The Closer is The Champion: Kevin Harvick wins at Homestead to claim 1st Sprint Cup title

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One week after winning at Phoenix to enter the final battle for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, Kevin Harvick has done it again – this time, for all the marbles.

Harvick held off fellow title contender Ryan Newman in a three-lap dash to win the Ford Ecoboost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway and his first career Cup title – an electrifying finish to a Chase that delivered time and again in terms of excitement, intensity and surprises.

“This new format has been so stressful,” Harvick admitted after winning the crown. “The racing has been phenomenal. I’m going to sleep for a week.”

A late pit call from crew chief Rodney Childers proved to be the difference. Under caution with 20 laps to go, Harvick took four tires and fell all the way back to 12th.

Harvick said post-race that he thought he was in big trouble after that. But on the restart with 15 to go, he climbed up to sixth position before another yellow came out just two laps later.

Then on the next restart with nine laps left, Harvick roared all the way to second in one lap before passing another of the Championship 4, Denny Hamlin, for the race lead with seven laps left.

Newman passed Hamlin for second before debris brought out the final yellow with six to go and set up the last sprint to glory. While Hamlin failed to get going from third place at the drop of the green flag, Harvick held the lead on the outside against Newman, and eventually came home with the biggest victory of his career.

It’s even more sweet considering that Harvick’s No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team was essentially built from scratch last winter, and then went through a trying 2014 regular season that saw them win twice but make lots of mistakes that cost them even more victories.

But in the Chase, everything came together for the 4 camp, which celebrated three wins in the final six races of the year.

“They gave us all the resources that we needed,” Harvick said of team co-owners Gene Haas and Tony Stewart. “They said, ‘Whatever you think you guys need, you go get.’ We never talked about money or anything financial, it was just ‘Go get what you need to build a team.’ We built brand new race cars, trucks, trailers, [and got] all-new people.

“…All of the character-building moments have led to this moment right here. To close that deal out with the championship there was pretty awesome.”

As for Newman, he said that trying to make the inside lane work against Harvick on the last restart was tough.

“I thought about haulin’ it in wide-open there on Kevin, but that wouldn’t be the right thing – I wouldn’t want him to do that to me,” he said. “They say you gotta lose one before you can win one, and I’m ready to win one now.”

He also believed that to come one spot away from a championship showed the strength of his Richard Childress Racing team, even though they end the year without a single race victory.

“We didn’t win any battles, but we sure came close to winning the war,” he said. “It’s still been a lot of fun and I appreciate all the guys’ hard work.”

Hamlin faded to a seventh-place finish after staying out on track to take the title lead in the aforementioned yellow with 20 to go. He would pinpoint the rash of additional yellows at the very end as a cause for his final outcome.

“With all those cautions, it allowed those guys to close back up and it was kind of all she wrote for us,” he said. “It’s just one of those things. Sometimes, the cautions fall your way and sometimes, they don’t…Things were looking really good, but those cautions just really hurt us.”

The last Championship 4 contender, Joey Logano, was strong for much of the night but under that same 20-to-go caution, his car fell off the jack in the pits. The disaster caused him to fall all the way to 22nd place; he eventually finished 16th.

“It still was a great season for our Shell-Pennzoil Ford,” Logano said. “[The championship] just got taken away by one bad pit stop, unfortunately.”

As expected, the Championship 4 made early charges toward the front of the field. Harvick took the race lead from Gordon at Lap 15, and by Lap 20, three of the title contenders – Harvick, Hamlin, and Logano – were in the Top 5. Newman, who started worst among the quartet in 21st, eventually cracked the Top 5 himself at Lap 75.

All of them avoided major mistakes and stayed toward the front leading up to the 20-to-go caution. During the sequence, Newman took a two-tire stop to rise up to fourth behind then-race leader Jeff Gordon, Hamlin, and Brian Vickers, while Harvick took his four and dropped out of the Top 10.

But in the end, that call was the turning point and allowed Harvick to emerge as the champ.

Alexander Rossi ‘fits like a glove’ with his new IndyCar teammates at Arrow McLaren Racing

Alexander Rossi McLaren
Nate Ryan
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – There are more than three dozen fresh faces on the Arrow McLaren Racing IndyCar team, but there was one that Felix Rosenqvist was particularly keen to know – Alexander Rossi.

The driver of the No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet is the most high-profile new hire for McLaren, which has expanded to a third car to pair with the No. 6 of Rosenqvist and No. 5 of Pato O’Ward.

And there is another layer than Rossi just being the new kid. McLaren marks only his second team in NTT IndyCar Series after seven seasons at Andretti Autosport, where he began with a victory in the 2016 Indy 500 and was a championship contender for several seasons.

Rossi is a mercurial talent, and when things go wrong, the red mist quickly descends (and sometimes has led to feuds with teammates). He went winless during two of his final seasons at Andretti and was out of contention more often than not, often bringing out the prickly side of his personality.

Yet there has been no trace of the dour Rossi since joining McLaren. The pragmatic Californian is quick to remind everyone he hasn’t worked with the team yet at a track (much less been in its car), and there surely will be times he gets frustrated.

But it’s clear that Rossi, who made five Formula One starts in 2015 after several years racing in Europe, already is meshing well with an organization whose England-based parent company has deep roots in F1.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” Rosenqvist said Tuesday during IndyCar’s preseason media availabilities. “I think Alex kind of has that bad-guy role a little bit in IndyCar. He’s always been that guy, which is cool. I think we need those guys, as well.

“Actually having gotten to know him, he’s been super nice, super kind. He fits like a glove in the team. I think it fills a role where Pato is kind of like the crazy guy, I’m somewhere in the middle, and Alex is the more engineering guy in the team. I think Alex has more experience, as well. He just feels like a guy who knows what he wants.

“Yeah,  good addition to the team and great guy at the same time.”

There are many reasons why Rossi’s transition from Andretti to McLaren should be smoother than his abrupt move from F1 to IndyCar seven years ago. Namely, he no longer is the only newcomer to the team’s culture.

“It’s been kind of a good time to come in because everyone is finding a new role and position and kind of learning who’s who, finding everyone’s strengths and weaknesses,” he said.

But while Rossi might have questions about the team, he has none about the series. Unlike when he arrived at Andretti without any oval experience, Rossi joins McLaren with his IndyCar credentials secured as an established star with eight victories, seven poles and 28 podiums over 114 starts.

Even in his swan song with Andretti, Rossi still managed a farewell victory last July at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course that snapped a 49-race, three-year winless drought. It seems reasonable to believe he immediately could re-emerge in his 2017-19 title contender form.

“I know the series, and I know kind of everything that goes into American open-wheel racing vs. the European open-wheel racing, which is really the biggest transition,” Rossi said. “Certainly it’s the largest kind of team switch. I’ve obviously driven for different teams in the past in Europe, in sports cars, whatever, but never really in my full-time job. I’ve driven for the same organization for a very long time and have a lot of respect and fabulous memories with those people.

“So it has been a big kind of shift, trying to compare and contrast areas that I can bring kind of recommendations and experience to maybe help fill the gaps that exist at Arrow McLaren. Again, all of this is in theory, right? I don’t really know anything. We’ll have a much better idea and plan going into St. Pete (the March 5 season opener).”

He has gotten a good handle on how things work at its Indianapolis headquarters, though, and has been pleased by the leadership of new racing director Gavin Ward (who worked in F1 before a championship stint with Josef Newgarden at Team Penske). McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown also seems omnipresent on both sides of the Atlantic, making appearances at IndyCar races seemingly as much as in the F1 paddock.

“I think what’s very cool about Arrow McLaren is we do have the resources of the McLaren F1 team,” Rossi said. “They very much are being integrated in a lot of respects. It’s not two separate entities. McLaren Racing is one organization that has its people and resources and intellect in kind of everything. It’s been pretty cool to see how that can be an advantage to us in terms of people, resources, simulations, software, kind of everything. We’ve been able to kind of rely on that and use that as a tool that maybe other teams certainly don’t have.”

That will be helpful for Rossi with the methodologies and nuances of racing a Chevrolet for the first time after seven seasons with Honda.

And of course, there will be the relationship with O’Ward, who has been McLaren’s alpha star since 2020.

Rossi was in a similar role for Andretti, which raises questions about how McLaren will handle having two stars accustomed to being the face of the team. But O’Ward said IndyCar regulations should allow each driver to maintain their own style without being forced to adapt as in other series.

“At the end of the day, as much as teammates will help in order to gather data, it doesn’t mean they’re going to specifically help you in what you need because it’s a series where you can really tailor the car to what you want,” O’Ward said. “Rather than in Formula 1, (it’s) ‘This is the car, you need to learn how to drive this certain car.’ In IndyCar, it’s very different where you can customize it to what you want it to feel like or drive like.

“From past experience, I think Alex likes a car similar to what I do. I do think we have a very strong car in certain areas, but I definitely think he’s coming from a car where that other car has been stronger than us in other racetracks. I feel like if we can just find gains where we haven’t quite had a winning car, a podium car, that’s just going to help all of us.”

Though Thursday at The Thermal Club will mark the first time the trio works together at a track, Rosenqvist said he’s hung out a lot with Rossi (both are 31 years old) and deems his new teammate “well-integrated” in the simulator.

“I think the fit has been good with him, me and Pato,” Rosenqvist said. “On a trackside perspective, it’s obviously huge to have always a third opinion on things. Every driver’s opinion is valuable in its own way.”

Said O’Ward, 23: “It’s been great. (Rossi has) been great to have around. I think he needed a fresh start. I think he’s excited to really work with all of us, create the strongest package.”

Ever the realist, though, Rossi still is tempering some of his enthusiasm.

“Again, we haven’t really done anything yet other than some meetings and some team activities together,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for what they’ve done in IndyCar and also their prior careers. I think that we all bring something a little bit different to the table, which I think is really unique in terms of not only personalities but driving styles and experience levels.

“I think we have the ingredients to really be able to develop the team and continue to push the team forward to even a better level than what they’ve shown in the past. It’s been a really positive experience. Really I have nothing at all negative to say and can’t actually wait to get to work, get on track and start working together.”