|RCR's Gil Martin|
Kevin Harvick is running up front again, just in time for the Chase.
Coincidence? It appears not.
For the first time in weeks, Harvick was a factor to win Sunday night's Advocare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, leading for much of the race before fading slightly in the final laps en route to a fifth-place finish. It was Harvick’s best showing since a runner-up finish at Dover on June 3, in only his second start since Martin was lured back to the crew chief’s position, replacing the departed Shane Wilson.
The move was ironic in the extreme. After all, it was Wilson who replaced Martin after the veteran pit boss was unceremoniously pink-slipped near the end of last season, despite four wins and a second consecutive third-place finish in the championship standings. By all accounts, Harvick was impetus behind the change, feeling Martin incapable of guiding his team to the title.
A disastrous 2012 season ensued, with Harvick and Wilson failing to mesh in the midst of an RCR competitive meltdown that saw the three-car Childress stable shut out of Victory Lane. Harvick lashed out repeatedly over the team’s in-car radio, criticizing Wilson’s chassis set-ups and race strategy, and as the team clung desperately to the Top-10 in championship points, it became apparent that yet another change was in the offing.
“I was glad it ended,” said Wilson to The Sporting News following his ouster. “I don’t mean it in a smart-ass way, but I was relieved to get it over with and move on. (The situation with Harvick) wasn’t very good, and when it gets like that, you’re kind of relieved when it finally happens. You move on and do the next thing.”
Few, however, expected Martin to be Harvick’s “next thing.”
|Harvick was fifth at Atlanta|
After being on the receiving end of the driver’s storied temper in the past, Martin could easily have remained on the sidelines, enjoying the show as Harvick hung himself with his own noose. As the first crew chief to win in all three of NASCAR’s national divisions, Martin hardly needs a resume boost, nor an opportunity to be made the scapegoat for a 2012 championship gone wrong.
In the end, however, Martin agreed to return and help Richard Childress Racing rekindle its competitive spark.
Personalities aside, past history be damned. It was -- quite simply -- the right thing to do.
Even Harvick seemed surprised by Martin’s willingness to return to his former post. “I have to thank Gil for coming back,” he said. “With everything we put him through, it wasn't a great situation.”
Stopping short of shouldering the blame for Martin’s 2011 dismissal, Harvick said, “It took a lot of conversations and things to convince him to come back.
"Obviously, I learned a big lesson. It takes a big man to do what he did."
"We're just trying to turn things around and get in the Chase,” explained Martin. “Then, we need to be competitive in the Chase. It's not a question of knowing each other's history. We've obviously worked together before.”
It’s been exactly a year since Harvick last visited Victory Lane at Richmond International Raceway in September of 2011. And while there’s still plenty of work to do, it appears the Budweiser Chevy team may be a player for the championship, after all.
You can thank Gil Martin for that.