Chase finalists find changes to be catalyst in winning
Miami — NASCAR has always been about families. Families that stay together. Families that break up.
Look around the garage on any given Sunday and you will see the effects of those fractured relationships.
Ryan Newman was deemed expendable by Stewart-Haas Racing, and now he will be competing for a Sprint Cup Championship on Sunday, trying to win the title for his iconic owner, Richard Childress.
Kevin Harvick is the guy who left Childress for a better deal at SHR, and now hopes to give his beleaguered owner and friend Tony Stewart something to smile about this season.
This is the nature of NASCAR business, but the divorce and marriage papers add a human element to the story of man and machine in the last week of a long season. NASCAR is down to its "Championship 4," as Harvick and Newman will be joined by Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin racing for a title at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday.
No need to count points, like previous formats. Best finish wins.
"What it would be like to win it for Richard?" Newman said in response to a question during a press conference Wednesday night. "I'm winning it for me."
Yes, it's extremely personal.
To review, Newman was squeezed out by Gene Haas, who aggressively courted Kurt Busch after the 2013 season, while Stewart was convalescing from a racing accident. Newman recalls finding out about the move like most people — through Internet rumors and them confirmation with a formal announcement.
"That's all behind us now," Newman said Wednesday night, "but there were a lot of people who got surprised. Me first and foremost, and a few people in that organization who surprised each other."
It's all good. Newman is among the last men standing even though he didn't win a race this season. But most importantly, he stayed steady and avoided catastrophic wrecks or circumstances that eliminated 12 other drivers, including six-time champion Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Jeff Gordon.
Harvick was more of a smoother ride. He has won four races this season, and has led over 2,000 laps as the most dominant driver in the championship mix.
He's delivered exactly what was expected of him when he joined his best friend and three-time Cup champion Stewart, as part of a "Dream Team" of drivers who also include Danica Patrick and Kurt Busch.
"As we talked about things, Tony Stewart was obviously a huge part of the decision I made, personally to change jobs. ... It's been golden this week. He was the last guy sitting in my motor home 1/8in Phoenix last weekend3/8, telling me, 'Okay, here's how you're week is going to go. And here's what you going to do, and here's how you are going to do it.' "
Stewart's season, both as a race owner and a driver, has been both sobering and tragic. Stewart's car clipped and killed Kevin Ward Jr. while competing in a dirt-track race in upstate New York in August, triggering a grand jury investigation in which Stewart was deemed not culpable.
But the emotional scars have definitely remained.
"I think we've just done a really good job of trying to separate it and stay focused on the task at hand," Stewart said.
But the tragedy definitely lingers.
In his deepest thoughts, Newman would undoubtedly love to win a title as payback to the team that kicked him to the curb.
In a moment of reflection, Harvick would love nothing more than to win a title for his best friend.
"There's a lot of emotion," Harvick said. "... Obviously he's been through a lot this year and if we can be that one shining moment that makes his day better, for me I want to see my friend smile."
"I'm driving for somebody who has a lot of history in our sport, that history being with a very dominant driver 20 years ago," said Newman, in reference to Childress, who won six Cup titles with Dale Earnhardt Sr. as his driver. "... but unselfishly, I'm all about me when it comes to this."
After all, it's not just family. It's also business.