Starting out from scratch last winter gave Rodney Childers a chance to start fresh. After leaving Michael Waltrip Racing, he set his sights on one thing: the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship trophy.
Childers and Kevin Harvick have gelled throughout the year. With four victories on the year, they have advanced to the championship round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. However, there were plenty of times throughout the year where the team struggled.
The Stewart-Haas Racing crew has issues on pit road over the course of the season. That alone cost Harvick about two to three wins. But the real adversity came in the first half of the year. Recording four finishes of 36th or worse within the first two months of the 2014 season, Harvick dropped outside of the top-20 in points. Childers was a true leader and excelled when they needed to.
Setting their sights on the championship, the two went out and dominated Phoenix, in which they led a season-high 264 laps. Over the course of the year, the No. 4 car was out front for at least one lap in 26 of the 35 events. Moreover, he’s led 100 or more laps in nine events – proving why he is set to win his first Sprint Cup Series title.
“I feel like everything we did last week with our -- it was one and done,” said Harvick during the championship press conference on Wednesday evening. “The guys did a great job preparing the car, called a good race, had good pit stops. I feel like they had more pressure last week than they did this week, so I feel like we've already experienced it, and it was just last week. I feel like that was a good exercise as a team for us to go through, and you know, I just told everybody this week, just go out and do exactly what you did last week, and everybody knows what to expect.”
Winning a title would be the second in the team’s history. Team co-owner Tony Stewart took home the championship as an owner-driver in 2011. Since then, the organization has been plagued by inconsistency. Stewart was out of the seat for the latter part of the 2013 season, and missed a few races this year, which threw away his shot at winning another championship. Ryan Newman left the team for Richard Childress Racing after a few unsuccessful seasons full of being mediocre. Now, Newman is battling Harvick after they swapped organizations.
Showing speed since the first test with the new aero package last December, the No. 4 team has been the one to beat throughout the year. Stewart has been a big supporter of Harvick, and it has paid off for both sides.
“Well, I think the main thing was from the first test that they had in December after the season was over last year, they showed a lot of speed,” said Stewart. “You know, with this format, there's so many things that can go wrong, and one bad day can change the complexion of whichever phase of the Chase you're in at that time.”
Although Harvick doesn’t have the most victories out of the four drivers competing for the championship, he has led the most laps (2,083) and he’s shown the most speed throughout the year. Heading into Homestead, his biggest competition is going to be Joey Logano, who has five wins on the year. Logano has an average finish of 11.2, compared to Harvick’s 13.3.
With four victories at intermediate tracks this year, Harvick the edge over his competition. There would be nothing better for Childers to show that his decision to leave MWR has certainly been worthwhile.