Hugs all around. That’s just how warm-hearted he is. Wife and son. Crew members and owners. Everyone deserves a hug for what this man accomplished.
“The Closer” took it all home at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday. Kevin Harvick, who made the daring swap to Stewart-Haas Racing over the off-season, battled a hard-charging Ryan Newman late in the Ford EcoBoost 400. After a restart with three laps to go, the driver of the No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet headed off into the sunset to win the race, and more importantly – his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
With 25 laps to go, Harvick got around Hamlin. Logano came into pit road on the following caution, along with Newman and Harvick, but the jack fell off on the left side, which put the No. 22 car at the rear of the field. Logano came back to finish 16th, yet it wasn’t enough with his three opponents racing inside of the top-10 throughout the day.
“I knew I needed to get a bunch of them," Harvick said following the race. "I was fortunate to start on the outside. The seas kind of parted there as I came off of Turn 2 and was about to get four or five of them; I don’t really know but it was time to go for broke at that particular point. When the next caution came out, we were fortunate enough again to line up on the outside. That was pretty much what we needed - to get the run on the outside down the backstretch."
Harvick had five wins on the year, which is tied for the most in his career (2006). With 14 top-fives and 20 top-10s, he showed he had the speed to win throughout the year. Although adversity struck the No. 4 team on multiple occasions with pit crew problems and mechanical issues, they rebounded with multiple victories late in the year; including back-to-back wins to end the season. Winning the championship, Harvick has given Stewart-Haas Racing their second triumph, and he becomes the 30th different driver in the sport’s 66-year history to win the title.
"If it wasn’t for Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart, I would have been in bad trouble this week," said Harvick. "Those guys really helped me get through the week. Today was fine. I was a little anxious both days of practice, overdriving the car and not doing things I needed to do. After every practice, Jimmie was in there, and in our team debriefs Tony was constantly telling me just to go race and that it’s just another race."
“It was a heck of a race up there,” said Logano following the disappointing result. “I screwed up and hit the wall early and we were able to recover then had the mistake on pit road which didn’t give us enough time to recover from that. It is unfortunate. Execution was our strong point all year and we just didn’t do it tonight. For that reason we finished fourth after I think we scored the most points this whole Chase.”
Denny Hamlin and crew chief Darian Grubb opted to stay out of pit road along with Jeff Gordon with approximately 20 laps remaining in the race. The No. 11 car had run up front throughout the 400-mile race, and led 50 laps during Sunday’s spectacle. However, without fresh tires and multiple late-race restarts, his Toyota fell back on the restart – finishing seventh at Homestead.
But for Newman, he was extremely close to winning the title. The two-tire call late in the race by crew chief Luke Lambert gave him a chance at winning it all. Before that risk, the No. 31 Chevrolet was racing outside of the top-five, which was sub-par compared to Harvick, Hamlin and Logano, who were each fighting for the lead. Although they didn’t record a victory in 2014, the team was well inside the top-10 in points throughout the regular season.
Gordon led the most laps on Sunday evening as he paced the field 161 times. But after starting on the pole, he finished 10th to end his season. Brad Keselowski, Paul Menard and Jamie McMurray rounded out the top-five in the 400-mile event. Keselowski fell a lap down during a green-flag pit cycle, but took the wave around to get back on the lead lap, and was able to fight for the win for the last 50 laps.
Jimmie Johnson, who finished ninth at Homestead, finished 11th in the championship standings. Prior to this season, his worst season result was sixth in 2011. Keselowski finished fifth in points with Gordon, Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch rounding out the top-10.
Kyle Larson locked up the Sunoco Rookie of the Year award for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Throughout his first full-time season, the 22-year-old had an average finish of 14.2 with eight top-fives and 17 top-10s. Larson had some inconsistent moments throughout the year, but he had three runner-up finishes, and was able to lead 53 laps. Austin Dillon finished second to Larson in the rookie standings, but not earning a DNF over the course of the season wasn’t enough for the Richard Childress Racing driver.