Kevin Harvick never lost faith he could win Sprint Cup title — and fate took care of the rest

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Kevin Harvick was so excited after winning the Sprint Cup championship Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway that perhaps the most important detail of how he got to that place had slipped his mind:

“I forgot we won the race,” he told ESPN afterward.

Harvick put everything into winning his first career Sprint Cup championship, so much so that he can be excused for forgetting that he needed to get the checkered flag to also get the Sprint Cup championship trophy.

That’s the kind of driver Harvick has been this season: all or nothing. Wins were great, and with Sunday he winds up with five for the 2014 campaign, but they were only a means to an end.

What was the real and true reason Harvick was finally able to claim his first career Cup championship after 14 seasons of trying boils down to two words: “faith” and “fate.”

It was faith that Harvick believed he was making the right decision when he told owner Richard Childress he was leaving the only team he had known in his first 13 Cup seasons because he felt his fate had a better chance at winning the title with Stewart-Haas Racing.

It was faith and fate that Harvick trusted everything team co-owners Gene Haas and Tony Stewart told him, that they’d spare no expense, effort or personnel to get him the championship he so desperately craved.

It was faith and fate that brought Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers together, an untested pairing with a brand new cast of pit crew members, all with a singular goal of winning the championship in their first try out.

Sure, there were bumps and stumbles along the way, so much so that Harvick had to resort to “trading” pit crews with Stewart just before the Chase began 10 weeks ago, so as to assure he’d have the best hands on-deck and on pit road.

And admittedly while his faith was shaken at times during the 26 regular season primarily because of those pit road mistakes, that same faith was never completely broken that somehow, some way, Harvick, Childers and SHR – and fate – would still find a way to deliver on that championship promise.

Faith and fate aren’t easy things to believe in at times. Jeff Gordon had faith that this year’s Drive For Five (championships) would come true.

But fate ultimately proved him wrong.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. believe fate would be on his side, and that he had faith he would win his first career Sprint Cup championship and send out crew chief Steve Letarte (who is moving to NBC Sports as an analyst next year) as a championship-winning crew chief.

That effort also fell short.

Jimmie Johnson came into the 2014 season with media and fans daring to call him the “Greatest of All Time,” and that he was a virtual lock to win a seventh championship this year, tying him with NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt for the most championships won by an individual driver.

Unfortunately, a seventh title in nine seasons was not to be for Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus. Whether it was too little faith or what have you, fate still proved to be too little, too late.

But Harvick never lost faith that he and his new team could ultimately get the job done. From the minute they held their first test together last December until Harvick lifted the Cup championship trophy for the first time in his life Sunday, it seemed that fate and his destiny were one-in-the-same for him and no one else.

Joey Logano had the season of his career, only to see it all fall short when, as fate would have it, a jack broke on a late-race pit stop. And with it went Logano’s own championship hopes.

Then there was Denny Hamlin, who for one of the few times this season, looked like he had a stronger car than Harvick’s in Sunday’s race. Even the ESPN announcers said late in the race that it was Hamlin’s to lose, he looked so strong.

But fate had other plans: A late race pit strategy to stay out on old tires backfired, ultimately costing Hamlin the title, too.

Ryan Newman had faith he could pull off the upset, and gave Harvick the most formidable challenge in the closing laps.

But as fate would have it, Newman also came up short. Sure, Newman could have wrecked Harvick much the same way he did Kyle Larson last week to make it to the final championship round, but to his credit, Newman felt it just wasn’t the right thing to do.

“I thought about hauling it in there wide open but that wouldn’t have been the right thing to do,” Newman said of Harvick. “I wouldn’t want him to do that to me.”

To his credit, Newman, who essentially replaced Harvick at RCR this season after being dumped by SHR after last season, had perhaps the best line of any of Harvick’s challengers: “They say you have to lose one before you can win one. I’m ready to win one now.”

Maybe next year, faith and fate will indeed shine upon Newman.

But Sunday, it was all Harvick’s, resulting in the second championship by Stewart-Haas Racing in four seasons, the other coming by Stewart in 2011.

It was Stewart that gave Harvick perhaps the best advice of all before the race, to have faith and believe that fate will come out in his favor.

“It’s never over till its over.’ Those were his (Tony’s) last words to me today, ‘Don’t ever quit until they drop the checkered flag because its not over,’” Harvick said. “I remembered that the whole race and so here we are.”

Indeed, here we are. Harvick earns his first career Cup championship, becomes the 30th different champion in the history of NASCAR’s premier series, and only the third driver in history to win both a Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series championship in his career (joining Brad Keselowski and Bobby Labonte).

Along the way to the coveted Cup crown, Harvick led the most laps of any driver in the series, 2,137 – nearly three times more than his previous single-season high of 886 in 2008.

He finished the season with five wins (tied for second-most of all drivers), 20 top-10 finishes and eight poles (after having eight poles in total for his entire career in his previous 13 seasons).

And last but not least, Harvick had the best finishing average of any driver in this year’s Chase of 8.0.

Even with all the hiccups along the way, Harvick never lost faith that he and his team could win the championship, and fate made sure it did its part as well.

When you have a 1-2 punch like that, you can’t help but come out on top.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.