Dramatic finish saves face for NASCAR Ceo Brian France
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -– With Ryan Newman, winless the entire 2014 racing season on NASCAR's senior circuit, one of the other three drivers competing in today's final race of the season at Miami-Homstead the final race -- not Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Jeff Gordon or Jimmy Johnson -- but Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin or Joey Lagano would have had to win it.
As expected, the alpha dog was Harvick, the grizzled veteran who inherited the ride of Dale Earnhardt killed in the 2001 season-opening Daytona 500 -- sans the No. 3 Chevrolet.
With eight laps to go as the warn sunny Sunday gave way to a sprint to the checkered flag under the lights, Harvick made his move to the front and took the checkered flag. In the process, Harvick, 38, and in the process staked his claim to his first NASCAR cup championship in a call-up from the Nationwide junior circuit, though he had said goodbye to Earnhardt protege Richard Childress last season in favor of Haas-Stewart Racing.
As in beleaguered Tony Stewart in what was truly an ugly 2014 season. What started out so promisingly for a re-worked "Chase" format by NASCAR CEO unveiled in January with the dominating season opening Daytona 500 victory for Dale Earnhardt, Jr, 10 years removed from his first Daytona 500 victory.
Good fortunes continued held up for a good chunk of the racing season with Junior winning there more times, Gordon taking five checkered flags and defending champion Jimmie Johnson four more. But after some fender rubbing that resulted in a brawl between Gordon and the ever-aggressive Brad Kezelowski late in the season, the only A-lister left among the four finalists left in the Chase was Harvick.
To win the title, Harvick needed to finish ahead of his fellow "Championship 4" – and a win was the only way that would’ve happened: Newman finished second, Hamlin found up seventh and Logano a distant 16th in the 43-car field. 16th.
After finishing a career-best third in the cup standings in three of the last four seasons, Harvick, the 14-year series mainstay finally broke through for the premier series title in his first season with Stewart-Haas Racing.
A veteran of all three of NASCAR’s national series, Harvick joins Bobby Labonte and Keselowski as just the third driver to win both the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series championships. The No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet driver showed off his speed throughout 2014, pacing the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in laps led and poles.
Following a two-win regular season, Harvick entered the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup as its No. 6 seed. He adeptly navigated his way through the Chase’s Challenger and Contender Rounds highlighted by his victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
But Harvick would but would still be searching for a championship without his clutch performance in the so-calle "'eliminator round cutoff race" at Phoenix International Raceway.
Entering the showdown at the one-mile tri-oval last among Chase qualifiers, Harvick needed a win at Phoenix to advance to the Championship 4. The 38-year-old responded to the pressure by leading 264 of 312 laps and beat four-time series champion Jeff Gordon on his way to Victory Lane.
The Bakersfield, Calif., native carried his momentum to Homestead, becoming the first title-winner under NASCAR’s new playoff format, aka the Chase, where in the latter part of the season, drivers either have to win or remain consistently near the top like Newman.
The problem with the re-worked Chase, first instituted by France in 2004, is that it devalued earlier wins and bigonrs at that like Daytona, Martinsville and Talladega.
Harvick’s championship is the second for Stewart-Haas Racing. The racing outfit jointly owned by three-time premier series champion Tony Stewart and Gene Haas won its first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title behind with Stewart behind the wheel in 2011.
Did You Know?
Kevin Harvick wasn't the only first-time series champ with the big win at Miami-Homrestead. Team crew chief Rodney Childers, also in his first season with Stewart-Haas Racing, won his first series crown as well.
Harvick, is the 30th champion in the 66-year history of the senior NASCAR cup series.