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.
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.
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