Championship the lone goal for Kevin Harvick at SHR
February 03, 2014, RJ Kraft, NASCAR.com
Veteran driver hopes new team, new crew chief leads to first Sprint Cup championship
RELATED: New crew chiefs key to SHR push
It's been an offseason of change for Kevin Harvick in more ways than one.
On the track, he has started working with his new race team at Stewart-Haas Racing and new crew chief Rodney Childers.
On the home front, Harvick has new living arrangements as he, his wife DeLana and 1-year-old son Keelan are living with DeLana's mother in Kernersville, N.C., following a fire in the basement of their North Carolina home in late November. Harvick said the family expects to be back in their house in May.
"Living the high life," Harvick joked with reporters during the Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway.
All kidding aside, these are high times for Harvick indeed. One of the most successful drivers to change race teams for the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, Harvick comes into the year with big expectations and one thing squarely on his mind.
"I expect to win and race for a championship," Harvick said. "That's why I came here."
Harvick spent the first 13 seasons of his Cup career with Richard Childress Racing, posting 23 wins. He finished in third place in the final standings in three of the past four seasons. In 2013, he ended the year 34 points behind champion Jimmie Johnson.
"It was just that we hadn't won a championship there," he said. "It had been 10 or 12 years, whatever it was, and we hadn't won a championship so it was just kind of like, 'What do we need to do to try to figure that out?' I hadn't ever not been able to accomplish that (winning a championship) in any division I've ever raced in in my whole racing career. So, it was something that I wanted to figure out personally.
"Just a lot of things happened. We sold the race teams, had our son and just one thing after another kept getting evaluated and I just didn't feel like I was making any progress on getting any closer."
The 2013 season was a trying one for Harvick at times, largely due to his lame-duck status at RCR. That situation became filled with a little more drama following an incident between Richard Childress’ grandson Ty Dillon and Harvick during the October NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville.
"Last year, it was a grind," Harvick said. "Just very tense, just an awkward situation to be in from a driver's standpoint. Everybody knew everybody was going in a different direction the year after, but you had to try to keep the focus on the racing, not on the business side, the hurt feelings and all the emotions that came with the position we were in."
Harvick won four races in 2013, including the Chase races at Kansas and Phoenix, and finished third in the final standings.
Greg Zipadelli, the vice president of competition at SHR, appreciates Harvick's ability to step it up in big moments.
"He shows up for the big games," Zipadelli said. "He can rise up at the end of the race, he can rise up for the big races -- they don't seem to intimidate him at all and I think that's really cool. I think that'll help drive our company, our group to a better product week in, week out."
Harvick's situation in 2014 mirrors that of Matt Kenseth's in 2013. Kenseth spent 13 full-time Cup seasons driving for Roush Fenway Racing. But before the 2013 season, Kenseth made the move to Joe Gibbs Racing, then won seven races and finished runner-up in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Harvick acknowledged he has talked to Kenseth about how Kenseth handled the change.
"The one thing I took from him that was probably the best piece of advice that you could get, was after Homestead, just hit delete," Harvick said.
And with that, Harvick said "when that checkered flag dropped at Homestead, that day my alliance to who I was loyal to switched." And he has dived right in with his new team and never wavered once in his decision.
Validation of the move came during the December test at Charlotte.
"I told them on Lap 2 at Charlotte, 'Thank you guys very much. You have just confirmed every reason that I came here to drive this car,' " Harvick said.
Helping to guide Harvick in the pursuit of his first Cup championship is Childers, who spent the past five seasons with Michael Waltrip Racing and has served as crew chief for 288 Cup races.
In early returns for the pairing, Harvick has raved about his cars from recent testing sessions. The 38-year-old driver says the duo has "developed a great relationship over the past few months."
Childers said the biggest reason he made the move to SHR was to work with Harvick.
"He's a great race car driver and he's probably better than a lot of people know," Childers said. "I've seen a lot of driver data over the years and out of the tests we've done and seeing his data, throttle, brake, steering, all that stuff, is pretty exceptional. There's not too many people that can do what he's doing."
With the page turned to the 2014 season, Harvick is ready to get started, especially with the new group qualifying format NASCAR is introducing this season.
As far as other changes, Harvick said he liked the knockout rounds coming to the Chase. That comment led to a playful exchange between him and his team co-owner and fellow driver, Tony Stewart.
Stewart: "You know that's not literally knocked out."
Harvick: "Only if necessary. If we're fighting, I'm kicking you in the leg."
Stewart: "Sweep the leg."
The exchange showed the fun-natured and easy relationship that Harvick and Stewart have. This is not the first time both drivers have worked together as a driver and an owner, but the roles are reversed this time. Stewart drove 35 races for a Harvick-owned car in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, winning four times.
Harvick cited Stewart's 2011 championship numerous times when he talked about coming over to SHR as well as having another teammate, Kurt Busch, who has a championship of his own .
"The best conversation I had all year was when I sat in that bus and he (Stewart) said, 'I promise you, you are my motivation to make sure we get this race team situated and competitive because I want to win this championship as the owner for you driving this car.' "
And for Harvick that's what it all comes down to, winning a championship.
"It's all I think about. It's the one trophy in racing that I feel like has eluded my trophy case and I'd like to see it put in there sooner rather than later."