By John Marshall
The Associated Press
AVONDALE, Ariz. — It would have been easy for Kevin Harvick to coast through his final season at Richard Childress Racing, do what was expected of him and little else before heading off to Stewart-Haas Racing.
Instead, he put the pedal down and raced off to what could be his best season in Sprint Cup, one that has a chance of ending with his first series championship.
Making the most of his penultimate race with RCR, Harvick won at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday and gave himself an outside shot at catching Jimmie Johnson in the Chase for the championship.
“There’s no better way to go out than to do what we’ve done this year,” Harvick said.
Word leaked at Phoenix last year that Harvick was leaving RCR for Stewart-Haas and he shook off the distraction to win the race.
Instead of a lame-duck final season, Harvick got himself in the Chase for the fourth straight season. The victory at Phoenix, which came after Carl Edwards ran out of gas at the white flag, was his fourth of the season and fourth at PIR, matching Johnson for most at the track.
That leaves Harvick third in the standings, 34 points behind Johnson heading into the season finale at Homestead next weekend. Harvick would need a lot of help from Johnson and second-place Matt Kenseth to take the title, but it has been a successful final season with RCR no matter how it turns out.
“We committed to each other early in the year that we’d give 100 percent and we have, and Kevin has,” owner Richard Childress said. “Just like we talked, 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.”
It wasn’t always this lovey-dovey.
The relationship between Harvick and Childress has been contentious at times, perhaps no more so than last month when Harvick lashed out at his grandsons, Ty and Austin Dillon, following a Truck Series race.
Harvick and Ty tangled on the track a few times during the race and a member of Dillon’s crew threw a rubber mallet at Harvick’s truck after he blocked their stall. Harvick called the Dillons spoiled punks and later apologized after Childress fiercely defended his grandsons.
Harvick and Childress patched up their relationship enough that Harvick became emotional when asked about what Childress has meant to him as he heads into his final race with the team.
“We’ve had a lot of life lessons together and it started in 1999,” Harvick said. “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.”
Harvick and Childress have learned a lot from each other over the years.
Harvick started with RCR on the Nationwide Series in 1999 and had the daunting task of filling the void left after Dale Earnhardt was killed at the 2001 Daytona 500.
Harvick won twice during his first Sprint Cup season in 2001 and was a consistent winner, winning 24 times with RCR. He won the 2007 Daytona 500 and qualified for the Chase seven times in the 10 years since it debuted in 2004, finishing fifth or better five times.
It’s been a good run, one he and Childress can appreciate as it nears an end.
“I’m sure y’all have heard that old song, ‘Don’t blink, 100 years goes by fast,’ and this is just another chapter in life that we’re all living,” Childress said. “You’ve got to be tough to hang in there and make it, and we’ve did a lot together. We’ve won a lot. We’ve been through some tough times. But at the end of the day, 100 years go by awful fast.”
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