Harvick Joins Select Group
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on April 13, 2014 | 2:53 P.M. EST
Kevin Harvick's picture soon will join those of other Darlington winners on the base of the Southern 500 trophy. (Photo: Dustin Long)
DARLINGTON, S.C. - There is no such title and even some may disagree on the tracks included, but Kevin Harvick’s victory in the Bojangles’ Southern 500 completes a NASCAR Grand Slam.
Saturday night’s win gives Harvick at least one career Sprint Cup victory in the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600, Brickyard 400 and Southern 500. Only three other drivers - Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson - have accomplished the feat in the 20 years the Brickyard 400 has been held.
“This is what I used to do for a hobby,’’ Harvick said. “We're fortunate to be able to do this for a living, but to be able to have celebrated a lot of the race wins, whether it be Indy or Daytona or Charlotte or the All‑Star Race or the Southern 500 now is something that some people don't get to experience at all in their careers. To celebrate them all is something that's pretty phenomenal.’’
Just like Harvick’s race. He led 238 of the 374 laps but still needed to pass Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the next-to-last lap to become the season’s first repeat winner.
Harvick’s 25th career Cup victory also puts him in another special group. He becomes only the 35th driver to win a Southern 500. Ten former winners are in the NASCAR Hall of Fame with four others among the nominees for the next class.
Harvick couldn’t have reached Saturday’s accomplishment had his team succumbed to the run of misfortune they’ve had much of the season.
Fast at nearly every track, Harvick only had one win entering this weekend. Crew chief Rodney Childers said he thought his team could have had as many as four wins in the first seven races. Instead, the team had four finishes of 35th or worse after tire issues at Auto Club Speedway, a broken left hub at Las Vegas, a busted oil line that caused Harvick to crash at Bristol and a blown engine at Texas.
The implosion many predicted among Stewart-Haas Racing’s drivers could have happened within Harvick’s team.
“I guess the classic example in today's day and age would be the Indiana Pacers,’’ Harvick said, alluding to the NBA team that has gone through late-season struggles that has led to issues in the locker room. “You've seen them go through a slump, and they are imploding within as a team, and as players they're just absolutely destroying each other.
“I think when you look at this team, you look at all the things that have happened, and the same thing could have happened, but everybody has patted each other on the back and said, ‘Look at the speed of our race cars and look at the things that we've been able to accomplish,’ and everybody just kept supporting each other.
“Everybody is frustrated and everybody wanted to finish the deal on weekends where we felt like we could do exactly what we did here and did at Phoenix, but sometimes it just doesn't go your way, and you have to be able to put that behind you whether you win or lose.’’
It’s not been easy. Crew chief Rodney Childers said it took him until the Wednesday after the Bristol race to get over that - “which is unacceptable,’’ he said. Childers noted that it’s not been the same problem that has plagued his team. Naturally, Harvick’s run at Darlington featured some drama.
Just past halfway, Childers told Harvick on the radio that they had fueling problems on a stop and didn’t fill the car. Childers said the team’s fueler did not engage the can properly to the car.
“Once the can doesn't plug in right the first time, it pretty much becomes a disaster, and panic mode sets in,’’ Childers said. “It's one of those deals where we're a young team, but we made a mistake, and we switched gasmen as soon as it happened. I was like, we're not giving this away.’’
Harvick had only about 20 more laps of fuel while the rest of the field could go significantly longer. Without a caution, Harvick would have to pit under green and lose a lap.
This time, luck was with Harvick when a caution flag waved after Paul Menard hit the wall. The incident came less than 10 laps before Harvick would have had to pit.
His biggest challenge after that came when a caution just before the scheduled finish of the race sent the field down pit road for new tires.
The crews for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson each changed only two tires, putting their drivers first and second, while Harvick’s team changed four and he restarted third. Earnhardt led when the race resumed but an accident slowed the field. Harvick passed Johnson for second before the caution waved, putting him on the front row for the final restart.
From there, Earnhardt couldn’t hold off Harvick with his fresher tires.
“I think that Rodney and Kevin both, they've really been on it to start the season,’’ Johnson said. “I think we all have been chasing them, honestly.’’
They were Saturday and couldn’t keep Harvick from joining a select group