Stewart Haas Racing’s No. 4 Chevrolet team had a rough night Sunday at Darlington (SC) Raceway.
Driver Kevin Harvick claimed a second-place finish behind winner Martin Truex, Jr. in the Bojangles Southern 500, but only after overcoming the loss of 17 positions on pit road; 12 of them on a single stop when an air gun malfunctioned.
Harvick minced no words in expressing his unhappiness after the race, calling out his over-the-wall crew for what he claimed was a season of shoddy service.
“We had a great car," fumed Harvick in a terse, post-race media session. "The guys in the garage and at the shop continue to do a great job, (but) we continue to give it away on pit road. I'm over being a cheerleader. Those guys get paid a lot of money to perform on pit road and cheerleading hasn't been working. You've got to get after it on pit road and do your job.
"It's been this way for a few years and they've moved some things around, but it just seems like it's just week after week after week,” he explained. “(We) have a couple of good weeks here and there and every once in a while, (we) put together a day. But they just can't put together a whole race on pit road right now.
"We have championship cars and we're just mediocre on pit road.”
Harvick’s comments raised the ire of some NASCAR fans, and also produced a pair of personnel changes for Saturday night’s at Richmond International Raceway. Former Danica Patrick crewman Eric Maycroft will replace front tire changer Tim Sheets on the No. 4 squad, with Matt Holzbaur replacing front tire carrier Todd Drakulich. Sheets and Drakulich will move to Patrick’s No. 10 team.
|Harvick's pit crew struggled|
Harvick never been known to pull his punches, on or off the race track. Since being named to replace the late Dale Earnhardt, Sr. at Richard Childress Racing in 2001, the California native has given his all behind the wheel, while demanding the same effort from his teammates.
He left RCR in 2013 after not receiving what he believed to be championship-caliber equipment, then backed up his decision by claiming the Sprint Cup Series championship in his first season with Stewart Haas Racing.
Sunday night, Harvick used his Bully Pulpit as a former series champion to expose – and ultimately solve – issues that threatened to cost his team a shot at a second Sprint Cup Series title. While his delivery may have left some observers cold, his point was spot-on.
“Kevin didn’t say anything that wasn’t true,” said SHR pit crew coach Joe Piette, Jr., the following day. “He didn’t say anything we haven’t already said to ourselves.”
Crew chief Rodney Childress concurred, saying, "We've got to do a better job from week to week on pit road."
This isn’t Youth Tee Ball, where players get as many cuts as they need to bloop a base hit over the infield. This is professional sports – stock car racing at its highest level – where the difference between winning and losing is often measured in thousandths of a second. Over-the-wall crewmen for top NASCAR Sprint Cup teams command six-figure salaries, and for that kind of pay, they are expected to perform, every single time.
Not sometimes. Not most of the time.
Every. Single. Time.
|Harvick: "I'm over being a cheerleader."|
Passing the finest stock car racers on the planet once or twice is difficult enough. Passing them five or six times in 500 miles -- waging war repeatedly over the same lost pieces of real estate -- is virtually impossible, even for a driver as talented as Kevin Harvick.
Admittedly, calling out your teammates is not an ideal situation. But voicing concern behind the scenes – as Harvick has done for the last 25 weeks -- was clearly not working.
It was time to take more decisive action, before the start of the Chase. Before it was too late.
Harvick’s comments Sunday were no different than a driver saying, “our engine shop needs to find more horsepower,” or “we’re behind on our chassis set-ups.” It was a bold statement of fact; a warts-and-all assessment of a race team with a major competitive chink in its championship armor. And with just a few choice words in the Darlington Media Center, SHR’s problem was addressed, once and for all.
If you’re a starting offensive lineman in the NFL who gets pancaked three times in every quarter, you’re headed straight to the waiver wire.
If you’re a goaltender in the NHL with a 9.66 GAA, you’re headed for the minors.
And if you’re a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver who has crashed out in eight of the last 10 races, you’re headed back to the Late Model Stocks.
Professional athletes are tested every week, and those who come up short soon discover that there’s a long line of talented, hungry youngsters waiting to replace them.
Harvick spent much of the 2015 season attempting to motivate and encourage his pit crew. Sunday, he stopped cheerleading and began lobbying for change.
The next 11 weeks will determine how it all works out.