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

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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.

Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing
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To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

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“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.


Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”