Harvick wins Homestead to claim 1st championship
HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) -- NASCAR's new championship format gave Kevin Harvick his long sought-after first Sprint Cup title, as he capped a magical first season at Stewart-Haas Racing with a victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Harvick, who had to win last week at Phoenix just to advance into the Sunday's final four, had a decent car early but seemed to fade behind Denny Hamlin when the sun went down. Then a debris caution with 20 laps remaining forced the four championship contenders to make tough strategy decisions that ultimately decided their fate.
Joe Gibbs Racing decided not to pit Hamlin, which moved him to second on the restart. Richard Childress Racing gave Ryan Newman four tires, while Harvick crew chief Rodney Childers made a risky call for four tires.
Team Penske had also planned to give Joey Logano four tires, but a problem with the jack destroyed Logano's chances and he plummeted from sixth to 21st, ending his championship bid.
Harvick restarted 12th with 15 laps to go and not much time to pick his way through traffic.
But there's a reason he's been nicknamed "The Closer" the last few years. Harvick, aided by a series of cautions, nailed every restart to drive his way through the field.
Harvick gained multiple positions on every restart and got by Hamlin for the lead with seven to go. But one more caution forced him to defend the looming victory, and he held off Newman's charge then pulled away for the title.
Newman, winless on the season, finished second. Hamlin faded to seventh and Logano was a distant 16th.
Harvick's wife, DeLana, sobbed on the pit stand and buried her head in her hands when Harvick crossed the finish line. She hugged crew chief Rodney Childers, who dabbed his eyes, before she made it down to the victory celebration. She met team owner Tony Stewart, who had retired from the race earlier with a car problem and was in street clothes, for an embrace and kiss before holding her son for the victory celebration.
Harvick hugged Childers and showered his jubilant crew with Budweiser, the beer company that followed him this year from Richard Childress Racing to Stewart-Haas. Harvick spoke with a catch in his voice, trying to compose himself when it was his turn to hold 2-year-old Keelan.
"I'm glad you're awake," Harvick told him. "Are you happy you're awake? Can you say, `I believe daddy won? Say it. Really loud.'"
Keelan had no comment.
Stewart threw his arms around Harvick and the close friends and teammates held each other tight for several moments. It was Stewart who in 2012 convinced Harvick that if he left RCR when his contract expired at the end of 2013, he could help Harvick win his first title.
Stewart, co-owner Gene Haas, and Childers, who left Michael Waltrip Racing for the chance to build Harvick's team, delivered.
"They gave us all the resources we needed," Harvick said. "We never talked about money, we talked about building a team."