookie season.

“There’s one thing that I told my kids, and I told my friend about America, and for me, that’s the biggest difference between Europe and here, is here everything is possible,” said Grosjean (whose “Phoenix” nickname was derived from a brush with death in his final Formula One start). “If you have the wish, if you give yourself the possibility of doing it, everything is possible. It is different in Europe. Much more boundaries on the way. Much more steps that you need to do in a certain order. But if you want to be extraordinary (in the United States), if you want to do something different, you don’t need to do those steps because you can work through.

“Yeah, I like doing things, and when I do them, I like doing them well. But here I think just the opportunity of driving the RV, flying planes, for my kids to do whatever they want to do, we love that here. Yeah, it’s been the best discovery for us.”

The Swiss-born Frenchman already has flown himself to a race this year, jetting up the Florida coast for his Rolex 24 at Daytona debut last month. It was his debut as a Lamborghini factory driver, and his new deal will continue with the Twelve Hours of Sebring and possibly the Petit Le Mans while he also helps develop the automaker’s new hybrid prototype (LMDh) for next year.

Grosjean finished a disappointing 13th in the 2022 points standings with one podium for Andretti in his first full IndyCar season. The team showed improvement at Thermal, and Grosjean (who was fourth fastest on Day 1) said IndyCar will remain his priority in 2024.

But he hopes the IndyCar schedule will afford racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship endurance races and perhaps his longest plane flight yet — a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“I’ll keep my fingers crossed like that we get the weekend off from IndyCar,” said Grosjean, noting that 10 IndyCar drivers were in the Rolex 24. “I think it would make a lot of sense. I think for both series it’s amazing. If we can get Le Mans, it’s also amazing because it’s just cool.

“I remember Mario flying across the Atlantic doing Monaco and the Indy 500, and those guys, they were racing everywhere, Formula 3, Formula 2, Formula 1. They were doing the races in opening of the Formula 1 race, and I think that’s very cool for us. So yeah, looking forward to the project. There’s going to be a lot of development coming on. By the time we finish the IndyCar season, the LMDh will be here in the States, and that’s when I’m going to spend a lot of time on it.”