Kevin Harvick’s major moves pay off with title shot

Kevin Harvick has four victories this season, including last Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway.

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — His car owner, crew chief and wife were choked up after the win that secured his entry into the championship round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Kevin Harvick’s emotions were just as strong after Sunday’s victory at Phoenix International Raceway even if they didn’t involve tears.

Virtually every major move the driver has made over the past two seasons was predicated partly on the concept that it would carry him into Sunday’s Ford Ecoboost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in position to win his first Sprint Cup championship.

“I’m more proud than anything,” he said. “In 2012, we made some pretty big decisions to race in 2014. You just never know how those things will pan out. I’m as proud of the situation and the life decisions that (wife) DeLana and I made to get to this point and see them be as successful as they have been. It’s been pretty rewarding.”.

While Harvick, 38, has enjoyed the best season of his career (his series-high 2,083 laps led is more than the total of the previous seven seasons), his off-track life also has benefited from the circumstances surrounding his move to Stewart-Haas Racing.

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In preparation for a professional recalibration after spending the past 13 Cup seasons at Richard Childress Racing, Harvick expanded his family (son Keelan turned 2 in July and is a constant presence in his parents’ social media feeds) and shut down his NASCAR teams (turning Kevin Harvick Inc. Into an athlete and entertainer management company). The transition will continue in the offseason when the Harvicks relocate to a new house in Charlotte from Oak Ridge (about 90 minutes northeast).

“DeLana and I have put a lot of things in order,” he said. “Just simplifying life. It’s just made things a lot more fun and a lot easier to be happy about it. I’m as happy as I’ve ever been. When you know you’re going to the track every week and you can win and aren’t just hoping for a top five, it’s just been a lot of fun.”.

Car owner and teammate Tony Stewart said he has witnessed a change in his longtime friend, too.

“I’ve seen a fire and determination in Kevin this week that I haven’t seen all year, and I’ve never seen somebody that has been so excited at an opportunity to be really nervous,” Stewart said. “He’s been more excited than nervous.

“But to be a part of this opportunity with him is what I’m most proud of. No matter what happens on Sunday, just the work and the journey to get to this point is what really I’m proud of. But trust me, I’ll be one of the first ones (celebrating) if we are able to accomplish our goal on Sunday. It would be great to be a part of it with him as a friend.”.

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Crew chief Rodney Childers, who hardly knew Harvick before being hired to work with him 15 months ago, said he was surprised to find a softer side that belies Harvick’s fiery outbursts behind the wheel of the No. 4 Chevrolet.

“It’s nothing that I ever read (about) in the media,” Childers said. “It’s a guy that cares 100% about his race team, cares about me, cares about every single person on that team and is as much of a family person as I’ve ever been around.

“He’s one of the best guys I’ve ever been around. It’s a lot different than what everybody thinks for sure.”.

Also different is Harvick’s shot at the championship. Unlike when he entered Homestead with a title chance in 2010 or ’13, Harvick doesn’t need to rely on others’ misfortune. If he finishes ahead of Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano, he will take the crown that validates two years of transformation.

“I’ve been fortunate to win a lot of races, (and) this is as good a position as ever,” he said. “You know you have the cars capable of winning, and you’re not behind (in points). We want to add this last trophy to round out the case. This is why I came to SHR.”.

Follow Ryan on Twitter @nateryan.

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