. Kevin Harvick and Rodney Childers first had to build a team.
Then together they chased a dream.
On Sunday, in their first season as a driver/crew chief combination, they shared the payoff – a victory in the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and with it, the Sprint Cup Series championship.
“These are the moments that you live for,” said Harvick, who earned his first series championship after holding off Ryan Newman for the win. “Everybody expected us to win last week at Phoenix and we did.
“It was a mentally draining week leading up to today, but I woke up this morning believing we were in the right spot. And here we are.”
Harvick, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman came into the season finale under NASCAR’s new Chase format on equal footing. The championship would go to whichever of the four drivers crossed the finish line first, whether they won the race.
For the second time since the Cup series moved its season finale to Homestead, Harvick ended up double-dipping with the race victory and the championship.
It was a long journey this season and it began by constructing a team, as both Harvick and Childers moved to Stewart-Haas Racing in the offseason – Harvick from Richard Childress Racing and Childers from Michael Waltrip Racing.
“We never talked about money, we never talked about anything financial. It was just ‘Go get what you need,’ ” Harvick said of team co-owners Gene Haas and Tony Stewart. “We built all brand new race cars, trucks, trailers … (got) all new people.
“This format really helped us build through the year. We had really fast cars but it helped us build as a team. All the character-building moments that led to this moment – to close that deal out at the end to get a championship.”
Childers said many people probably didn’t understand all that went in to building the No. 4 Chevrolet team and having it ready to go for the season opener.
“The hard times was building all those race cars and getting that truck and trailer here and outfitting that entire thing and building that pit box and building the tool boxes,” Childers said.
“We didn’t have a single jack stand. We didn’t have a bench for the shop. We didn’t have anything.”
Harvick spent virtually his entire NASCAR career at RCR and was thrust into the Cup series in 2001, when he began driving for Dale Earnhardt’s team after he was killed in a last-lap wreck in the season-opening Daytona 500.
Harvick won many Cup races at RCR and had been in contention to win the series championship on several occasions. He also won two Nationwide Series titles at RCR.
Leaving was not going to be easy.
“A lot of people thought it would be scary, but for Kevin, he wanted that challenge,” said Harvick’s wife, DeLana. “To have Rodney Childers and everybody at SHR believe in him meant the world to him.”
All four title contenders never seemed to drift far from each other during the race, even as Jeff Gordon spent much of the night out front.
On Lap 250 of 267, Gordon and Denny Hamlin elected to remain on the track while Harvick and fellow title contenders Joey Logano and Newman pit for tires.
Logano found disaster on pit road as his car fell off its jackstand during the stop. Newman took on two tires and restarted in third. Childers had Harvick take four new tires and restarted 12th.
By the next caution on Lap 256, Hamlin had moved into the lead and Harvick had made his way up to sixth. On the restart on Lap 259, Hamlin and Newman got to battling each other and Harvick powered past both and into the lead on Lap 260.
One last caution bunched the field, but Harvick had little trouble pulling away.
“We were able to go so hard on the restarts. Rodney Childers isn’t scared to make a call,” Harvick said. “He does what is right, and right or wrong we had to believe in what we did and kept going with it.”
Newman finished second in the final series standings, Hamlin was third and Logano fourth.
Brad Keselowski, who finished third in the race, finished fifth in series points.