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


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

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance

LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).