Kevin Harvick victorious at Phoenix; closes current Sprint Cup chapter on positive note
By Rick Minter
With Jimmie Johnson leaving Phoenix International Raceway with a 28-point lead over Matt Kenseth and needing to finish just 23rd in this week’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway to secure his sixth Sprint Cup title, the post-race interviews at Phoenix were more like reflections on the season than buildup to the finale.
Kenseth, who entered Phoenix just seven points out of the lead, struggled to a 23rd-place finish, so his only hopes for winning the title depend on a similar — and unlikely — collapse by Johnson at Homestead.
Kenseth’s post-race comments came across like a concession speech, one in which he had nothing but praise for his No. 20 Toyota team, even though he’d just climbed from a car his crew was never able to get up to speed.
“I’m obviously disappointed,” he said. “On the other hand, I couldn’t be happier and more proud of my team and, man … this has been the best year of my racing career, really.
“It’s been an awesome season. You’re going to have days like this and of course we wanted to finish off here the last couple weeks. You can’t really just grab one race.
“Some days are going to be great days, fortunately, for us, and others aren’t going to be as great.”
His crew chief, Jason Ratcliff, shouldered the blame for the car’s lack of speed, and for confusion on a pit stop that cost them positions on the track.
“Looking back on it now, the car just wasn’t responding the way that our typical Joe Gibbs Racing cars do,” he said. “They’re very responsive when you make changes to them.
“All in all, I’m not so sure that our teammates didn’t fight something similar. So, I can’t say it’s a bad car. We just didn’t push the right button all weekend.”
Over in the winner’s interview, Kevin Harvick and his car owner, Richard Childress — who will be separating after next weekend — seemed very happy to be able to close the current chapters of their lives on a positive note. That’s especially important to them after a dust-up at Martinsville in which Harvick was critical of Childress’ grandson Ty Dillon after the two crashed in the Camping World Truck Series race.
Harvick even got emotional talking about his relationship with Childress, the only Cup owner he’s had for his entire career.
“There’s no better way to go out than to do what we’ve done this year,” said Harvick, who took the lead coming to the white flag as race leader Carl Edwards ran out of fuel. “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, 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 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.”
Harvick said he and Childress have learned lots of life lessons together, including during the difficult times in 2001 when Dale Earnhardt was killed and Harvick was called on to take over his car.
“You always try to take those situations, and 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,” he said. “I think we’ve been through a lot of the situations. He’s taught me a lot about being a dad.”
Childress said he’s proud of what he and Harvick have done, on and off the track.
“This is just another chapter in life that we’re all living,” he said. “You’ve got to be tough to hang in there and make it, and we did a lot together. We’ve won a lot. We’ve been through some tough times.”