CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Rodney Childers wrestled for months with the decision to join Kevin Harvick at Stewart-Haas Racing. Just when he thought he’d made up his mind to leave Michael Waltrip Racing, he and Brian Vickers won a race together at New Hampshire.
Weeks went by after that victory last July when Childers thought his heart was truly in remaining with Michael Waltrip Racing. He woke up one day and his mind was made up.
“My alarm went off and it hit me, it was like, ‘I need to go to Stewart-Haas and crew chief Kevin Harvick,’” Childers told The Associated Press.
So much for peace of mind: Michael Waltrip Racing reacted by essentially benching him for the rest of the season. He couldn’t work for almost six weeks. He pressure washed his house, tweeted with fans during races and had weekends off for the first time in his adult life.
Finally, in late October, Childers was given his release and he was free to join Stewart-Haas.
“When I started, it was a bit overwhelming, the way it’s run is different because the crew chiefs have a lot more control,” he said. “I got there and really wasn’t happy with the way the cars were built, the equipment needed to be a lot nicer. I started to think
after six or seven days, ‘Man, this is going to take a long time to fix.’ ”
Childers grew so discouraged he thought it would be June or July before Harvick would win his first race.
Six weeks into the process, something suddenly changed.
“I left work one night and looked around and thought ‘Crap, we can win one of the first four races and we can contend just like anyone else can,’ ” Childers said. “It had all come together so quickly, and from that moment on, our whole demeanor has been a lot different – it’s been about winning.”
That was evident all last weekend at Phoenix International Raceway, where Harvick showed early on that his No. 4 Chevrolet was going to be a contender. Harvick led 224 of the 312 laps Sunday en route to a win in just his second race with Stewart-Haas.
It was the lone bright spot in a second consecutive crummy weekend for Stewart-Haas. After a disastrous Speedweeks at Daytona that was plagued with engine issues and four wrecked race cars, Phoenix wasn’t much better for the organization. Kurt Busch had another engine failure, Danica Patrick was wrecked out for the second consecutive week and Tony Stewart was 16th.
Perhaps because of the head-start Childers had on 2014 and Harvick’s arrival, the No. 4 team doesn’t have the same ailments as the other three SHR cars. Harvick finished second in his Daytona qualifying race, and was in the mix at the Daytona 500 until he was part of the last-lap crash.
Childers points to a December test at Charlotte as knowing he made the right decision to move and that he and Harvick can have a special season.
“My personal validation was not winning at Phoenix but leaving that Charlotte test,” he said. “We knew that car wasn’t very nice and we could build cars way better than that. But to still be that fast in a car we felt could be a lot better – it was like, ‘This is really going to work out.’”
Will it work out Sunday in Las Vegas, on the first 1.5-mile track of the season?
“Our Las Vegas car is even better than our Phoenix car,” Childers said.