Crew chief Rodney Childers on why it works with Kevin Harvick ... and how the title pair almost didn’t happen
LOUDON, N.H. – Rodney Childers pulled out of Kevin Harvick’s driveway after meeting for several hours of fruitful and honest discussions about the future and sent his wife, Katrina, a text message.
He was leaving to become Harvick’s crew chief at Stewart-Haas Racing.
Four days later, he sent her another text while walking through the back gate of the garage at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
He was staying at Michael Waltrip Racing.
Childers and Harvick quickly have become among the most formidable crew chief-driver combinations in the Sprint Cup Series, winning the 2014 championship and leading the 2015 points standings with 10 top-two finishes at the midpoint of the 36-race season.
But the decision wasn’t arrived at lightly by Childers, who wrestled mightily with a life-changing move.
“It was wishy-washy the whole time,” Childers told NASCAR Talk during a Friday interview at New Hampshire, which will play host to today’s 5-hour Energy 301 two years and five days after he guided Brian Vickers to a win there. “What was right? What was going to be right?
“Everything happened for a reason. I look back on it now, and it was definitely the right decision.”
It already seemed clear from the sitdown with Harvick that their rapport was natural as they tackled the tough questions about how business would be conducted around the No. 4 Chevrolet.
“It really came down to the truth about everything,” Childers said. “What I was willing to do, what he was willing to do. Things I’d heard, things I wasn’t willing to deal with, things he wanted to accomplish. It was a really good conversation.
“Then we came here, ran good all weekend and won the race Sunday.”
For about a month, Childers leaned toward spurning the overtures of Harvick, who strongly lobbied to bring him to SHR.
It was in a hotel room in Richmond, Va. – coincidentally during a test for a race that left MWR reeling in a team orders scandal – when everything finally crystallized as Childers awakened to an epiphany that he belonged with Harvick.
“The alarm went off, my eyes opened, and I knew,” he said. “It turned out to be the right thing.”
During a half-hour chat inside the No. 4 hauler, which was buzzing with activity as car chief Robert “Cheddar” Smith whipped up smoothies with a Nutribullet, Childers expounded on the qualities of Harvick (who sat down with Jeff Burton for today’s “Countdown to Green” show at 12:50 p.m. on NBCSN) that make their relationship work:
--Guidance: Childers credits much of the team’s success to the leadership of Harvick, who has left behind the overbearing methods that were a hallmark of his run as a Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity owner at Kevin Harvick Inc.
When he drove cars that he also owned, Harvick was known to fire his pit crews during a race, and the vituperative attitude sometimes carried over to his Sprint Cup races with Richard Childress Racing.
There hardly has been a trace of public discontent, though, at SHR.
“The day he walked into SHR, it’s been all positive, the whole time,” Childers said. “He’s had our backs through thick and thin. Never negative about anything. Always trying to be better.
“Our goal each week is to be the fastest in everything we do. He helps feed that. The other good thing is he’s a leader when he needs to be, but he also doesn’t try to micromanage anything. He just gets in there and drives his butt off. He trusts us to bring a good car to the track and trusts what we’re doing in the shop and that we’ll come with the right setup.”
--Mindfulness: Harvick also isn’t a disinterested observer, though.
“If he sees things at the shop or at the company, he puts his input into it,” Childers said. “It’s good to have someone who has had all that experience and run his own race teams and done all that stuff. He has more experience than probably any of us do.
“He gets the whole thing. Everyone was asking last year what sets him aside. He’s not just a good race car driver. He’s good at everything. The racing side. The sponsor side. The management side. The money side. There’s nothing that he doesn’t get.”
Childers said he receives feedback from Harvick about detail-oriented shop minutiae such as the length of a bolt or the location of a tie strap.
“Kevin understands every little thing going on all the time,” Childers said. “Even when you don’t think he’s paying attention. I’ll be like, ‘How did you even see that?’ He’s very observant. He could be walking around one day, and you think he’s just goofing off, talking to the guys, and then two days later, I get a text message about somebody in the shop was doing this or that. We need to handle this or do that. He knows what’s going on.”
--Accountability: While Harvick has revealed a gentler side on social media and in interviews since becoming a father three years ago, Childers said there has been no change in how his driver approaches the racing.
“Kevin expects perfection out of everything,” Childers said. “He expects us to build the best cars in the garage. Have the fastest cars in the garage. Have the nicest equipment and the best people.
“It’s just like going to these racetracks. If he gets to a certain racetrack and doesn’t feel like it spends money and tries to be perfect, it bothers him all weekend. We all do this to be the best at everything. That’s how we treat the 4 team. There are other things outside the 4 team we can’t control. It ends up bothering all of us now because we expect that, too.
“If he knows that all of us are giving 100 percent, he’s going to give 150 percent, all the time. That’s all you can ask out of somebody. He just doesn’t like people not caring. You can see it in this team every race. Everyone’s heart is into it. That’s really what matters.”