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

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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.”

Short-track ace Sam Ard shares Xfinity record with Noah Gragson

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Former two-time Xfinity Series champion Sam Ard’s name returned to the forefront in the past week as Noah Gragson tied Ard’s series record for consecutive victories at four.

Although Ard has been nominated for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, his exploits generally aren’t well-known among many who follow the modern sport of stock car racing. He was on the Hall voting list for the 2023 class but was not elected.

In the 1970s and ’80s, Ard was a short-track master in the vein of stars like Jack Ingram, Harry Gant and Butch Lindley, drivers who could show up at virtually any half-mile track across the country and take home the trophy.

He won the NASCAR Late Model (now the Xfinity Series) championship in 1983 and 1984, scoring 18 wins across those two seasons. He put together four victories in a row late in the 1983 season, winning at South Boston, Virginia; Martinsville, Virginia; Rougemont, North Carolina and Charlotte.

Ard was so dominant in 1984 that he had wrapped up the seasonal championship with two races remaining. In 28 series starts that year, he had 24 top-five finishes and 26 top-10 runs. He won eight times.

In the next-to-last race of the 1984 season, at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, Ard suffered critical head injuries when his car slid in fluid from another vehicle and hit the track’s outside wall.

That crash effectively ended Ard’s career and impacted the rest of his life. Ard often talked of learning to walk again as part of his recovery. He said he would use a walker in a pile of sawdust in his backyard so that the landing would be softer when he fell.

Ard eventually was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. In 2006, responding to Ard’s financial problems, drivers Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr., among others, launched a drive to raise funds for his family.

Ard, a native of Scranton, S.C., died in April 2017. He was 78.

 

 

 

 

 

Drivers to watch in Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway

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The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs will reach a critical point Sunday in a 500-mile chase at treacherous Talladega Superspeedway.

The overriding factor in any race at Talladega, NASCAR’s biggest track, is the unknown. With cars running so fast and so close together, multi-car accidents are not only possible but expected, and it’s easy to become the innocent victim of someone else’s mistake.

MORE: NASCAR penalizes William Byron for spinning Denny Hamlin

The tension is doubled for the 12 playoff drivers. A bad finish at Talladega could open the door for a probable playoff exit at the end of the round Oct. 9 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

The playoffs to date have seen four wins by non-playoff drivers, an unprecedented result. Tyler Reddick was the most recent to join that list with a win last Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.

A look at drivers to watch at Talladega:

FRONTRUNNERS

Denny Hamlin

  • Points position: 6th
  • Last three races: 10th at Texas, 9th at Bristol, 2nd at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 2 career wins

Although he hasn’t won, Hamlin has finished in the top 10 in all four playoff races. In the past six races at Talladega, he has four finishes of seventh or better. Now if he can just keep people from running into him…

William Byron

  • Points position: 3rd
  • Last three races: 7th at Texas, 3rd at Bristol, 6th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: Best career finish is a second

Byron stands alone as the only playoff driver who has been able to avoid major crashes and trouble in the pits, and he has finished in the top 10 in all four playoff races. After Tuesday’s penalty for his incident with Denny Hamlin at Texas, he sits below the cutline entering Sunday’s race.

Brad Keselowski

  • Points position: 24th
  • Last three races: 8th at Texas, 13th at Bristol, 25th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 6 wins, the active leader

Even in trying times, Keselowski is a threat at Talladega, where he last won in April 2021 (his last Cup victory). He has led 268 laps there in the past 13 races.

QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

Kyle Busch

  • Points position: 15th
  • Last three races: 36th at Texas, 34th at Bristol, 26th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 1 career win, in 2008

Is Busch going to steadily disappear into the mist as he rides out the final weeks of his final year with Joe Gibbs Racing? His best finish in the past four races is 26th. On the positive side this week, he’s the only driver to finish in the top 10 in this year’s three races at Daytona and Talladega.

Chase Elliott

  • Points position: 8th
  • Last three races: 32nd at Texas, 2nd at Bristol, 11th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 1 career win, in 2019

Can Elliott rebound from a fiery finish and a 32nd-place run at Texas? Playoff points give him some comfort, but a second career win at Talladega would be greatly appreciated in the Hendrick camp.

Martin Truex Jr.

  • Points position: 17th
  • Last three races: 31st at Texas, 36th at Bristol, 5th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: Best career finish is 5th

Will one of the sport’s most enduring mysteries continue at Talladega? In 70 career starts at Daytona and Talladega, Truex, a former champion and a smooth driver, has zero wins. At Talladega, he has only three top-five finishes in 35 starts.

 

 

 

NBC will broadcast final six NASCAR Cup Series playoff races

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The final six races in the chase for the NASCAR Cup Series championship will be televised by NBC.

The races remaining on the schedule are at Talladega Superspeedway (Oct. 2), the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (Oct. 9), Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Oct. 16), Homestead-Miami Speedway (Oct. 23), Martinsville Speedway (Oct. 30) and Phoenix Raceway (Nov. 6).

NBC’s broadcasting team will be on hand Sunday for what is typically a seasonal highlight — a 500-mile race at Talladega Superspeedway. The next week the playoffs move on to Charlotte for a cutoff race. The lowest four drivers in the playoff point standings will be eliminated from championship competition.

The Round of 8 is scheduled at Las Vegas, Homestead and Martinsville, with the tiny Martinsville track serving as the final cutoff race. The four drivers who advance from Martinsville will race for the title at Phoenix Nov. 6.

The high drama of the Phoenix race, in which the championship will go to the highest finisher of the four competing drivers, will be carried by both NBC and Peacock.

Post-race commentary and analysis for all six remaining Cup races will be carried on Peacock.

Kyle Larson is the series defending champion. Joey Logano carries the point lead into Sunday’s race at Talladega.

NASCAR viewer’s guide for Talladega Superspeedway

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After a messy Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs move on this weekend to another potentially messy spot — Talladega Superspeedway.

Home to the Big One — an almost certain multi-car crash, Talladega also occasionally produces unexpected winners, including Richard Brickhouse, James Hylton, Lennie Pond, Ron Bouchard and Brad Keselowski.

The mix of tight drafting, the Next Gen car and general playoff tension should make Sunday’s 500-mile run quite the adventure.

On Sunday at Texas, Tyler Reddick became the second driver (after Chase Elliott) to score three wins this season.

Joey Logano enters Talladega with the playoff point lead.

Playoff rookies roll on

The four drivers participating in the Cup playoffs for the first time remain factors approaching the second race in the second round.

Ross Chastain is second in the standings, 18 points above the cutline entering Talladega.

MORE: NBC NASCAR rankings put Denny Hamlin first

Daniel Suarez, Chastain’s Trackhouse Racing teammate, is seventh. He’s four points above the cutline.

Two other playoff rookies — Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric — will start Talladega below the cutline. Briscoe is four points below the cutline. Cindric is 11 points below the cutline.

Looking for wins

Only six of the remaining 12 playoff drivers have won races at the two remaining tracks in the second round (Talladega and Charlotte Roval).

Among the six, Joey Logano has the best win record at Talladega, having finished first there in 2015, 2016 and 2018.

Other Talladega winners in the group: Ryan Blaney (two), Denny Hamlin (two), Chase Elliott (one), Ross Chastain (one).

The Charlotte Roval is relatively new, of course, but Chase Elliott already owns two wins there. Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson also have won at the Roval.

An opening for Brad?

Few people who watched it will forget the first Cup Series victory scored by Brad Keselowski.

It occurred at this week’s tour stop — Talladega Superspeedway — in April 2009. Keselowski and Carl Edwards made contact approaching the finish line and notched the win, even as Edwards’ car flew into the frontstretch fence, spraying car parts into the grandstands.

Thirteen years later, Keselowski returns to NASCAR’s biggest track having recorded six Talladega wins. No other active drive has more than three.

Keselowski’s refurbished team — Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing — has new fire with Chris Buescher winning at Bristol and Keselowski winning the pole and finishing eighth at Texas.

RFK Racing has led 309 laps in the past two races, more than the team had led in the prior 105 races combined.

Although he hasn’t won a Cup race since scoring a victory in a Team Penske Ford in April 2021 at Talladega, Keselowski must be considered a threat Sunday.

Entry lists

Thirty-seven drivers, including Xfinity Series star Noah Gragson and reigning Xfinity champion Daniel Hemric, are entered for Sunday’s Cup race.

Talladega Cup entry list

The Xfinity entry list includes 41 drivers for 38 spots. Among those joining the series regulars are Trevor Bayne, Parker Kligerman, Timmy Hill and Jeffrey Earnhardt.

Talladega Xfinity entry list

Forty-one drivers are entered for Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race. Included are Kaz Grala, Ryan Preece, Natalie Decker, Jennifer Jo Cobb and Parker Kligerman.

Talladega Truck entry list

This week’s schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Friday, Sept. 30

Forecast: Partly cloudy. High of 77. (Weather note: There is the possibility that Hurricane Ian could impact the race weekend, depending on its path).

  • 3:30 – 5 p.m. — Truck Series qualifying
  • 5:30 – 7 p.m. — Xfinity Series qualifying (USA Network)

Saturday, Oct. 1

Forecast: Overcast with showers at times. Potential for heavy rainfall. High of 73. 60% chance of rain.

  • 10:30 a.m. – Noon — Cup Series qualifying (NBC Sports app, Motor Racing Network, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio)
  • 12:30 p.m. — Truck Series race (94 laps, 250 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 4 p.m. — Xfinity Series race (113 laps, 300 miles; USA Network, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Oct. 2

Forecast: Sun in the morning, increasing clouds in the afternoon. Slight chance of a shower. High of 74.

  • 2 p.m. — Cup Series race (188 laps, 500 miles; NBC, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)