Kevin Harvick is off to a solid start to the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, and with a stop scheduled at his favorite track – Phoenix International Raceway – this weekend, crew chief Rodney Childers says he is not surprised by his organization’s fast start to the 2017 campaign, or its rapid adaptation to an offseason change to Ford power.
“I think we all expected to do well,” said Childers, whose driver has gone to Victory Lane in six of the last nine MENCS races at Phoenix. “We worked really hard over the winter and all of our preparation has been really good, but the biggest thing is just keeping that going over time. Our group has done a good job of that the last three years, but we just have to keep it up. Hopefully, we can keep doing that as the year progresses.”
Coming off a hard-luck, 38th-place finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last weekend that saw driver Kevin Harvick cut a tire and slam the wall in the early going, Childers said he is happy to be returning to Phoenix International Raceway, where the team tested earlier this season and has had tremendous success in the past.
“We’ve had a good setup there that last three years, but the test didn’t start out the way we wanted,” he said. “We struggled the first day and about half the second day, then we got going really good at the end of the second day. We learned a lot out there and look forward to going back and hopefully having another shot at the victory.”
Childers said he and Harvick focus on PIR’s tricky third and fourth turns, adding, “that’s where we seem to excel... getting through three and four and rolling through the center of the corner. That’s what we struggled with out there at the test, just trying to keep the back of the car under him (while having) the front end of the car turn. I think we got it a lot better toward the end of the test and, hopefully, we can be even better when we go back.”
While Harvick has had success in accumulating bonus points under NASCAR’s new stage-based race format, Childers insisted, “We don’t worry about that side of it. We just try to be as fast as we can and lead as many laps as we can. That has paid off for us in the past. Hopefully, we can keep that up as the year goes on.”
Childers also spoke about the difference between last year’s Chevrolets and this season’s Fords, saying, “It definitely feels like the Ford body has more front bias balance than what we were used to. That’s just something you’ve got to figure out with a few tests and racing it a little bit. It’s just a change. It’s not something that’s going to hurt one way or another, you just have to adapt to it like we adapt to changing tires each week. Overall, it’s been good and we really haven’t had any issues with it.”