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


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.”

Alpha Prime Racing’s road woes don’t keep team from competing


SONOMA, Calif. — Alpha Prime Racing owner Tommy Joe Martins laughs. He can. His Xfinity Series cars all are here at Sonoma Raceway.

At one point last week, it was not certain if his team’s cars would make it to Portland International Raceway.

“It was probably the toughest professional week I’ve had of my NASCAR career,” Martins told NBC Sports on Friday at Sonoma.

MORE: Kyle Larson leads Xfinity practice at Sonoma

The Alpha Prime Racing team had both its trucks break down and one of its haulers have mechanical issues last week on the way to the Pacific Northwest.

“We basically sent four pieces of equipment on the road and three of them broke,” Martins said.

For a time, the car Sage Karam is driving this weekend at Sonoma was left in a hauler in Kansas City because there wasn’t room in the dually Martins sent. It had room only for the car that was needed at Portland and other equipment. Karam’s car, which was to be a backup at Portland, was left behind.

“It’s a very helpless feeling when you feel like your stuff is stuck on the side of the road,” Martins said.

He still has one truck still in St. Louis and another in Oregon. Martins estimates the mechanical issues will cost his team about $50,000 when everything is totaled.

Trouble started well before the team left its Mooresville, North Carolina, race shop for Portland.

The Xfinity Series race at Charlotte was scheduled to run May 27. Rain forced that event to be rescheduled to May 29. Martins said the team had planned to send its trucks to Portland on May 28. With the race pushed back to the 29th, the travel schedule tightened.

It got worse.

After the Xfinity race started, rain came. With the Coca-Cola 600 scheduled for 3 p.m. ET that day – after being delayed by rain from Sunday – the rest of the Xfinity race was pushed back until after the 600. That further tightened the window on Xfinity teams to make it to Portland.

The Xfinity race ended around 11:30 p.m. ET on May 29. Alpha Prime Racing’s haulers left the shop around 6 a.m. ET on May 30.

The two trucks traveled together until issues in St. Louis.

The truck hauling the Nos. 44 and 45 cars had engine issues in St. Louis. The other truck kept going until it had mechanical issues with its hauler in Kansas City. The air bags on the hauler failed.

So, Alpha Prime Racing had a truck that worked in Kansas City with a hauler that didn’t and a truck that didn’t work in St. Louis with a hauler that did.

The truck in Kansas City went back to St. Louis to attach to the hauler and take those cars and equipment to Portland. Martins then had to find something to haul the stranded equipment in Kansas City and a driver. He eventually did. A dually left North Carolina for Kansas City. Once there, what fit in the dually was taken to Portland and what didn’t, including Karam’s Sonoma car stayed behind.

Yet, more trouble was headed for Martins and his team.

The truck that had gone back from Kansas City to St. Louis to take hauler that worked then broke down about 200 miles from Portland.

“I laugh knowing that we’re on the other side of it,” Martins said Friday of all the issues his team had transporting cars and equipment across the country.

“We’ve started to make plans and corrections for it not happening again,” he said.

That hauler that was left in Kansas City? It was repaired and transported to Sonoma, arriving earlier this week.

“Our guys are troopers,” Martins said. “Both of our (truck) drivers were just awesome about the whole thing. … They went through hell week as far as driving somewhere, fly back and pick something up, drive again and now are going to have to do the same thing getting back.”

When the garage opened Friday at Sonoma, Alpha Prime Racing had all its cars.

“I don’t think we had any major issues here, so that was good,” Martins said.

The focus is back on the track. Karam was 24th on the speed chart in Friday’s practice, leading Alpha Prime Racing’s effort. Dylan Lupton was 32nd. Jeffrey Earnhardt was last among 41 cars.

After Saturday night’s race, the team heads back to North Carolina for a well-earned weekend off.

Kyle Larson leads Xfinity practice at Sonoma


SONOMA, Calif. — Kyle Larson posted the fastest lap in Friday’s Xfinity Series practice at Sonoma Raceway.

This is the first time the series has raced at the 1.99-mile road course in Northern California. Teams got 50 minutes of practice Friday.

Larson led the way with a lap of 90.392 mph. He was more than a second faster than the rest of the field.

MORE: Xfinity practice results Sonoma

Sheldon Creed was second on the speed chart with a lap of 89.066 mph. He was followed by AJ Allmendinger (89.052 mph), Cole Custer (89.020) and Ty Gibbs (88.989).

Larson, Allmendinger and Gibbs are among seven Cup drivers are entered in the Xfinity race. Aric Almirola was seventh on the speed chart with a lap of 88.750 mph. Ross Chastain was ninth with a lap of 88.625 mph. Daniel Suarez was 16th with a lap of 88.300 mph. Ty Dillon was 33rd with a lap of 86.828 mph.

Anthony Alfredo will go to a backup car after a crash in practice. He was uninjured in the incident that damaged the right side of his car.

Qualifying is scheduled for 3 p.m. ET Saturday. The race is scheduled to begin at 8:20 p.m. ET Saturday.

Anthony Alfredo’s car after a crash in Xfinity practice Friday at Sonoma Raceway. He was uninjured. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Saturday Sonoma Xfinity race: Start time, TV info, weather


The Xfinity Series will compete for the first time at Sonoma Raceway this weekend. This is one of eight road course events on the Xfinity schedule this season.

Seven Cup drivers are scheduled to compete in Saturday’s race, including AJ Allmendinger, Kyle Larson and Daniel Suarez, who won last year’s Cup race at this track Allmendinger has won 11 of 25 career road course starts in the Xfinity Series.

Details for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Sonoma Raceway

(All times Eastern)

START: Golden State Warrior Patrick Baldwin Jr. will give the command to start engines at 8:08 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled to wave at 8:20 p.m.

PRERACE: Xfinity garage opens at 1 p.m. … Qualifying begins at 3 p.m. … Driver introductions begin at 7:35 p.m. … The invocation will be given by Earl Smith, team pastor for the Golden State Warriors and San Francisco 49ers, at 8 p.m. … The national anthem will be performed by 9-year-old Isis Mikayle Castillo at 8:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 79 laps (156.95 miles) on the 1.99-mile road course.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 20. Stage 2 ends at Lap 45.

STARTING LINEUP: Qualifying begins at 3 p.m. Saturday

TV/RADIO: FS1 will broadcast the race at 8 p.m. ... Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. … Performance Racing Network coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. and can be heard on … SiriusXN NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Mostly cloudy with a high of 72 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: This is the first time the Xfinity Series has raced at Sonoma.


NASCAR Friday schedule at Sonoma Raceway


The Xfinity Series makes its first appearance Friday at Sonoma Raceway.

Xfinity teams, coming off last weekend’s race at Portland International Raceway, get 50 minutes of practice Friday because Sonoma is a new venue for the series.

Seven Cup drivers, including Kyle Larson and Daniel Suarez, are among those entered in the Xfinity race. Suarez won the Cup race at Sonoma last year.

Xfinity teams will qualify and race Saturday at the 1.99-mile road course.

Sonoma Raceway


Friday: Mostly cloudy with a high of 69 degrees.

Friday, June 9

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. — ARCA Menards Series West
  • 1 – 10 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 2 – 3 p.m. — ARCA West practice
  • 3:10 – 3:30 p.m. — ARCA West qualifying
  • 4:05 – 4:55 p.m. — Xfinity practice (FS1)
  • 6:30 p.m. — ARCA West race (64 laps, 127.36 miles; live on FloRacing, will air on CNBC at 11:30 a.m. ET on June 18)