Crew chief Rodney Childers on why it works with Kevin Harvick … and how the title pair almost didn’t happen

0 Comments

LOUDON, N.H. – Rodney Childers pulled out of Kevin Harvick’s driveway after meeting for several hours of fruitful and honest discussions about the future and sent his wife, Katrina, a text message.

He was leaving to become Harvick’s crew chief at Stewart-Haas Racing.

Four days later, he sent her another text while walking through the back gate of the garage at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

He was staying at Michael Waltrip Racing.

Childers and Harvick quickly have become among the most formidable crew chief-driver combinations in the Sprint Cup Series, winning the 2014 championship and leading the 2015 points standings with 10 top-two finishes at the midpoint of the 36-race season.

But the decision wasn’t arrived at lightly by Childers, who wrestled mightily with a life-changing move.

“It was wishy-washy the whole time,” Childers told NASCAR Talk during a Friday interview at New Hampshire, which will play host to today’s 5-hour Energy 301 two years and five days after he guided Brian Vickers to a win there. “What was right? What was going to be right?

“Everything happened for a reason. I look back on it now, and it was definitely the right decision.”

It already seemed clear from the sitdown with Harvick that their rapport was natural as they tackled the tough questions about how business would be conducted around the No. 4 Chevrolet.

“It really came down to the truth about everything,” Childers said. “What I was willing to do, what he was willing to do. Things I’d heard, things I wasn’t willing to deal with, things he wanted to accomplish. It was a really good conversation.

“Then we came here, ran good all weekend and won the race Sunday.”

For about a month, Childers leaned toward spurning the overtures of Harvick, who strongly lobbied to bring him to SHR.

It was in a hotel room in Richmond, Va. – coincidentally during a test for a race that left MWR reeling in a team orders scandal – when everything finally crystallized as Childers awakened to an epiphany that he belonged with Harvick.

“The alarm went off, my eyes opened, and I knew,” he said. “It turned out to be the right thing.”

During a half-hour chat inside the No. 4 hauler, which was buzzing with activity as car chief Robert “Cheddar” Smith whipped up smoothies with a Nutribullet, Childers expounded on the qualities of Harvick (who sat down with Jeff Burton for today’s “Countdown to Green” show at 12:50 p.m. on NBCSN) that make their relationship work:

Guidance: Childers credits much of the team’s success to the leadership of Harvick, who has left behind the overbearing methods that were a hallmark of his run as a Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity owner at Kevin Harvick Inc.

When he drove cars that he also owned, Harvick was known to fire his pit crews during a race, and the vituperative attitude sometimes carried over to his Sprint Cup races with Richard Childress Racing.

There hardly has been a trace of public discontent, though, at SHR.

“The day he walked into SHR, it’s been all positive, the whole time,” Childers said. “He’s had our backs through thick and thin. Never negative about anything. Always trying to be better.

“Our goal each week is to be the fastest in everything we do. He helps feed that. The other good thing is he’s a leader when he needs to be, but he also doesn’t try to micromanage anything. He just gets in there and drives his butt off. He trusts us to bring a good car to the track and trusts what we’re doing in the shop and that we’ll come with the right setup.”

Mindfulness: Harvick also isn’t a disinterested observer, though.

“If he sees things at the shop or at the company, he puts his input into it,” Childers said. “It’s good to have someone who has had all that experience and run his own race teams and done all that stuff. He has more experience than probably any of us do.

“He gets the whole thing. Everyone was asking last year what sets him aside. He’s not just a good race car driver. He’s good at everything. The racing side. The sponsor side. The management side. The money side. There’s nothing that he doesn’t get.”

Childers said he receives feedback from Harvick about detail-oriented shop minutiae such as the length of a bolt or the location of a tie strap.

“Kevin understands every little thing going on all the time,” Childers said. “Even when you don’t think he’s paying attention. I’ll be like, ‘How did you even see that?’ He’s very observant. He could be walking around one day, and you think he’s just goofing off, talking to the guys, and then two days later, I get a text message about somebody in the shop was doing this or that. We need to handle this or do that. He knows what’s going on.”

Accountability: While Harvick has revealed a gentler side on social media and in interviews since becoming a father three years ago, Childers said there has been no change in how his driver approaches the racing.

“Kevin expects perfection out of everything,” Childers said. “He expects us to build the best cars in the garage. Have the fastest cars in the garage. Have the nicest equipment and the best people.

“It’s just like going to these racetracks. If he gets to a certain racetrack and doesn’t feel like it spends money and tries to be perfect, it bothers him all weekend. We all do this to be the best at everything. That’s how we treat the 4 team. There are other things outside the 4 team we can’t control. It ends up bothering all of us now because we expect that, too.

“If he knows that all of us are giving 100 percent, he’s going to give 150 percent, all the time. That’s all you can ask out of somebody. He just doesn’t like people not caring. You can see it in this team every race. Everyone’s heart is into it. That’s really what matters.”

Drivers to watch in Clash at the Coliseum

0 Comments

The 2023 NASCAR season will begin with Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum, the second race on a purpose-built track inside Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Although a non-points race, last year’s Clash generated intense interest as NASCAR moved the event from its long-time home at Daytona International Speedway to Los Angeles. The race was rated a success and opened doors for the possibility of future races in stadium environments.

MORE: NASCAR Power Rankings: 10 historic moments in the Clash

MORE: Toyota looking to expand NASCAR presence

Year Two will find drivers competing on a familiar landscape but still with a track freshly paved. Last year’s racing surface was removed after the Clash.

Drivers to watch Sunday at Los Angeles:

FRONTRUNNERS

Joey Logano

  • Points position: Finished 2022 as Cup champion
  • Last three races: Won at Phoenix, 6th at Martinsville, 18th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: Won in 2022

Logano put bookends on 2022 by winning the first Clash at the Coliseum and the season’s final race at Phoenix to win the Cup championship. He’ll be among the favorites Sunday.

Ross Chastain

  • Points position: 2nd in 2022
  • Last three races: 3rd at Phoenix, 4th at Martinsville, 2nd at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: Did not qualify last year

Chastain was the breakout star of 2022, winning a pair of races and generally putting himself front and center across much of the year. Can he start 2023 on a big note? If so, he will have to do so without replicating his Hail Melon move at Martinsville after NASCAR outlawed the move Tuesday.

Kevin Harvick

  • Points position: 15th in 2022
  • Last three races: 5th at Phoenix, 16th at Martinsville, 8th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 10th in 2022

Sunday will begin the final roundup for Harvick, who has said this season will be his last as a full-time Cup driver. He is likely to come out of the gate with fire in his eyes.

QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

Kyle Busch

  • Points position: 13th in 2022
  • Last three races: 7th at Phoenix, 29th at Martinsville, 9th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 2nd in 2022

Welcome to Kyle Busch’s Brave New World. After 15 seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing, he begins a new segment of his career with Richard Childress Racing. He led 64 laps at last year’s Clash but couldn’t catch Joey Logano at the end.

Tyler Reddick

  • Points position: 14th in 2022
  • Last three races: 23rd at Phoenix, 35th at Martinsville, 35th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 21st in 2022

Reddick ran surprisingly strong in last year’s Clash, leading 51 laps before parking with drivetrain issues. He starts the new year with a new ride — at 23XI Racing.

Ty Gibbs

  • Points position: Won Xfinity Series championship in 2022
  • Last three (Cup) races: 19th at Martinsville, 22nd at Homestead, 22nd at Las Vegas
  • Past at Clash: Did not compete in 2022

After a successful — and controversial — Xfinity season, Gibbs moves up to Cup full-time with his grandfather’s team. Will he be the brash young kid of 2022 or a steadier driver in Season One in Cup?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interstate Batteries extends sponsorship with Joe Gibbs Racing

0 Comments

Interstate Batteries, which has been a Joe Gibbs Racing sponsor since the team’s first race, has expanded its involvement with the team for 2023.

Interstate, based in Dallas, will be a primary JGR sponsor for 13 races, up from six races, the number it typically sponsored each year since 2008.

Christopher Bell and Ty Gibbs will run the majority of Interstate’s sponsorship races, but Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. also will carry the sponsor colors.

MORE: NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

“We’re extremely proud of our partnership with our founding sponsor, Interstate Batteries,” said team owner Joe Gibbs in a statement released by the team. “They have been such an important part of our team for over three decades now, and it’s exciting to have them on board all four of our cars this season. The best part of our partnership is the relationships we’ve built with everyone there over the years.”

Bell will carry Interstate sponsorship in Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum, the All-Star Race May 21, the Coca-Cola 600 May 28, at Texas Motor Speedway Sept. 24 and at Martinsville Oct. 29.

Gibbs, in his first full season in Cup racing, will be sponsored by Interstate at Daytona Feb. 19, Bristol April 9, Nashville June 25, Chicago July 2, Texas Sept. 24 and Charlotte Oct. 8.

Hamlin will ride with Interstate sponsorship March 26 at Circuit of the Americas, and Truex will be sponsored by Interstate July 23 at Pocono.

Interstate was a key JGR sponsor in the team’s first season in 1992.

NASCAR announces rule changes for 2023 season

0 Comments

CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR announced a series of rule changes for the 2023 season that includes outlawing the move Ross Chastain made at Martinsville and eliminating stage breaks at all six Cup road course events.

NASCAR announced the changes in a session with reporters Tuesday at the NASCAR R&D Center.

Among new things for this season:

  • Updated penalty for a wheel coming off a car.
  • Change to the amount of time teams have to repair cars on pit road via the Damaged Vehicle Policy.
  • Change to playoff eligibility for drivers.
  • Cars could run in wet weather conditions on short ovals.
  • Expansion of the restart zone on a trial basis.
  • Choose rule will be in place for more races.

MORE: Ranking top 10 moments at the Clash

NASCAR updated its policy on a loose wheel. Previously, if a wheel came off a car during an event, it would be a four-race suspension for the crew chief and two pit crew members. That has changed this year.

If a wheel comes off a car while the vehicle is still on pit road, the vehicle restarts at the tail end of the field. If a wheel comes off a vehicle while it is on pit road under green-flag conditions, it is a pass-thru penalty.

The rule changes once a vehicle has left pit road and loses a wheel.

Any vehicle that loses a wheel on the track will be penalized two laps and have two pit crew members suspended for two races. The suspensions will go to those most responsible for the wheel coming off. This change takes away a suspension to the crew chief. The policy is the same for Cup, Xfinity and Trucks.

With some pit crew members working multiple series, the suspension is only for that series. So, if a pit crew member is suspended two races in the Xfinity Series for a wheel coming off, they can still work the Cup race the following day.

The Damaged Vehicle Policy clock will be 7 minutes this season. It had been six minutes last year and was increased to 10 minutes during the playoffs. After talking with teams, NASCAR has settled on seven minutes for teams to make repairs on pit road or be eliminated. Teams can replace toe links on pit road but not control arms. Teams also are not permitted to have specialized repair tools in the pits.

NASCAR will have a wet weather package for select oval tracks: the Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Lucas Oil Raceway Park, Martinsville, Milwaukee, New Hampshire, North Wilkesboro, Phoenix and Richmond.

Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said that teams have been told to show up at these events prepared for wet weather conditions as they would at a road course. That includes having a windshield wiper. Wet weather tires will be available. 

“Our goal here is to get back to racing as soon as possible,” Swayer said. “… If there’s an opportunity for us to get some cars or trucks on the racetrack and speed up that (track-drying) process and we can get back to racing, that’s what our goal is. We don’t want to be racing in full-blown rain (at those tracks) and we’ve got spray like we would on a road course.”

NASCAR stated that it is removing the requirement that a winning driver be in the top 30 in points in Cup or top 20 in Xfinity or Trucks to become eligible for the playoffs. As long as a driver is competing full-time — or has a waiver for the races they missed, a win will make them playoff eligible.

With the consultation of drivers, NASCAR is expanding the restart zone to give the leader more room to take off. NASCAR said it will evaluate if to keep this in place after the Atlanta race in March.

NASCAR stated the choose rule will be in effect for superspeedways and dirt races.

NASCAR eliminates stage breaks for Cup road course events

1 Comment

CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR will do away with stage breaks in all six Cup road course races and select Xfinity and Truck races this season, but teams will continue to score stage points. 

NASCAR announced the change Tuesday in a session with reporters at the NASCAR R&D Center. 

MORE: NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

NASCAR stated there will be no stage breaks in the Cup road course events at Circuit of the Americas (March 26), Sonoma (June 11), Chicago street course (July 2), Indianapolis road course (Aug. 13), Watkins Glen (Aug. 20) and Charlotte Roval (Oct. 8).

There will be no stage breaks for Xfinity races at Circuit of the Americas (March 25), Sonoma (June 10), Chicago street course (July 1), Indianapolis road course (Aug. 12), Watkins Glen (Aug. 19) and Charlotte Roval (Oct. 7).

There will be no stage breaks for the Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas (March 25).

In those races, stage points will be awarded on a designated lap, but there will be no green-and-checkered flag and the racing will continue.

The only road course events that will have stage breaks will be Xfinity standalone races at Portland (June 3) and Road America (July 29) and the Truck standalone race at Mid-Ohio (July 8). Those events will keep stage breaks because they have non-live pit stops — where the field comes down pit road together and positions cannot be gained or lost provided the stop is completed in the prescribed time by NASCAR.

NASCAR has faced questions from fans and competitors about stage breaks during road course races because those breaks alter strategy in a more defined manner than on most ovals.

Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said the move away from stage breaks at road courses was made in collaboration with teams and response from fans.

“When we introduced stage racing … we took an element of strategy away from the event,” Sawyer. “Felt this (change) would bring some new storylines (in an event).”

NASCAR instituted stage breaks and stage points for the 2017 season and has kept the system in place since. NASCAR awards a playoff point to the stage winner along with 10 points. The top 10 at the end of a stage score points.

It wasn’t uncommon for many teams to elect to pit before the first stage in a road course race and eschew points to put themselves in better track position for the final two stages. By pitting early, they would be behind those who stayed out to collect the stage points. At the stage break, those who had yet to pit would do so, allowing those who stopped before the break to leapfrog back to the front.