Lesson from high school remains with Harvick: Be Superman all the time

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. – The kid was 10, more limbs than muscle, but it didn’t take the wrestling coach long to see the youth’s potential. He saw the toughness passed down from the kid’s fireman father. The kid was raw, fierce and hard to pin.

One day, the coach told the kid that he needed to wrestle more often in Saturday tournaments. This would help him improve and possibly lead to a college scholarship and the potential for a better life.

The kid missed those tournaments because he raced go karts. The coach didn’t see a future in that so he talked to the father, told the man what the boy could be. The father said if that’s what was needed, they’d curtail the kid’s racing so he could wrestle more often.

As he listened to the men talking, tears welled in Kevin Harvick’s eyes.

***

Rick McKinney laughs about what he tried to do with Harvick nearly 30 years ago.

“I’m the guy that almost screwed up his whole life,’’ said McKinney, who spent 25 years coaching high school wrestling and is a seventh-grade life sciences teacher in Clovis, Calif. “He could have been making $60,000 a year teaching and coaching someplace instead of being one of the best drivers in the world.’’

Harvick enters this weekend on the cusp of a second consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. He’ll race Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. for the title Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway on NBC.

Only 15 drivers in NASCAR’s history have won more than one Cup championship. The last three drivers to have won at least back-to-back titles had the surname Johnson, Gordon or Earnhardt.

Harvick is in this position because of a determination harnessed from his wrestling days in Bakersfield, Calif. Alone on the mat against an opponent, a competitor can either wilt or face the challenge. McKinney  steered Harvick through those years, forming a bond that remains between coach and athlete.

“At that particular point in your life, you don’t really know how much you can get out of yourself and you don’t know about that competitive nature that you have inside of yourself,’’ Harvick said of his high school days.

“I think that (wrestling) taught me how to push myself. It instills this different type of mentality that is instilled in your brain when you go through those day‑to‑day wrestling practices and the meets and the matches and the intensity and the days where you just drag yourself out of the room and have to go to class. It’s a hard, hard sport. Those were four of the best years that I’ve probably ever spent in my life in learning about myself.’’

McKinney admits he often tested Harvick on the wrestling mat. Instead of matching Harvick with someone closer to his weight – Harvick notes he weighed about 86 pounds as a freshman – McKinney put Harvick with a heavier teammate in practice at times. Harvick was told he couldn’t stop until he had taken down his opponent. Other drills included the wrestlers starting on their back and told not to get pinned.

Less than 72 hours before his championship quest, Harvick smiled at the memory of completing those drills on a sweat-slicked mat in a sweltering wrestling room.

Harvick also relishes the slogans McKinney repeated. One that McKinney often preached to his team was that “You can’t be Clark Kent when you practice and expect to be Superman and win. Be Superman all the time.’’

A few years back, McKinney was with Harvick at Auto Club Speedway. They talked about putting forth a full effort each time, and McKinney asked Harvick if he recalled one of the team’s slogans. Harvick responded: “Be Superman all the time.’’

***

Tony Stewart sees Harvick’s focus and determination — not just as an owner or a friend but as a competitor.

So fierce is Harvick on the track that a duel eight years ago remains fresh with Stewart. It was at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Harvick led with less than 20 laps to go. Stewart had the faster car – at one point he got on his radio and said “here kitty, kitty, kitty” – but couldn’t get by.

Stewart pounced when Harvick left a lane low with 10 laps to go entering Turn 1. Harvick responded. He slipped underneath Stewart in Turn 2. They hit and drag-raced down the five-eighths of a mile backstretch before Stewart pulled ahead and went on to win and climb the fence back when he did that.

Stewart likens Harvick’s resolve inside the car to a pair of former champions.

“Kind of compare it as a cross between Dale Earnhardt and Terry Labonte,’’ Stewart said, noting drivers who combined to win nine championships and 98 Sprint Cup races.

“It’s a scenario where you’ve got a guy that the circumstances don’t rattle him. It doesn’t matter what the task is ahead. It doesn’t matter if they’ve had pit strategy that’s got him in the back. It just doesn’t faze him, and it’s easy to rattle guys, but he’s just someone that has that calm, cool nature like Terry Labonte had, but he’s got that aggressive nature like Dale Sr. had, as well, and he’s got a good blend of both that makes him so tough.’’

And dominant. In an era of close competition, Harvick has finished first or second 36.6 percent of the time since last season. To put that into perspective, consider that Truex has scored a top-10 finish in 38 percent of the races during that same time.

Harvick says another key is that he also has learned to better control his emotions in the car. He was known to berate his pit crew on the radio at Richard Childress Racing. While there have been ups and downs since joining Stewart-Haas Racing before last year (crew chief Rodney Childers replaced the pit crew before last year’s Chase and transmission woes had plagued the team this season before a change in brands last week), Harvick has maintained better composure.

“When I came to Stewart‑Haas, I wanted that perception to go away,’’ Harvick said. “I wanted those past moments and radio conversations and things that happened at RCR, I wanted those things to not happen at SHR. That was definitely one of my goals, and yelling at Rodney, who is the calmest, quietest guy in the world, is not going to be very beneficial because it’s just not his demeanor and how he acts towards things. So I think Rodney’s demeanor really helps me.’’

***

Earlier this week, McKinney emailed Harvick, offering words of advice, including the slogan about being Superman.

They communicate often. Harvick noted that McKinney wrote him before the Dover race in the Chase when Harvick had to win to keep his title hopes alive.

What Harvick had to go through at Dover was just what he had done many times before in wrestling. No place to hide, challenge in front, either get it or be beat.

“I can remember being dead tired, many a times getting my ass whipped in the middle of a wrestling match and (McKinney) looking over between periods and whatever he would say and come back and win the match,’’ Harvick said. “He had that way of saying things to you to say, ‘All right, I can do this,’ and just to motivate you to do things that you might not otherwise have been capable of doing.’’

There’s no more coaching left for McKinney this weekend. He’s imparted the knowledge and infused it with motivational sayings. Now, it’s time for the driver who still calls McKinney “Coach” to take those lessons, combine it with his experiences, and go race for another championship.

Rodney Childers fined $100,000, suspended for four races

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NASCAR has suspended Rodney Childers, Kevin Harvick‘s crew chief, for four races and fined him $100,000 for what the sanctioning body called modification of a part supplied by a vendor.

Harvick, who is out of the Cup Series playoffs, and the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 team were docked 100 points.

Harvick’s car and that of Martin Truex Jr. were taken to NASCAR’s Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C. after last Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway. There were no penalties assessed to the Truex team.

Harvick has been particularly critical of the Next Gen car in recent months, once referring to the “crappy-ass parts” provided by suppliers.

Harvick’s car erupted in flames during the Southern 500 Sept. 4 at Darlington Raceway. After he climbed from the smoking car, Harvick blamed the fire on “just crappy parts on the race car like we’ve seen so many times. They haven’t fixed anything. It’s kind of like the safety stuff. We just let it keep going and keep going.

“The car started burning and as it burned the flames started coming through the dash. I ran a couple laps and then as the flame got bigger it started burning stuff up and I think right there you see all the brake fluid that was probably coming out the brakes and part of the brake line, but the fire was coming through the dash.

“What a disaster for no reason. We didn’t touch the wall. We didn’t touch a car, and here we are in the pits with a burned-up car, and we can’t finish the race during the playoffs because of crappy-ass parts.”

MORE: AJ Allmendinger to return to Cup Series in 2023

Unless the team appeals, Childers would miss races at Charlotte, Las Vegas, Homestead and Martinsville and would return for the season finale at Phoenix.

NASCAR president Steve Phelps told the Associated Press that officials have not targeted Harvick. “I would say that’s ridiculous,” he said. “No one has a vendetta against Kevin Harvick or Rodney or anyone at Stewart-Haas Racing.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Harvick tweeted, “Seems strange…” A Childers tweet called the penalty “Shocker…..”.

NASCAR also announced Wednesday it has suspended Young’s Motorsports crew chief Andrew Abbott indefinitely for a behavioral violation during pre-race inspection. He must undergo anger-management training to be reinstated. The team races in the Camping World Truck Series.

Drivers to watch in NASCAR Cup Series race at Charlotte Roval

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The lineup for the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs Round of 8 will be decided in Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

Entering the race, the final event in the Round of 12, Austin Cindric, William Byron, Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman are below the cutline. Bowman will miss the race — and thus the cutoff — as he continues to battle concussion-like symptoms. Noah Gragson is scheduled to drive the No. 48 Chevrolet Sunday.

Cindric is tied with Chase Briscoe for the eighth playoff spot, but Briscoe would claim it on the tiebreaker. Byron is 11 points back, and Bell is 33. Hendrick Motorsports has appealed the penalty to Byron that dropped him below the cutline. That appeal is scheduled to be heard Thursday.

MORE: Hailie Deegan to make Xfinity debut at Las Vegas

Any playoff driver who wins Sunday’s race and isn’t already qualified — Chase Elliott qualified for the Round of 8 by winning last week at Talladega Superspeedway — automatically advances to the Round of 8.

Drivers to watch Sunday at the Roval (2 p.m., ET, NBC), the final road-course race of the season:

FRONTRUNNERS

Chase Elliott

  • Points position: 1st
  • Last three races: Won at Talladega, 32nd at Texas, 2nd at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Won in 2019 and 2020

Elliott is the clear favorite to win a second championship. He won Sunday at Talladega to advance to the Round of 8 and can relax Sunday at Charlotte having punched his ticket. Relaxing isn’t likely, however, as Elliott will be among the favorites to win.

Ryan Blaney

  • Points position: 2nd
  • Last three races: 2nd at Talladega, 4th at Texas, 30th at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Won in 2018.

Blaney continues along a path that could result in him winning the Cup championship without winning a race. He came within an eyelash of winning Sunday at Talladega but fell victim to Chase Elliott’s last-lap charge. He should be a threat Sunday at the Roval, where he has four straight top 10s.

Kyle Larson

  • Points position: 6th
  • Last three races: 18th at Talladega, 9th at Texas, 5th at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Won in 2021

Larson’s last win — and his last top-four finish — came at Watkins Glen seven races ago. He is 18 points over the cutline entering Sunday’s race.

QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

Austin Cindric

  • Points position: 9th
  • Last three races: 9th at Talladega, 15th at Texas, 20th at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Sunday will mark his first Cup race. Has three top threes in four Xfinity starts.

Cindric hasn’t won since the season-opening Daytona 500 and is one of five drivers still in the playoffs who own only one victory this year. His ninth-place run at Talladega ended a streak of four straight finishes of 12th or worse.

MORE: NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

Daniel Suarez

  • Points position: 7th
  • Last three races: 8th at Talladega, 12th at Texas, 19th at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Best finish in four starts is 13th

Suarez is 12 points above the cutline entering Sunday’s race. He has never led a lap at the Roval and has never finished in the top 10.

Chase Briscoe

  • Points position: 8th
  • Last three races: 10th at Talladega, 5th at Texas, 14th at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Finished 22nd last year in his only Cup start

Briscoe is teetering on top of the cutline in search of a spot in the Round of 8. He hasn’t won since the fourth race of the year at Phoenix and had a poor performance at the Roval last year.

 

 

AJ Allmendinger to return to NASCAR Cup Series in 2023

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AJ Allmendinger is getting another shot at success in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Kaulig Racing announced Wednesday that Allmendinger, currently chasing the Xfinity Series championship, will drive full-time in Kaulig entries in the Cup Series next season.

Allmendinger raced in Cup from 2007 to 2018 but won only one time — at Watkins Glen International — across those years. He moved to the Xfinity Series part-time with Kaulig in 2019, winning on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. He won twice in 2020 and five times in 2021 and is a favorite to win the Xfinity championship this year. He has won four Xfinity races this season, including last Sunday at Talladega.

MORE: Hailie Deegan to make Xfinity debut at Las Vegas

Allmendinger, 40, will drive Kaulig’s No. 16 car in Cup next year. Justin Haley will drive the team’s No. 31.

Chandler Smith will replace Allmendinger in the Xfinity Series next year.

“It’s crazy how the last five years of my life have gone,” Allmendinger said. “More than anything, I love this organization. I know the fans get tired of me talking about all the men and women of Kaulig Racing. This is not a race team. This is a huge family.

“There will be tough times and growing pains, for sure. But I love what they’re about, and they believe in me. I’ll be OK whether it’s good or bad.”

MORE: Chase Elliott atop NASCAR Power Rankings

Team owner Matt Kaulig said Allmendinger is “one of the best in the world at every type of track. He’s done so much for Kaulig Racing and our program. He’s a gigantic part of what we’re building.”

Team officials said Allmendinger has a multi-year contract.

 

 

 

 

 

NASCAR viewer’s guide for Charlotte Roval

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Sunday provides a final chance for drivers to advance to the Round of 8 and keep their Cup championship hopes alive.

Talladega winner Chase Elliott is the only driver who has advanced to the next round. That leaves seven spots available going into Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Chase Briscoe holds the final transfer spot by a tiebreaker over Austin Cindric. At least for now.

William Byron is 11 points behind both drivers, but Hendrick Motorsports will appeal Byron’s 25-point penalty from Texas on Thursday. Should Hendrick win and Byron get those points back, he would move into a transfer spot.

There’s just part of what to watch for in Sunday’s race.

Favorites to be No. 20

This season remains tied for the most different winners in series history at 19, but there are a few candidates who could become the 20th different winner this year on Sunday.

Among the favorites to do so:

Ryan Blaney, who came close to winning last week at Talladega, won the inaugural Cup race at the Roval in 2018.

Martin Truex Jr., who has four career Cup wins on road courses, still seeks his first victory of the season.

Michael McDowell, who is coming off a third-place finish at Talladega, has had a career-high 12 top-10 finishes this season, including top 10s in each of the last four road course events this year.

Will history repeat?

Last year, the four drivers eliminated after the Roval were Kevin Harvick, Alex Bowman, Christopher Bell and William Byron.

Harvick was eliminated in the first round this year, but Byron (-11 to the cutline) and Bell (-33) are in jeopardy of being eliminated in this round again. Bowman stated Tuesday that he will miss his second consecutive race because of continued concussion symptoms. He will be among the four eliminated from title contention.

Bowman missed last weekend’s race because of concussion-like symptoms suffered at Texas. A decision on if he’ll be able to race at the Roval will come later this week.

Will chaos continue?

Consider what some of the former Roval winners have endured on their way to the checkered flag:

In 2019, Chase Elliott drove into the Turn 1 wall on a restart while the leader. He recovered to win.

In 2020, Elliott overcame a loose wheel to win for the second year in a row.

In 2021, Kyle Larson won after his team changed batteries and put the alternator belt back on.

Could a similar fate be in store for this year’s winner? Or will they have a cleaner day?

Entry lists

Thirty-nine drivers are entered including IndyCar driver Conor Daly, former Formula 1 driver Daniil Kvyat, former 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller and former 24 Hours of Daytona winner Joey Hand. JJ Yeley will drive the No. 51 for Cody Ware, who stated that he would skip this event because of his ankle injury at Texas the footwork needed on a road course.

Charlotte Roval Cup entry list

The Xfinity entry list includes 41 drivers for 38 spots. Among those joining the series regulars are IndyCar driver Marco Andretti and former F1 driver Daniil Kvyat.

Charlotte Roval Xfinity entry list

This week’s schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Saturday, Oct. 8

Forecast: Partly cloudy with a high of 66 degrees. No chance of rain during the Xfinity race.

  • 10 – 10:30 a.m. — Xfinity practice (NBC Sports App)
  • 10:30 – 11:30 a.m. — Xfinity qualifying (NBC Sports App)
  • 12 – 1 p.m. — Cup practice (NBC Sports App, USA Network coverage begins at 12:30 p.m.)
  • 1 – 2 p.m. — Cup qualifying (USA Network, NBC Sports App)
  • 3 p.m. — Xfinity race (67 laps, 155.44 miles; NBC, Peacock, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Oct. 9

Forecast: Sunny with a high of 64 degrees. No chance of rain during the race.

  • 2 p.m. — Cup race (109 laps, 252.88 miles; NBC, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)