Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
Kevin Harvick Wins Sprint Cup Championship
HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Won and done. Crack open a Bud, bud.
Kevin Harvick is the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion.
The Stewart-Haas Racing driver survived a furious finish to Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, winning the race (his 28th) and the title (his first).
He did it in the fashion that has become expected from the No. 4 team this season, with smart pit decisions, pure speed and a whole lot of talent behind the wheel.
"I don't know what to say," Harvick, 38, offered up in Victory Lane. "It came down to a pit call and I was (thinking), 'Man, we are in big trouble here.' "
That unfolded some 15 laps before the finish of the 267-lap race. A lot can happen in just a few laps of a NASCAR event.
Sunday's race was no exception.
At the time, Harvick was 12th, the deepest he'd been in the field all day. His only competition – fellow Chase contenders Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano – had him surrounded. Which wasn't exactly a good thing for Logano.
Hamlin (Joe Gibbs Racing), under the call of crew chief Darian Grubb, had passed on the opportunity for fresh tires under the 11th caution period of the race and restarted second, behind leader Jeff Gordon.
Newman (Richard Childress Racing) had pitted, taking only two tires and was fourth.
An issue with the team's jack – the issue being the car fell off the jack – took Logano from sixth to 29th, all but ending any hope the Team Penske driver had of claiming the title.
To get from Point A (15 to go) to Point B (Victory Lane) took two more cautions, and in between Harvick did what he has often done best.
The four fresh tires helped him gain five spots before J.J. Yeley and Blake Koch crashed to slow the action; he was sixth on the restart (after some chose to pit) before he shot inside Newman to take second.
With eight laps remaining, he blew past Hamlin and into the lead.
From sixth to first in four laps, and then a final caution that set up a three-lap dash with three of the four title contenders – Harvick, Newman and Hamlin – running 1-2-3.
Newman gave it his best shot, but Harvick wasn't being caught. Hamlin faded to wind up seventh, betrayed in the end by a senior set of tires.
A native of Bakersfield, California, Harvick became just the second driver to win the championship by winning the season-ending race at HMS. Fittingly perhaps, the only other driver to accomplish the feat was teammate and co-team owner Tony Stewart.
"I think he's definitely a game changer," Stewart said of Harvick. "The talent has been there."
Although he had finished third in the points standings three of the past four seasons at RCR, Harvick decided his best opportunity to win a title was at SHR.
Paired with crew chief Rodney Childers, himself a newcomer to SHR, the team won early and late, but more importantly the team won when it counted.
And never did it count more than Sunday evening.
"When it came down to that (four-tire call), I didn't even flinch," said crew chief Rodney Childers, himself a former racer. "I thought that was the right thing to do."
Flawless work by the pit crew had kept Harvick near the front or leading (he led four times for 54 laps), but Childers said the last trip to pit road wasn't clean. It turned out for the best, however.
"We got to line up on the outside where we needed to be," he said. "We had had a fast car all night and had to restart third (on the inside) every single restart it seemed like, and that was the worst place to be.
"Once we got lined up ... I thought that I had made the wrong decision and had let my team down and had given the whole year away."
A less experienced driver would have been fuming. A driver with a questionable car would have yelled. But Harvick knew the score.
"A lot of concern," he said, "I knew we had good tires but you just don't know how the guys are going to fire off (on the restart), if everything is going to get jumbled up and how far behind you're going to get.
"I think the second restart (after the pit stop) was the key to being able to take advantage of those tires. We were fortunate to be able to line up on the outside of both of those."
Harvick said he doesn't remember making the pass for the lead. It wasn't until he was coming to the white flag, when spotter Tim Fedewa clicked the radio that the realization of what he and his team had accomplished began to set in.
"Alright, two more corners. You've got an eight car-length lead, just two more decent corners and bring this thing home," Harvick said.
"As I was coming to the checkered flag, (Fedewa) said 'You are the 2014 Sprint Cup Series champion.'
"That's an unbelievable feeling. It still hasn't sunk in because you go right from that emotion of running the race and everything you have going on straight to this (post-race celebration). So you don’t even really have time to stop … you don't know how it happened and you don't really know what you need to do to understand what you've accomplished as a team.
"It's hard to take it all in but that was the coolest moment so far, hearing that on the radio."