There are times, Rodney Childers admits, he thinks about what he and Kevin Harvick have accomplished the last 18 months and wonders.
“I’ll be riding down the road and I’m like, ‘What do we got that everybody else doesn’t have?’ ‘’ Childers told NASCAR Talk.
That question hangs over the NASCAR Sprint Cup garage. In a sport where the top teams spend millions and many of the country’s top drivers compete, Harvick has dominated since being paired with Childers.
They gave a hint of what was to come during a NASCAR test in Dec. 2013 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, running away from competitors in mock races, and carried that speed into the 2014 season. Heading into Saturday night’s race at Kansas Speedway, Harvick, the reigning series champion, remains the driver to beat.
Since the start of last season (46 races), Harvick has:
- Won seven times – tied with Brad Keselowski for most during that stretch.
- Scored 18 top-two finishes (39.1 percent of his starts). Next is Keselowski and Jeff Gordon with 12 each during that time.
- Led 3,090 laps (22.4 percent of all laps run), nearly double the next two.
- Posted the fastest lap in 15.7 percent of all the laps run (11.294).
- Recorded an average finish of 11.5 – including a series-best average finish of 6.6 this season.
These are Jimmie Johnson-type numbers and the six-time champ knows the secret to Harvick’s success.
“It’s all about relationships,’’ Johnson said. “I have the same equipment, look right at the database and see what they’re doing. It’s people. That’s what helped us win our five championships in a row and six in total, and it’s what has (Harvick) on such a fast streak.’’
While Childers receives credit for helping Harvick’s car go fast, Childers’ best quality might be putting a championship team together. When he left Michael Waltrip Racing for Stewart-Haas Racing in Aug. 2013, Childers had time to assemble the team he wanted. Despite some early growing pains, Harvick’s strength was evident and continued at the end of last season when he finished second, first and first in the final three races to win the title.
That finish rekindled memories of Tony Stewart’s championship rally in 2011 when he placed first, first, third and first in the final four races and is the only other driver in the Chase era to win the championship by winning the season finale.
The reward for Harvick’s title was a week in Las Vegas to celebrate. Despite the accolades, Childers fretted about being out of the shop all that time while his competitors remained behind, devising ways to go faster to beat the champions.
“It scared … me,’’ Childers said.
So much so it was hard for Childers to enjoy everything in Las Vegas.
Even then Harvick was focused. Childers said that Harvick made made it a key refrain in the offseason not to settle for that one title.
“That’s all he talked about over the winter, making sure we showed everybody that we could still do it,” Childers said.
The team was ready for the challenge.
“It comes down to a good group of guys that never really settle for anything,’’ Childers said. “They don’t ever feel good about themselves for finishing second. It’s always about trying to make things better.’’
Harvick also credits Childers’ drive.
“Rodney is constantly pushing,’’ Harvick said. “I know that leads everybody else to push things and try to come up with new things. He is a detail freak, and he is always looking for something to be better and push in another direction.’’
They proved it immediately. Harvick opened the season with five consecutive top-two finishes, showing that 2014 was not a fluke and leaving competitors searching for more speed to challenge him.
At a recent test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Harvick’s car had Sam Hornish Jr. in awe. Hornish said he felt good about his speed early in the test session until Harvick got on track and went more than three-tenths of a second quicker.
Others know the feeling well.
“When I say we need more speed … I’m comparing it to (Harvick and SHR teammate Kurt Busch),’’ said Joey Logano, the only driver with more top-10 finishes (30) than Harvick (29) since the start of last season. “We need more speed. Right now, I feel like we’d win the Street Stock Division, but we’ve got to move up to the Late Model Division at some point and try to race these guys, so we just have to keep trying to find that speed.”
Said Childers: “I don’t feel like that we’ve got anything that is special as far as the car side of it other than everybody doing their job but that makes you think that much more that we’ve got to work hard to stay up there.’’