Phoenix win emotional for Harvick’s short-handed team

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The car Kevin Harvick won with Sunday is a special one for his Stewart-Haas Racing team, or at least crew chief Rodney Childers.

The winning car, aka Chassis No. 841, was the last car that was worked on by front suspension mechanic Les Huntley before being hospitalized after suffering a stroke on New Year’s Day that left him with paralysis on his left side.

“The last suspension, spindles and hub and everything he had put together before his stroke,” Childers told “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Tuesday.

Huntley’s absence wasn’t the only one that made the No. 4 team’s win over Carl Edwards by one-hundredth of a second an emotional one.

“You know we’ve had a lot of sick people on our race team,” Childers said. “We had our shock guy (Michael McCarville) get airlifted off the top of a mountain last week.”

Team members were enjoying a day of bonding and snowmobiling in Utah last Wednesday when McCarville, a shock specialist, was involved in an accident that put him in the hospital with a collapsed lung and seven broken ribs.

That was after Childers himself had been sick following the Atlanta race where the No. 4 team had been without new race engineer Dax Gerringer, who joined the team from Michael Waltrip Racing. Gerringer caught the stomach flu right before the series’ first race with the new low-downforce package.

“I had to handle all the simulations and everything for pretty much the whole weekend and all day Saturday and to go through your first downforce race without your race engineer sitting on the pit box with you, it’s been tough,” Childers said.

At Atlanta, Harvick led a race-high 131 laps before strategy gave Jimmie Johnson the win. The next week at Las Vegas, it was Harvick’s turn to feel ill as the No. 4 led just one lap and finished seventh.

“Last week I was useless, just didn’t really even want to make a lap in the car, let alone race the car,” Harvick said Sunday.

The inability to secure a win, due to illness or not, had increased the pressure on Childers through the season’s first three races.

“It’s just one of those things where I felt like the last few weeks I hadn’t done anything right,” said the crew chief, who is in his third season with Harvick.

“Honestly, it had been a long couple of weeks with being away from home,” Childers said. “It’s tough. You just got to have each other’s back all the time.”

That sense of loyalty had Childers and his team at the end of January helping Huntley’s family move into a new home.

After a rough opening to this season, Harvick’s team had each other’s backs as it earned its first win since Dover International Speedway last October, or a stretch of 10 races. It was Childers’ ninth win with Harvick since 2014.

“Just feel fortunate to be in that situation,” Childers said. “(To) be with a good group of guys, have a good race team and to get that victory.”