In the downtime between the Christmas and New Year’s break this past offseason, crew chief Rodney Childers decided that his group needed to go back to treating every week like it was a playoff race. It’s something they had done, with much success, in 2014 and ’15 when Kevin Harvick arrived and the group was first assembled.
But Childers felt that as the team bonded through the years, that approached had gotten too lax, setting in motion his decision to change the team’s approach.
“We came in January 2nd and we all sat down as a group and had a meeting, and I told them that’s the way we have to race every week,” Childers told RACER in the garage at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “It’s going to be hard not to race that way with the playoffs the way they are and having the [Charlotte] Roval race in the first round — you got to have enough points to get you through that first round in case something crazy happens at this Roval race.
“We went back to how we used to do things and pushing hard every week, working a little bit more and staying in the shop a little later. All that stuff.”
By now you should have noticed the approach is more than working.
Harvick has been tearing through the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at breathtaking speed: five wins in 12 races and a series-leading 24 playoff points. And with the season not even at its halfway point, Harvick is already fast approaching 1,000 laps led.
Almost for good measure, last weekend Harvick added $1 million to his season haul with a victory in the All-Star Race. He will go for three consecutive wins — for the second time this season — in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600.
But the Cup Series schedule can be grueling. The summer months often are a make or break period for teams preparing for the playoffs.
Keeping up this type of pace is not a concern for Harvick or Childers, who say they don’t envision having to play the role of motivational cheerleaders for the team.
“It’s very self-motivating at this particular point because of the achievements that have been achieved so far and the opportunity to achieve things that are really once-in-a-career type situations. And they all know that,” said Harvick. “I heard Greg Zipadelli sit up here the other night and he knows that.
“You can feel that within the organization that what you could achieve by the time you roll through Homestead at the end of the year. It’s something you might not ever get to do again, so I don’t believe that those conversations will have to happen. Our goal is to [approach each race like a] playoff race every week and I think we’re doing that right now as an organization. That’s the goal going forward.”
Even with this never-let-up approach, Childers will still be keeping an eye on his team.
As they continue pushing, pushing, pushing, Childers knows there will be times to back it down and set a new pace at the shop. He quipped that it becomes apparent when families start complaining and fatigue is evident.
“I feel like the guys we have, they just want to win races and they’ll try to work as hard as they can until they do that,” Childers said. “The biggest problem is making sure people don’t get tired; you don’t want everybody to get tired and worn out before the playoffs start.”
There are 14 races left in the regular season. Fourteen races for Harvick and company to race like it’s the playoffs and make themselves seem out of reach by the time that part of the season does arrive.
“It’s just one of those situations where you feel like you have your foot on their throat,” Harvick said, “and you just want to stand on them harder.”