Rodney Childers

California cruising: Martin Truex Jr. wins at Auto Club Speedway


Martin Truex Jr.’s dominating style returned Sunday, as he started from the pole, captured both stages and won the Auto Club 400 by 11.685 seconds. 

The reigning series champion scored his first Cup triumph of the season and the 16th of his career. This marked the third time he’s won both stages and then the race. He led 125 of the 200 laps, including the final 32.

“We were just fighting hard and never gave up on it,’’ Truex told Fox Sports. “I knew we really had a good racecar after the first adjustment of the race. The thing just came alive. From there it was just about managing my tires and being smart.’’

MORE: Race results 

MORE: Martin Truex Jr. takes points lead

Kyle Larson, who had won the past four races on 2-mile tracks, finished second. Kyle Busch, who finished second the past two races, was third. Brad Keselowski placed fourth and his Penske teammate Joey Logano completed the top five.

Kevin Harvick’s bid for a fourth consecutive race ended when he and Kyle Larson made contact on the backstretch less than 40 laps into the race. The contact forced Harvick into the outside wall. He lost two laps for repairs and was down three laps before the first stage ended on Lap 60.

“I went down to side draft and he was coming up and we touched and it just knocked the thing to the right and spun out,’’ Harvick told Fox Sports. “I don’t know that that’s his fault. I think that’s my fault for coming down the race track right there and trying to side draft and as we touched, it just came back up the race track. Just trying to get a little bit too much right there.

“Just my fault back there.’’

No driver has won four consecutive Cup race since Jimmie Johnson did so in 2007.

Stage 1 winner: Martin Truex Jr.

Stage 2 winner: Martin Truex Jr.

How Martin Truex Jr. won: He lost the lead on pit road during the final stop of the day but exited behind Kyle Busch, dueled with the Joe Gibbs Racing driver and pulled away to an easy victory.

Who had a good day: Jimmie Johnson’s ninth-place finish was his first top 10 of the season. It also ended a streak of 10 consecutive races without a top 10. … A week after placing four drivers in the top 10, Joe Gibbs Racing had three cars in the top 10 with Kyle Busch third, Denny Hamlin sixth and Erik Jones seventh. … Austin Dillon placed 10th for his first top-10 result since his Daytona 500 victory.

Who had a bad day: Kevin Harvick saw his chances of a fourth consecutive win end after contact with Kyle Larson early in the race. He finished 35th. … Trevor Bayne hit the wall and finished 37th, the second time in the first five races he’s placed 30th or worse.

Quote of the day: “I didn’t do anything wrong,’’ Kyle Larson said on the radio to his team about the contact with Kevin Harvick.

Notable: Martin Truex Jr.’s victory marked his fourth consecutive top-five finish.

Next: The series goes to Martinsville Speedway for the STP 500 race at 2 p.m. ET on March 25.

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NASCAR America: Kevin Harvick, Rodney Childers showed ‘unity and strength’ in Phoenix win

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Kevin Harvick‘s 17th Cup Series win with crew chief Rodney Childers was a big one.

The victory in Sunday’s race at ISM Raceway marked the first time Harvick had strung together three consecutive Cup victories.

It also came after the No. 4 team was hit with penalties after its win the previous week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

On NASCAR America, analysts Steve Letarte, Jeff Burton and newcomer Dale Earnhardt Jr. discussed the importance of the win to Harvick after the week of controversy.

“When you back Kevin Harvick into a corner, he’s going to come out swinging,” Burton said. “He relishes the opportunity to prove that he and his team are better than you. I think when the chips are down and people give up on Kevin Harvick, I think that’s when he’s his best.”

Despite not having the best car Sunday, Burton said the No. 4 team “willed themselves to a win.”

Letarte discussed the first time he saw Harvick and Childers working together during a test at Charlotte Motor Speedway before their first season together in 2014, which resulted in a Cup title.

“They were hands down the best car at Charlotte, at a test,” Letarte said. “Then we knew this would be a team to reckon with.”

Letarte also marveled at the “polar opposites” of Harvick and Childers’ personalities.

“Fiery Kevin Harvick and soft-spoken, no animation Rodney Childers,” Letarte said.”But when you put them together, they are a force because they play off each other. Rodney doesn’t need the media. Kevin Harvick, very successful in it.”

Earnhardt, who won five times in the Cup Series with Letarte as his crew chief, said a strong relationship between driver and crew chief makes the “pride and joy” in winning races “means that much more.”

“They showed some really good unity and strength,” Earnhardt continued. “They had each other’s back in the media and how they methodically went through this whole process over the last week.”

Watch the above video for more on the relationship between Harvick and his crew chief.

Kevin Harvick raises questions about NASCAR penalty


Kevin Harvick was ready for the questions about his team’s penalty Friday at ISM Raceway.

As NASCAR’s moderator asked the driver about his success at the track, Harvick said: “Nobody wants to talk about that, let’s just go to the first question.’’

So began a press conference where Harvick set the tone. He questioned NASCAR’s penalty, said NASCAR’s reaction was done to “appease” social media, and raised issue with a penalty coming out days after the event.

MORE: Is social media influencing NASCAR penalties?

MORE: Stewart-Haas Racing evaluating if to appeal penalty

The car was built to tolerance,’’ Harvick said. “The scary part for me is the fact that we went far enough to find something on the car at the NASCAR R&D center. They could find something wrong with every car if they took it apart for a whole day at the R&D center.’’

NASCAR ruled Wednesday that the rear window bracing had not kept the rear window glass rigid in all directions at all times during Sunday’s race — an issue raised shortly after the race on social media via pictures of Harvick’s car. NASCAR also stated that car’s side skirts were not aluminum.

NASCAR docked Harvick the seven playoff points he earned in his Las Vegas victory (race win and two stage wins), took 20 driver points from him, fined crew chief Rodney Childers $50,000, suspended the team’s car chief two races and docked the team 20 owner points

“Rodney is a key player in that but the confusing part about it is you have this huge penalty but your crew chief doesn’t get suspended,” Harvick said. “A lot of confusion in my mind.”

Asked if he would he would have won without those issues at Las Vegas, Harvick said: “Absolutely. Hands down.’’

Harvick said it was the team’s fault for having steel side skirts, noting the team overlooked a recent bulletin noting the change. Harvick said a window brace failed. 

You could have called the window attached to the brace penalty on 20 cars last week, easy,’’ he said.

Harvick said that finding penalties via pictures on social media was going down a “slippery slope.’’

“If we want to officiate it with fan pictures – if you want to officiate it with pictures during the race and call people to pit road and do those types of things, from a NASCAR standpoint I am fine with that,” he said. “As long as it is consistent. As you can see, from a lot of the pictures roaming around on the internet this week, it is not consistent.”

Harvick suggested that social media helping officials with rules only will repeat what happened in golf.

“I compare it to golf,’’ he said. “It failed miserably when you look at Lexi Thompson and the outrage of the players and things that have happened the last couple years.’’

LPGA officials — after being alerted via email from a television viewer— assessed a four-stroke penalty to Thompson during one of the tour’s major championship events last April. The infraction happened in the third round and wasn’t discovered until the next day when Thompson had six holes to play in the final round. She went from being three strokes ahead to down by one. She lost in a playoff.

That’s why Harvick suggest officials are the best to handle penalties.

“The officials in the garage do a great job,’’ he said. “It just feels like it is a micromanaged situation from above what these guys do in the garage, to appease people sitting on social media and trying to officiate a sporting event instead of letting these guys in the garage do what they do and do a great job with it week in and week out. That is the frustrating part.

Harvick also raised questions about penalties coming out well after an event.

“The root of the problem is that my friends that don’t follow racing are very confused on a penalty that comes out on Wednesday,’’ he said. “That is the part we need to fix.’’

Until then, he has a plan for what he’ll do the next time he wins.

I can’t wait to win another race,” he said, and jump up and down in victory lane on the back of my car.”

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NASCAR penalizes Kevin Harvick’s team for window brace; side skirt


NASCAR fined crew chief Rodney Childers $50,000 and suspended car chief Robert Smith two Cup races for a violation with a brace on Kevin Harvick’s winning car from last weekend’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

NASCAR announced Wednesday that it was penalizing Harvick 20 driver points and the team 20 owner points for the L1 infraction. Harvick also is docked the seven playoff points he earned at Las Vegas – five for his win and two for each stage he won.

Harvick drops from the points lead with the violation. He now has six playoff points instead of 13.

NASCAR stated in the penalty report that the rear window support braces must keep the rear window glass rigid in all directions at all times. The right side rocker panel extension did not meet NASCAR rule specifications, the extension was not aluminum.

Stewart-Haas Racing issued a statement from Greg Zipadelli, vice president of competition: “Late today, NASCAR made us aware of a penalty they’re imposing on our No. 4 Cup Series team. We’re going to take the time and evaluate our options, and we plan to continue dialogue with NASCAR to fully understand the rationale behind the penalty.”

The team has three days to decide if to appeal the penalty.

Harvick’s victory at Las Vegas was his second consecutive win this season. 

The anomaly with his car was discussed during the race by Chase Elliott and crew chief Alan Gustafson on the radio. Social media posted pictures and raised questions about the car’s legality after the race.

Childers said a brace failed, causing part of the rear window to sink during the race.

“We’re going to learn from this,’’ Childers said Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “It’s not something that we wanted to happen. You definitely don’t want the back of the roof sharp. You want the back of the roof round and you want that to be a smooth transition. I think that everybody thinks that it helps. I would suggest that it probably didn’t help.’’

NASCAR also announced that crew chief Todd Parrott had been fined $10,000 because the No. 55 Cup team had a lug nut not secured at the end of the Las Vegas race.

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Rodney Childers explains what happened to Kevin Harvick’s rear window (video)


Crew chief Rodney Childers said a brace failed, causing a portion of the right rear window to bow, but that he doesn’t believe it helped Kevin Harvick win last weekend’s Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Speaking on “The Morning Drive” Tuesday, Childers detailed what happened:

“Basically, we had a rear window brace fail and NASCAR mandates that we run a certain T-bar in the back glass and that T-bar is actually pretty strong,’’ Childers said. “Then also over the winter they wanted the rear package to raise the bottom of the rear glass to be really stiff and stay controlled — there were some guys that were having their rear package trays falling an inch at the end the year last year.

“The bottom of the glass got strengthened up and the T-bar is stiff and the center brace that holds that T-bar is what bent and failed and the T-bar ends up being stronger than the back of roof at that point and then pulled the back of the roof down.

“To be honest, that stuff has been a struggle over many, many years. I can remember being at Michigan with Mark Martin in 2012. You’re just going so fast at those intermediate tracks and you’ve got so much air pushing down on that stuff. I remember Mark coming off the race track and we had a 2-inch gap from the bottom of the glass to the deck lid when we came in from practice and had to modify all that stuff.’’

Childers said the team has made provisions to avoid a repeat of what happened at Las Vegas.

“We’re going to learn from this,’’ Childers told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “It’s not something that we wanted to happen. You definitely don’t want the back of the roof sharp. You want the back of the roof round and you want that to be a smooth transition. I think that everybody thinks that it helps. I would suggest that it probably didn’t help.

“The wind tunnels don’t blow fast enough to even to get to that speed to know whether it was good or bad. It’s something that we’ve got to address.

“We’ve already addressed on the California cars and making the roof stiffer in that area and trying to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. Like I said, the car was plenty fast enough before that happened, and I think everybody in the garage knows that and it’s just something that we need to put behind us and move on.’’

Asked if he anticipated any more conversations with NASCAR about the matter, Childers said:

“I wouldn’t think so. I think the biggest thing is getting it fixed and making sure that it doesn’t happen again. I think all the guys there they understand aerodynamics and they understand what goes on. We all communicate and we try to do the right things. I think also my reputation over there is pretty good.

“Like I said, it’s not something to be proud of. We’re proud of winning races and having fast cars. Whether a brace failed or not, we were going to win the other day. That’s really the whole story.’’

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