NASCAR: Harvick’s title a just reward for crew chief Rodney Childers

1 Comment

The narratives this Monday morning on the cusp of Kevin Harvick breaking through for his elusive first NASCAR Sprint Cup title will largely focus on “The Closer” himself.

Some may choose to ignore “Smoke” and the crew chief, Rodney Childers, which would be an oversight.

In partnership with Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner Gene Haas, Tony Stewart deserves credit, praise and foresight for the ability to make the switch to bring Harvick in from the outside, and to pair him with Childers.

Crucially, the timing of Childers’ announcement being August 2013, when he could afford to begin 2014 preparations in the final 12-14 weeks of the 2013 season, allowed him to go the drawing board and focus fully on the next year earlier than most would have the chance to do.

So in the first race where the lottery of restrictor plate racing wasn’t a factor in 2014, Childers and Harvick had the car to beat at Phoenix International Raceway – in March – in the second race of the year. It was quite a sign that a new pairing could gel so quickly, and be so fast.

It also served as the No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet team’s first notice it would be a force to be reckoned with for the majority of the year.

From there, all the poles and all the laps led followed – even if the wins didn’t due to a variety of mishaps – but the team never lost its focus or devotion to being the best out of the box every week.

Stewart paid tribute to that in the championship press conference last night.

“Like we mentioned earlier in media week, it was real evident to me, their first test at Charlotte, and I got phone calls both nights after the test telling me how it went and the speed that they had.” Stewart said.  “I remember having two tests during the off-season, and those guys were just unbelievably fast at both of those tests.  I thought, this is going to be a great start to the year.

“But the thing that was remarkable for these guys is the fact that they had speed every week, everywhere we’ve been, and that’s something that’s extremely hard to do in this series with so many different disciplines. Their stat of leading over 1,000 laps in the Chase, that’s something that’s no easy feat in itself.”

Coming into the Chase finale itself, Childers actually felt less pressure than in prior weeks. Homestead was the culmination of everything prior all building up to a final crescendo.

“I almost felt like the weekend went smoother for me than what I ever expected,” Childers said. “I think back to the way I was at Charlotte and some of those other races where I was pretty much sick on the pit box.  I felt good all weekend, and the guys did an excellent job.  Kevin did an excellent job, and I felt like we came down here as prepared as we could be, and I was actually okay, if it went good or bad.

“I don’t think at the start of that race — I didn’t feel like there was one person or one thing that we had not done, that we had not prepared ourselves for.  All you can do is go out there and give it your all.  Thankfully everything worked out.”

Childers made the winning call on the final pit stop to take 4 tires, and Harvick did the rest.

“Honestly, when it came down to that, I didn’t even flinch. I thought that was the right thing to do,” he admitted.

Childers, who had been with Michael Waltrip Racing a year ago and was out of the team before its Richmond Chase-affecting spin saga, took a moment to reflect on all the people that helped put him in this position.

“The thing I think about is every — and I’m sure Tony has been through this 100 times, but I think about every single person that ever had anything to do with me,” Childers said. “Like the first go-kart my mom ever bought me, the times she took me to the racetrack, and the first guy that called me from a cart shop and wanted me to drive for him, and then the next guy that – a lot of you guys know Clay Rogers that tries to make some races every now and then and stuff and still races a lot.

“But I helped him in go-karts, and his dad called me and wanted to go to lunch one day, and he said, hey, I’m going to buy a late model stock car for you to drive, and was completely blown away. I was way over my head, had no idea what I was doing. I went to seven races that first year and completely sucked at all of them. And then over the winter, took the whole car apart, did everything the way I wanted, and I went to the first race, sat on the pole and led every lap.

“From that point on, he bought another car, and he said, I want you to keep up Clayton’s car and crew chief for him. So that one year was the year that I realized that I don’t really need to drive. I enjoy watching him win as much as I like winning myself. If it wasn’t for that one person that ever told me, hey, I want you to crew chief for my son, I wouldn’t be doing this right now.

“I have a lot of things that just kept running through my head all week this week. I was fortunate enough to have my mom and dad here. That’s the first time they’ve ever been to a Cup race that we’ve won. Two of my very best friends since I was a little kid were here. I don’t know, I mean, it’s just kind of unreal, I guess you could say. There’s just a lot of people that you want to thank, and it’s hard to do that a lot of times.”

He can feel thankful for pushing through to become a champion at NASCAR’s highest level, and knowing his hard work ethic and excellent season from the pit box helped make it happen.

Rolex 24 at Hour 8: Acuras, Cadillacs look strong in GTP; tough times for Tower in LMP2

Rolex 24 at Daytona
James Gilbert/Getty Images
0 Comments

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The premier hybrid prototype era of the Rolex 24 at Daytona began with a relatively smooth start Saturday through the Hour 8 mark.

Though two of the new Grand Touring Prototype cars fell out of contention within the first six hours, seven cars representing four big-money manufacturers were setting the pace (albeit conservatively at times) after eight of 24 hours in the endurance race classic.

The Cadillacs of Alex Lynn (No. 02, Chip Ganassi Racing) and Jack Aitken (No. 31 of Action Express) held the top two spots with a third of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship completed.

RUNNING ORDER: Standings through eight hours l By class

Brendon Hartley was running third in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Acura, followed by Nick Tandy in the No. 6 Porsche Penske Motorsport 963, Renger van der Zande in the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac and Tom Blomqvist in the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing Acura.

The No. 24 BMW M Team RLL BMW M Hybrid V8 ’s No. 24  was the first GTP car a lap down, but in better shape than its sister. The No. 25 BMW pulled off track for major repairs near the end of the first hour and was classified 133 laps down in 59th in 61 cars.

Misfortune also befell the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsport, which was forced into the garage for a battery change with 18 hours and five minutes remaining. The 963 was 19 laps down in 22nd.

But all things considered, the debut of the GTPs had belied the hand-wringing and doomsayer predictions that had hung over Daytona the past two weeks. Cadillac Racing’s three V-LMDh cars had avoided mechanical problems (needing only typical body repairs for the front end of the No. 01 and rear end of the No. 31 for minor collisions in heavy traffic throughout the 61-car field).

Its stiffest competition seemed to be the Acura ARX-06s, which led more than 100 laps in the first eight hours.

Pole-sitter Tom Blomqvist built a sizeable lead in the No. 60 (which won last year’s Rolex 24) while leading the first 60 laps around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course.

“That was my longest time in the car since we got it,” said Blomqvist, who led the car to the IMSA premier championship last season. “We’re driving it into the unknown now. We’ve done everything we can. We know it’s a strong, fast car, but there are so many things to learn it almost feels like we’re winging it. It’s a constant learning curve, for both me as a driver but for the whole team. We’ve had a good start to the race, but there’s a lot of race to go and anything can happen.”

The No. 60 lost positions when Helio Castroneves spun just short of seven hours remaining but later soldiered back into the lead with Blomqvist.

“That was a wild ride,” Castroneves said. “I just got caught up in the moment and I’m not sure what happened. It locked the rear so unexpectedly. Certainly, the car is fast. There’s a lot of traffic. It was very, very difficult. The Acura has good pace so far, and we are learning a lot in a short time.”

Two days after predicting the race would be an “old-school endurance race” with conservative driving and setups, Simon Pagenaud said his forecast has been realized.

“Totally,” the Meyer Shank Racing said after completing his first turn behind the wheel of the No. 60 shortly before Castroneves’ incident. “It’s been rare that I’ve been saving equipment this much here. In any of my experience in sports car racing, I’ve rarely driven this cool, basically trying to protect everything. It’s what we’ve got to do. And we’ve got the advantage having pace with the Acura.

“So for us, this time of the race, we’ve just got to build the foundation of our race. There’s really no need to dive into the Bus Stop on somebody right now. Six hours to go is a whole different story. If we’re there, there’s no problem. We’ll do it. We have the capacity to do that, which is honestly such a luxury. But at this point to me, we’re just going to save the equipment, get there and see where we are because the car is extremely fast.”

Pagenaud was involved in one when he was warned by IMSA stewards for “incident responsibility” on a spin involving the No. 8 Tower Motorsports LMP2 that is being co-driven by Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin (two of the 10 active IndyCar drivers in the 2023 Rolex 24).

Tower driver-owner John Farano was in the car at the time, but Pagenaud joked he thought it was Newgarden, his former IndyCar teammate at Team Penske.

“I thought the Tower car, that must be Newgarden,” Pagenaud cracked. “Was it him? Don’t tell me. I know it was him. Doesn’t matter. Let me just take it. I’m going to say it’s him. Please tell him I said that when you see him.

The 2019 Indy 500 winner and 2016 IndyCar champion chalked up the run-in with Farano as “a misunderstanding. He hesitated passing the car ahead of him and gave me the left side, so I dove in on the outside, and he basically released the brake and hit my rear. So you could say it’s on me. You could say it’s on him. Honestly, I was confused as to what happened because I just saw him spin in the mirror. I don’t think we had contact.”

It already was a long day for the No. 8 Tower, which had to pull off the track on the first lap. A water bottle fitting leaked onto the ORECA LMP2 07’s electronic control unit, which malfunctioned. The team lost 10 laps while being towed to the pits and repaired as the first yellow flag flew less than five minutes into the race for the incident.

By the time Newgarden handed off the car to McLaughlin, the No. 8 still was nine laps down with eight hours to go.

Last year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona LMP2 winner, which also featured two IndyCar stars in Colton Herta and Pato O’Ward, rallied from five laps down, but Newgarden lamented missing three opportunities to regain a lap under yellow.

“We’re trying to chip away at it; it’s just difficult,” the two-time IndyCar champion said. “I feel solid, and it’s very fun to be in the mix the first time. Very special to be out there in the action. Just wish we were on the lead lap. Our pace was solid. We were strongest on track, but that’s going to change in the later hours with the hot shoes in the car. It’s not going to be easy to pull laps back on this field. It’s a very stacked contingent. They’re all good teams, lot of good drivers. Put ourselves in a hole not a good situation to be in, keep fighting at it. Felt like our pace was good.

“It’s not looking good now. You get toward the end of race, you won’t gain laps back on pace. There are too many good teams and drivers. … We need 8 or 9 yellows to go our way. It just doesn’t look good. But never say never. What if all the GTPs just blow up? I don’t know what’s going to happen. They look really good right now. This is not what everyone predicted. Let’s see. You just never know in racing.”