The Stewart-Haas Racing driver locked up the title by winning both the final race of the year and the championship.
Homestead, Fla. – With the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship on the line, Kevin Harvick came from behind to not only win the title but the Ford EcoBoost 400 as well. When it counted, Harvick rallied and displayed championship form by finishing ahead of his three challengers for the coveted crown.
Watched by a national television audience and a sold-out grandstand at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, fans witnessed an intensely competitive race from the outset with all four Chase contenders running in the front six much of the way.
The drama intensified during the final two dozen laps when multiple caution flags triggered varying team strategies, ranging from no tires to four tires along with a botched pit stop by Joey Logano’s team.
It came down to a pit call and I thought man, we are in big trouble here.
Running on two new tires, Ryan Newman gave it his all but ended up second .500 seconds back.
Chase contender Denny Hamlin finished seventh after his team elected not to change tires near the end and Logano ended up 22nd after his car fell off a jack during a late-race stop.
Said the newly crowned champion, "I don’t know yet how it feels to be the champion. You go back in time and think about everything that has led to this point and (realize) this is what we race for. You show up to race for the Sprint Cup trophy and to be able to come here in our first year with the team, you get to be a part of something you don’t often experience. In the end, it is all about the people. I get to drive the car, but these guys make bold decisions, and I feel great about being part of it.”
About the race, he stated, “It came down to a pit call and I thought man, we are in big trouble here. It didn’t pan out real well there to be honest, but it was the call that won us the race. We were able to go so hard on the restarts. Rodney Childers (crew chief) isn’t scared to make a call. He does what is right, and right or wrong we had to believe in what we did and kept going with it. I have to thank everyone at Stewart-Haas Racing team. What a year!”
Regarding the final restart, the champion stated, “I knew I needed to get (by) a bunch of them. I was fortunate to start on the outside. The seas kind of parted there as I came off of Turn 2 and was about to get four or five of them; I don’t really know but it was time to go for broke at that particular point. When the next caution came out, we were fortunate enough again to line up on the outside. That was pretty much what we needed - to get the run on the outside down the backstretch. I can’t say thank you enough to Stewart-Haas Racing team, Budweiser, Outback, Chevrolet and all these fans for everything they did.”
Discussing the days leading into the final race, he commented, “The week ate me up. If it wasn’t for Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart, I would have been in bad trouble this week. Those guys really helped me get through the week. Today was fine. I was a little anxious both days of practice, overdriving the car and not doing things I needed to do. After every practice, Jimmie was in there, and in our team debriefs Tony (Stewart) was constantly telling me just to go race and that it’s just another race. Today it was. It all worked out. I’m just really proud of everybody.
“I think this Chase is about the best thing that has happened to this sport over the last decade. This is probably going to shorten the drivers’ careers because it’s been so stressful.”
The game changer for us on the one caution when (Jeff) Gordon pitted and Denny (Hamlin) was leading, but we were in a better situation than they were.
Said team co-owner Stewart, “I think from December last year when the team went for their first test, I thought they were going to be a force to be reckoned with. It just shows how tough this Chase was this year to get to this last day and then to watch this race and have all four contenders be up front at the end there. It shows how hard it is to win a Sprint Cup Series championship."
Driving the meticulously prepared Budweiser Chevrolet, Harvick led four times, including the last eight circuits, for a total of 54 laps. And he won for the fifth time in 2014 and the 28th time in his Sprint Cup career.
Including this championship, Harvick has eight driving titles in 33 years of racing.
Newman’s team gambled by changing only two tires on the last stop and while it gave him track position, he didn’t have enough to contend in the waning laps.
“The game changer for us on the one caution when (Jeff) Gordon pitted and Denny (Hamlin) was leading, but we were in a better situation than they were.” Newman said. “And on that final restart, I got down underneath Harvick, but he took some of the air away from me. I could have kept it wide open and washed up into him, but it wasn’t the right move. If we were close enough to him on the last lap, it might have been a different game but it wasn’t. It is disappointing, but there’s no point in being a sore loser.”
For the race finish, Harvick and Newman led Brad Keselowski, Paul Menard, Jamie McMurray, Matt Kenseth, Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon.
Gordon dominated much of the race, leading 161laps, only to give up second place and a shot at victory when he pitted for tires with 11 laps to go.
Said Hamlin about the outcome, “We had a championship-type car and a championship-type effort, but the breaks didn’t go our way. I thought our car came to us when it went dark, but we struggled with restart speed. Darien (Grubb) tried to make a call (no tires) to get us back up there, but we were sitting ducks when the cautions kept coming. Our effort was 100 per cent, but the breaks didn’t quite work out for us.”
Hamlin led five times for 50 laps.
Logano, too, was disappointed with the outcome and the car falling off the jack during a pit stop. “Obviously when you’re pushing hard to try to make 11-second pit stops, mistakes happen. We can’t have that happen,” he said. “I’m not putting our pit crew down over one thing, it was just bad timing. (After that) I didn’t have good emotions in the car. When you are back in 24th or 25th, you can’t make that up with 12 to go.”
The Connecticut native did not lead a lap, although he was in top-five often.
Even though Johnson finished in top-10, his team had a run-in with a pit official and Chad Knaus and others were summoned to a meeting with Robin Pemberton after the race. The issue had to do with use of a wheel spacer, which may have been allowed if they had sought permission. In the end, the matter became a non-issue.
Thirteen caution flags slowed the race for 52 laps, including six in final 59 laps.