Harvick hopes Charlotte success carries to SHR
May 23, 2014, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com
CONCORD, N.C. -- Tracing the roots from where Kevin Harvick and his new Stewart-Haas Racing team first unlocked the secrets to speed doesn't require a long trip. Not when the journey leads you back to Charlotte Motor Speedway, where NASCAR's traveling circus convenes this weekend.
To say that Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers have found chemistry at an early point -- just 11 races into the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season -- doesn't begin to tell the story of the No. 4 Chevrolet team. It begins much earlier than that, on a wintry Wednesday last December at the same 1.5-mile track.
"The first minute that I was in that car, I haven't quit smiling since," Harvick said.
Harvick heads into Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 (6 p.m. ET, FOX) as one of only two drivers with multiple victories this season, wins that all but have locked him into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs this fall. He also carries a history of success in NASCAR's longest race with two victories in the last three years in the 600.
While Harvick entered 2014 as a preseason favorite to qualify for the Chase field, the uncertainty that always shrouds the formation of a new team was real. The 38-year-old California native answered any doubts early on by posting a resounding triumph in the second race of the season at Phoenix, then romping to victory from the pole six races later at Darlington.
But indications that the No. 4 team had done its homework went deeper than that. Childers had announced last August that he would leave Michael Waltrip Racing, leading the team to relieve him of his duties but keep him under contract. His full release came earlier than expected last October, at which point he began working toward cracking the engineering code around the 2014 rules package.
At the offseason test at Charlotte last December, NASCAR conducted five simulated races to test different setup configurations for 2014 in race conditions. Harvick finished first in three of the five, then second and third in the others.
"All he worked on once he got to SHR was what we were going to do this year with the new rules," Harvick said Thursday of Childers. "I feel like we have been a little bit ahead of the game since that test. But when we had that test here last year, the first lap on the race track, everybody's confidence went to about as high as you could put it just for the fact of how well things went."
The extra swagger hasn't gone unnoticed in the garage area. While Jamie McMurray was able to stave off Harvick's charge in the final segment to win last weekend's non-points NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte, he said the foreshadowing of week-in, week-out speed from the Stewart-Haas No. 4 came way back in the dead of winter.
"From the time we came here and tested in December and January for spoiler testing and pan testing, the 4 car has been the fastest off the truck," McMurray said. "They've been really for the most part the best car all year long. I think everyone in the garage is paying attention to Kevin and Rodney. You're looking at pictures and looking at their car. Everyone is eyeballing that team and trying to figure out where the speed is."
While Harvick lobbed some criticism toward his crew last weekend for losing ground in the pits before the pivotal final segment, it was a reminder that the over-the-wall group -- like most everything else on the team -- is just 11 races into its current incarnation. File under the heading of growing pains, too, the handful of parts breakages that have kept the team back in 15th in the Sprint Cup standings and the clock-management gaffe in Thursday's Coors Light Pole Qualifying that cost him a shot at the pole position for the Coca-Cola 600.
Despite the glitches, Harvick remains convinced by the performance that he's with the best team in his career.
"The bottom line is the organization from a whole has given us every resource that we have asked for," Harvick said. "You never talk about money, it's just what do you need and how do we get it for you, how do we get better. They went out recruited Rodney and he went out and recruited every single person on this team. They all came here for the same reasons. They all want to win races. They all want to win and race for championships and when you put that kind of people together with that determination everybody pushes everybody else. So you just have to ride the wave and try to keep getting better. ...
"It's been so refreshing and so much fun to be a part of it that every day you just kind of leave the race track shaking your head going, 'Well we won that one or we could have won that one,'" Harvick added. "We raced and led and did all the things that you want to do as a race car driver as a team. I don't know how you could ask for it to go much better."