NASCAR: Top drivers of 2014 – No. 1 Kevin Harvick

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Starting today, MotorSportsTalk kicks off our review of what we consider the Top 30 drivers of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. How did they fare, what went right and wrong, and what can we expect from them in 2015. We’ll run the series over the next two-plus weeks, featuring two drivers every day. First up: 2014 Sprint Cup champ Kevin Harvick.

 

Kevin Harvick

Season finish: 1st

2014 Season Stats: 5 wins, 14 top-5, 20 top-10, 8 Poles.

What went right: Making a move to Stewart-Haas Racing after 13 seasons with Richard Childress Racing, Harvick came into the season with a lot of questions and unknown expectations. While his pit crew struggled throughout the first 26 races, prompting a “trade” with teammate Tony Stewart’s pit crew for the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup, the one constant was Harvick behind the wheel. He drove like he never has, including continuing his niche as NASCAR’s comeback kid of sorts, rallying for several victories en route to five triumphs in 2014, tying his best season for wins (also had five in 2006). More than anything, Harvick drove with a new determination and confidence that carried him to lead the overall SHR organization in his first season. Perhaps the biggest statistic of all was laps led. He led 2,137 laps in 2014, which was nearly triple the number of laps he had led in any previous season. Harvick also became quite the prolific No. 1 qualifier. After just six poles in his first 13 seasons, Harvick earned a career-high eight poles in 2014. But perhaps the biggest thing of all was how he stayed cool under pressure during the Chase, particularly with wins in the final two races at Phoenix and Homestead, to assure him the championship. All that remains is one question: What does he do for an encore in 2015?

What went wrong: Harvick as a driver did very little wrong in 2014. But that can not be said about his pit crew, which arguably cost him at least 2-3 more wins and higher finishes in other races during the first 26 events of the season. Dropped lug nuts, loose wheels, slow pit times and other maladies all hindered the No. 4 team at times. While crew chief Rodney Childers took the unconventional step of replacing the entire pit crew with that of teammate Tony Stewart to start the Chase, a very risky gamble indeed, it ultimately proved to be the right thing to do.

2015 Prospectus: Harvick and Childers are rock solid and are very capable of going on to win a second consecutive championship in 2015. The biggest question for the upcoming season, though, is what happens to Harvick’s pit crew – the original crew. Does the No. 4 team keep Tony Stewart’s pit crew, or do the traded units go back to their original teams in 2015? Or is there some type of hybrid, meet-in-the-middle decision where some of Harvick’s original pit crew returns and merges with some of Stewart’s pit crew? If Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers bring back the entire and original pit crew, will there be individual positional changes? Or will the hope be that the mistakes and errors that occurred during the first 26 races and 2014 ultimately be a learning experience that will only improve the crew in 2015. Time will tell, indeed.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.