Harvick and Childress get one more
They presumably squeezed in their last good tiff two weeks ago. On Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway they went to Victory Lane at least one more time, and the emotion of it was clearly not lost on two blunt-spoken men who were crucial in pivotal moments in each other's lives. And in more ways than they may have realized.
"There's no better way to go out than to do what we've done this year," Harvick said.
Harvick passed Carl Edwards for the lead as Edwards expended his fuel with two laps to go, with Harvick winning for the fourth time this season in his next-to-last race for Richard Childress Racing. Harvick, who replaced the late Dale Earnhardt in a re-numbered No. 29 Chevrolet in 2001, will leave RCR after the season for Stewart-Haas Racing. He has accumulated 23 Sprint Cup wins, two Nationwide Series titles and multitudes of memories in that span.
"We committed to each other early in [this] year that we'd give 100 percent, and we have, and Kevin has," Childress said. "We've had a great relationship, and when this race is over, I haven't got a driver out there that's driven for me or crew chief or anyone I can't walk up and talk to, and that's the way we want this to be.
"We're like family. You spend a lot of time with each other at the track, so you're going to have your spats and stuff, and you just got to make it work."
Harvick and Childress seemed bound to end their relationship in enmity just two weeks ago when Harvick asserted in a live post-race television interview that Childress' grandsons had earned their Camping World Truck Series and Nationwide Series rides with RCR through nepotism. Instead, the chapter became another one of their many "life lessons together," Harvick said.
"We've had a lot of life lessons together, and it started in 1999," said Harvick, whose win was the 200th all-time for RCR. "So we've had life lessons, and you try to become a better person, and I think as I've been at RCR, you learn from situations, whether it be just starting my job or at Martinsville or Dale's situation in 2001.
"You want to make your race team better, but in the end you want to be a better person, and you try to take those situations and apply them to what you're doing and make yourself better. I think we've been through a lot of the situations. He's taught me a lot about being a dad."
Childress chose Harvick to replace Earnhardt, who won six titles with RCR, just days after Earnhardt was killed on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. Childress inserted a 25-year-old firebrand undertaking just his second full Nationwide season into a pressurized situation for which no driver could be psychologically prepared. The driver, the owner and the team survived. They fought. They disagreed. But their relationship benefited each other.
"I think he'd probably sit here and tell you that we've been good for each other because we challenge each other," Harvick said. "I obviously handle a lot of situations wrong, but it pushes a lot of buttons to try to make things better."
Harvick was in contention throughout on Sunday, leading three times for a race-high 70 laps, but a strong finish seemed jeopardized when he ran out of fuel before making a scheduled green-flag pit stop on Lap 267 of 312.
Harvick was leading when he had to make the slow coast around to pit road, but was ahead by enough of a margin previously -- and the his car was strong enough -- that he managed to cycle back into the top five within 10 laps when the rest of the lead cars made their final stops.
Harvick settled in behind Edwards with 18 laps remaining and appeared resigned to a runner-up finish, especially when Edwards' crew chief Jimmy Fennig informed his driver he was carrying one extra lap of fuel than needed to cover the 312 miles.
But Edwards began to slow markedly coming off Turn 4 on Lap 311, and Harvick breezed past. Harvick beat Kasey Kahne by 1.796 seconds and pulled win 34 points of points leader Jimmie Johnson, who finished in third place, in driver's points. He's just six points behind Matt Kenseth for second.
"I did not think we were that close [on fuel]," Edwards said. "I saved just a little bit, but Kevin was catching me just a little bit too much and I thought I better just keep going. In hindsight, I definitely should have tried to save more, but we thought we were a lap to the good."
Johnson industriously handled an adventurous afternoon to expand his points lead from 7 to 26 points over Kenseth, who finished 23rd.
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Harvick has made a habit of salving tumult between he and Childress with victory. In 2010, he entered the spring race at Talladega Superspeedway refuting a published report that his relationship with the team had corroded to such an extent that he would soon leave for another team. He won the race. He re-signed.
Harvick came to Phoenix last fall only to have news leak that he would leave in 2014 for Stewart-Haas. He won the race two days later.
Two weeks ago, Harvick referred to Childress' grandsons, Ty and Austin Dillon, as "spoiled rich kids" after being wrecked by Ty in a Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville, adding that was part of the reason he was leaving the team. Childress, Ty, and Austin Dillon, the 2011 Truck series champion currently leading the Nationwide Series, rebuked Harvick, who eventually apologized.
"Obviously, we went to Martinsville, and I said things that I shouldn't have said and put everybody in a position that was not good," Harvick said. "But I think we had conversations about things after that that probably made us closer as people, and I think as we move forward will probably make us closer as friends.
"I think that situation really put it into perspective, just made you think about everything that we've been able to accomplish and the things that we've been through together. It's more of a family conversation than it probably was a racing conversation."
The family has one more week together.