New champ Kevin Harvick hails family, team in NASCAR Sprint Cup Awards

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When the time finally came for the guest of honor to speak at tonight’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards in Las Vegas, he didn’t quite look ready.

Then again, handling a rambunctious young son can be rather challenging.

“If I look like a wreck, it’s not because I have a severe hangover or anything,” new Cup champion Kevin Harvick said to open his champion’s speech.

“It’s because I wrestled a two-year-old down the red carpet and on the stage up here, so I have no buttons, torn pants, scuffed-up shoes, and my tie – Dale [Earnhardt] Jr. sent me a text telling me to straighten my tie.

“It’s crooked. But it’s all good though.”

It was all good, and rather fitting, too, that Harvick would celebrate his first Cup title with his family that has been with him every step of the way – wife DeLana and their young boy, Keelan.

“I’m able to enjoy moments like this more than ever because of her and Keelan,” he said of the woman he called “his rock” and their son, who both joined him at the head table this evening at the Wynn.

While Harvick may not have looked perfect up on the podium, his speech certainly was perfect. He thanked all the important people on his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team that guided him to the championship, including his team owners, Tony Stewart and Gene Haas, and his crew chief, Rodney Childers.

But he also made sure to acknowledge his former boss, Richard Childress, who brought Harvick to the Cup Series in 2001 following the death of NASCAR icon Dale Earnhardt and worked with him through the 2013 season.

“He believed in a punk kid from California enough to give me a ride, and then he had the faith to bring me to Cup during an incredibly emotional time for him, [Richard Childress Racing], and our sport,” he said of Childress. “We did a lot together, and I’m not up here tonight without you, Richard. Thank you.”

He then turned his thoughts to Childers, who led the creation of the 4 team through the previous off-season and helped seal the title-clinching win for Harvick in last month’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway with a late pit call.

“He built new race cars and assembled a whole new group of guys between the end of the 2013 season right up to the Daytona 500,” said Harvick. “Under his direction, we accomplished a lot and became great friends in the process.”

Harvick then went into a long list of thank you’s to his sponsors, acknowledged outgoing NASCAR broadcasters ESPN and Turner Sports for their contributions to the sport’s growth, and praised the sport’s fans: “You guys are the most passionate in all of sports. You make this amazing sport what it is. Whether it’s a 600-mile race at Charlotte or a six-hour rain delay, you’re always there.”

In closing, Harvick referenced the now-famous “I Believe…” soccer chant, mentioning that it was he and his team’s mantra going into the Chase race at Charlotte that he ultimately won.

“I would yell ‘I believe’ and those crazy guys in the back would yell ‘that we will win,’ and believe it or not, it worked,” he said. “I sincerely hope everyone here has the chance to experience that same sense of support and belief of being part of a team.

“If it can happen to a kid from Bakersfield, it can happen to anyone – you just have to have the support of a team that believes in you.”

And with that, the new champ finished by speaking “I believe…,” which was indeed met from the back of the ballroom with “…that we will win.”

A fitting ending to a memorable season.

March 28 in Motorsports History: Adrian Fernandez wins Motegi’s first race

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While auto racing is an international sport, oval racing remains uniquely American. 

That almost always has remained the case since the inception of the sport, but in 1998, the citizens of Japan got their first taste of American oval racing.

Having opened the previous year, Twin Ring Motegi was built by Honda in an effort to bring Indy-style racing to the Land of the Rising Sun. 

Adrian Fernandez was the first driver to win at the facility, taking the checkered flag in CART’s inaugural race after shaking off flu earlier that day.

Fernandez held off a hard-charging Al Unser Jr to win by 1.086 seconds. The victory was the second of his career and his first since Toronto in 1996.

Adrian Fernandez celebrates with Al Unser Jr and Gil de Ferran after winning the inaugural race at Motegi. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

The race was also memorable for a violent crash involving Bobby Rahal.

Running third with 15 laps remaining, Rahal’s right front suspension broke in Turn 2, causing his car to hit the outside wall and flip down the backstretch.

Luckily, Rahal walked away from the accident without a scratch.

“The car was on rails through (turns) 1 and 2, and all of a sudden it just got up into the marbles, and it was gone,” Rahal said. “Thank God we’ve got such safe cars.”

The following season, Fernadez went back-to-back and won again at Motegi. The track remained on the CART schedule until 2002.

In 2003, Honda switched their alliance to the Indy Racing Leauge, and Motegi followed suit.

The track continued to host IndyCar racing until 2011 with the final race being held on the facility’s 2.98-mile road course, as the oval sustained damage in the Tōhoku earthquake earlier that year.

Also on this date:

1976: Clay Regazzoni won the United States Grand Prix – West, Formula One’s first race on the Long Beach street circuit. The Grand Prix would become an IndyCar event following the 1983 edition of the race.

1993: Ayrton Senna won his home race, the Grand Prix of Brazil, for the second and final time of his career. The victory was also the 100th in F1 for McLaren.

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