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.”

NASCAR releases Cup rules packages for 2021

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NASCAR announced Thursday its rules package slate for the 2021 Cup Series season, a day after next year’s schedule was unveiled.

For returning tracks to the 36-race schedule, the rules are largely unchanged save for Darlington Raceway.

Cup teams will use the 750 horsepower, low downforce race package at the 1.366-mile track. It’s the package that’s been used this season on road courses and short tracks. Nashville Superspeedway, the 1.333-mile track being added in 2021, will use the same package.

The packages for the other new race tracks – Road America, Circuit of the Americas and the Indy road course – have not been decided on.

“We constantly review the race packages to try to put on the best possible racing for our fans,” John Probst, NASCAR’s Senior Vice Presiden of Innovation and Racing Development said in a media release. “When he brought in the short track / road course package this season, Darlington was not part of it due to its unique size. We’ve been evaluating data from both race packages, as well as feedback from drivers, teams and OEMs and feel that the 750 hp / low downforce package best fits the track.”

Other rule changes include:

  • Teams are restricted to 150 restricted computational fluid dynamics runs per calendar month.
  • Teams must compete in a minimum of 16 points events with a short block sealed engine (up from 13).

Click here for the rule packages for each Cup race in 2021.

Team Penske looks to extend Talladega dominance amid 2020 woes

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If there’s one thing Talladega Superspeedway is known for, it’s chaos.

But for as much chaos as the 2.66-mile track can provide, Talladega has another quality it produces: consistency in Victory Lane.

In the 2010s and up through the June Cup race, the consistency has been produced by Team Penske.

Since May 2012, Penske drivers have won nine of 17 races. Brad Keselowski has four of his five Talladega wins, Joey Logano has three and Ryan Blaney has won each of the last two races by .007 seconds.

The other eight races were won by Roush Fenway Racing (two wins), Hendrick Motorsports (two), Front Row Motorsports (one), Chip Ganassi Racing (one), Stewart-Haas Racing (one) and Joe Gibbs Racing (one).

When it comes to races like this weekend’s playoff event (2 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC), one would expect even more chaos and less consistency among winners.

You’d be wrong on the latter.

Penske’s three drivers have combined to win five of the last six Talladega playoff races. The winner of the sixth race was Aric Almirola in the 2018 playoff race.

Last week Keselowski observed how races at superspeedways have “ebbs and flows” with them currently resembling “a MAVTV demo derby just a little faster.”

On Thursday, the 2012 Cup champion credited Team Penske having a “great” driver lineup with its ability to win in a form of racing that’s constantly evolving.

“I think we have the strongest driver lineup in Cup right now,” Keselowski said. “I know that’s probably arguable and it’s completely subjective. That’s played to our favorite tracks like the plate tracks and we’re going to continue to try and leverage it.”

While Blaney has enjoyed recent success at Talladega with his two victories, Keselowski looks to re-establish his winning ways at the track he has five victories, the most among active drivers.

After winning the 2017 playoff race, he has five consecutive finishes of 13th or worse, including two DNFs for wrecks.

“It’s been up and down for me,” Keselowski said. “The last few races have probably been down. Last fall I thought we were going to win the race with two or three (laps) to go. We were making the pass for the lead and the next thing I know we’re all wrecked. It’s a love-hate affair with that track for sure and hopefully we’ll love it. I feel like we’re due for a good finish there.”

Keselowski enters Sunday’s race after miserable outings in the last two playoff races. He finished 34th at Bristol (power steering problems) and 13th at Las Vegas.

Talladega could be the relief Keselowski’s teammates are looking for as well.

Blaney, who was eliminated from the playoffs after the Round of 16, hasn’t had a top-five finish in the last nine races. Logano, while he has two top fives in the playoffs (third at Darlington and Richmond), hasn’t won since the March race at Phoenix. That was the last race before the COVID-19 shutdown.

Keselowski said “it is a bit strange” that Team Penske can view Talladega as a track where it can turn its season around.

“We haven’t been where we want to be on the mile-and-a-halfs, there’s no doubt about that,” Keselowski said. “The mile-and-a-halfs and road courses have been a weak spot for us. The superspeedways and short tracks have been a strong spot for us. Thankfully we have the superspeedway this weekend and couple of short tracks coming up in the next round (Martinsville).

“We need to kind of maximize out strengths and minimize our weaknesses. This weekend is certainly looking like a strength for us. We have high expectations.”

Kaz Grala subs for Natalie Decker in Talladega Truck race

Kaz Grala
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Natalie Decker has not been medically cleared to compete in Saturday’s Truck Series race at Talladega (1 p.m. ET on FS1) and will be replaced by Kaz Grala in Niece Motorsports’ No. 44 Chevrolet the team announced Thursday.

Decker withdrew from last weekend’s race at Las Vegas after she was not medically cleared shortly before the race. She was credited with a last-place finish.

Decker tweeted Saturday that she was flying home where “more tests (would be) run so they can further evaluate and diagnose.”

No further details about Decker’s condition have been announced.

“We are thankful that Kaz is able to fill in for Natalie this weekend and appreciate him working with our team,” team general manager Cody Efaw said in a press release. “We wish Natalie the best as she works to be as healthy as possible to return to racing.”

Grala will make his first Truck Series start since 2017. He has 32 career starts in the series, including one win in the 2017 season-opening race at Daytona.

He drove in Austin Dillon’s place earlier this year in the Cup race on the Daytona road course after Dillon tested positive for COVID-19.

“My thoughts will be with Natalie this weekend as I wish her a quick recovery,” Grala said in a press release. “I know she loves the restrictor-plate races, so I feel bad that she’ll have to miss this one, but I hope I can give her something to cheer for on Saturday. 

“It’s been a few years since I’ve been in a Truck, but the superspeedway races have been very good to me in the past, so I’m really hoping to be able to go grab a win for Niece Motorsports at Talladega.”

FanVision closes due to impact of COVID-19 pandemic

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FanVision Entertainment, the company that produces video devices used by race fans at NASCAR events, has ceased operations due to the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The news was announced in a statement from Racing Electronics, the company which sold and supported FanVision devices at NASCAR tracks through a license with FanVision Entertainment.

Racing Electronics, which is owned by NASCAR, can no longer sell or support the devices.

“We recognize this news will be met with disappointment by motorsports fans across the country who utilized FanVision’s products as part of their at-track experience,” Racing Electronics president Chad Willis said in a statement.

“To help fans and industry members transition to Racing Electronics products, we are working with existing FanVision device owners to solve their race day needs. When Racing Electronics returns to the track, fans and industry members will have access to all the sounds that make racing so special.”