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.

Ben Hanley relieved to make Indy 500 debut

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Qualifying for the Indy 500 is never an easy task, especially for a new driver and team, and with 36 cars vying for 33 starting positions last weekend, 34-year-old rookie Ben Hanley knew there was a chance he and his DragonSpeed team would not make the show.

“I wouldn’t say we were very confident, but we wanted to [make the field],” Hanley told NBC Sports. “The biggest thing we were trying to achieve was to not be on track on Sunday in the shootout because it only takes one mistake or one little issue and that’s it, you’re not in the race.”

But Hanley would not have to worry about being bumped from the field. He qualified 27th after making three attempts on Day 1, which was enough to lock the No. 81 team into the show. Not too shabby for a driver and team making only their third NTT IndyCar Series start.

THE 103RD INDIANAPOLIS 500: Click here for how to watch, full daily schedules

“That last run everything just came together,” Hanley said. “We trimmed out a little bit more and found a good balance of trim and grip over four [qualifying] laps and it was enough to get us through.

“It was a huge relief to get through in P27. A massive achievement for everybody involved.”

Indeed it was a massive achievement, as DragonSpeed is one of the smallest teams in the garage, with no corporate sponsors and a tiny team of around 20 personnel. Many of those were picked up by the team just a week before qualifying, when members of the team’s regular crew were denied entry into the United States due to visa issues after leaving a sports car race in Italy.

“It was all down to the team organizing some people who were in and around Indianapolis who weren’t needed for the race weekend,” Hanley said. “Obviously, I don’t think many people are going to refuse the chance to work on a car that’s trying to qualify for the 500.”

Though the team made its first Indy 500 on Day 1 of qualifying, the DragonSpeed team did not spend Saturday night out late celebrating. Instead, Hanley said the extra time was spent preparing for the race.

“We went straight on to race prep then for the car, so Sunday was a good day for the guys to take time to prep the car into the race spec and get everything sorted out in a nice, organized manner.”

Following the Indy 500, DragonSpeed will run two other races this season at Road America and Mid-Ohio. The team is hopeful that a good run at Indy will result in an opportunity to run a bigger schedule next season and attract sponsors.

Hanley stated that though he’s happy to have made the Indy 500 starting grid for the first time in his career, the magnitude of his feat hasn’t hit him yet.

“It hasn’t really soaked in yet,” he said. “I think it will soak in on Sunday when we roll out to the grid.

“It was such a huge relief to not be involved in Bump Day. Even just watching [Bump Day] it was intense, especially with the weather. I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to be involved in that.”

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