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NASCAR: Kevin Harvick off to spectacular start in Sprint Cup Series

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/03/06/20/16/2SqUf.Em.138.JPG|222
    Ross D. Franklin - AP
    Kevin Harvick, foreground, celebrates a victory after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race Sunday at Phoenix.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/03/05/19/44/WJLvu.Em.138.jpeg|369
    Wade Payne - AP
    FILE - In this Aug. 23, 2013 file photo, Rodney Childers, crew chief for Michael Waltrip Racing, watches from the car carrier during practice for the Sprint Cup series Irwin Tools Night Race in Bristol, Tenn. Childers wrestled for months with the decision to join Kevin Harvick at Stewart-Haas Racing. Their win last weekend at Phoenix makes it look like Childers made the right choice this season. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

It sounds like Rodney Childers, crew chief for Kevin Harvick’s new ride, has a pretty good gig:

Bosses quick to sign checks and slow to second-guess decisions.

“I haven’t been told ‘no’ to anything yet,” Childers said after Harvick won the race at Phoenix International Raceway – just the second Sprint Cup event since Harvick and Childers were paired at Stewart-Haas Racing. “Maybe that will end after a few more bills come in or whatever.”

Doubtful. People who get these results earn themselves a lot of leeway. Harvick left Richard Childress Racing feeling this change gave him a more realistic chance to win a championship. Childers was given the task/opportunity to start from scratch.

When his bosses said he’d have to start from “pretty much nothing,” Childers perceived that as a plus.

“That’s perfect,” he replied. “We can do it all the way I want to do it. We can work hard at it and make it happen.”

Whatever they’re doing, the effect was pretty dramatic in Arizona. Harvick didn’t just win the race, he blew away the weekend, dominating every practice session before leading about two-thirds of the race. The Jimmy John’s Chevrolet was so fast off the hauler that there was a buzz all around the garage and Harvick felt pressure just not to screw up what Childers provided him.

These two seem to have a healthy respect for each other’s expertise. Harvick hasn’t been quick to fine-tune what Childers does to the car, and it’s obvious Childers values Harvick’s skill and experience.

Right now there are more basic workplace issues to be resolved: Like everyone on the team actually learning each other’s names.

“I guarantee you,” Harvick said Sunday, “if you lined them all up, there would not be one person on that team that knew everybody’s name.”

There’s a reason: They’re too busy looking to get fast to divert time to niceties. The No. 4 team got so fast so soon that Harvick became a little anxious about the possibility he’d be the weak link.

“Last three days I sat in my hotel room from about 7:30 on and said, ‘How are we going to mess this up?’ ” Harvick joked. “Rodney is probably annoyed with me as I’ve come in the hauler and asked about 5,000 questions about probably the dumbest things he’s ever heard.”

If that sounds quirky, it’s somewhat the way of Stewart-Haas. Driver-owner Tony Stewart can be an odd bird: Short-tempered, moody. And perennially late for everything, Harvick noted Sunday. But also a good listener and creative mentor. Harvick says he figured that out sitting at a Las Vegas roulette wheel next to Stewart.

“I learned he’s just short of ‘Rain Man,’ ” Harvick said, recalling the savant Dustin Hoffman played in the movie by the same name. “He doesn’t say anything. He sits there and listens to everything you say, takes all these things in.

“I know I’m going to say something and he’s going to remember it four, five, six weeks down the road. (He’ll reply) ‘Remember back in this meeting when you said this? Why do you think this today?’ 

It might be odd. It’s certainly a work-in-progress. So far it’s a success.

Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell
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