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Harvick team is meshing at the right time

AVONDALE, Ariz. — Kevin Harvick and his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team have had the fastest cars much of the season.

Many times, however, that speed didn’t necessarily translate into victories.

As the Chase for the Sprint Cup has drawn closer to its championship finale, Harvick has been cashing in at the right times.

Facing what amounted to a win-or-be-eliminated scenario in Sunday’s Quicken Loans 500 at Phoenix International Raceway, Harvick and his team left little doubt as to their ability. He led 264 of the 312 laps on his way to his fourth win of the season and an automatic berth in Sunday’s championship race at Homestead, Fla.

Harvick has led more laps (2,083) than any other driver this season, but odd circumstances — some self-inflicted — had left him short of Victory Lane more times than he or crew chief Rodney Childers cared to remember.

Not Sunday.

“It’s like a dream,” Harvick said. “You lay it all out on paper and you say, ‘This is what we want to do, and we want to race for wins and championships,’ and all of a sudden you’re a week away from everything that you talk about and dream about and want it to be like.

“And then here we are.”

Harvick left Richard Childress Racing — his home for virtually his entire NASCAR career — at the end of last season to drive for a new team.

Childers arrived from Michael Waltrip Racing just before the end of last season and immediately went to work putting together the No. 4 team. Still, a new team with a new driver/crew chief combination isn’t expected to challenge right out of the box for a championship.

But as Harvick said, “Here we are.”

“Everybody in life wants an opportunity, whether it’s in racing or different things, or really just whatever you love to do. It could be anything,” Childers said.

“You know, it was a really tough decision. I loved every one of those guys (at MWR) and would do anything in the world for them. It’s hard to change.

“The good thing is now a year later, it’s turned into exactly what you would want and everything that you had asked for.”

Still, there remains work to do.

In the new Chase format, each of the four drivers competing for the championship — Harvick, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman — will start Sunday with no points, and no bonus points are awarded during the race.

The champion will be the first of the drivers to cross the finish line.

“These races, they change every week. It’s never ours to lose. We’ve got to go down there and execute and do all the right things,” Childers said.

“I feel like, yes, we’ve had good speed compared to most guys this year, but on the other hand that doesn’t mean anything going to Homestead.”

It is, however, a good launching pad for what Harvick and Childers hope is a long, successful pairing.

“It hasn’t fully set in yet,” said team co-owner Gene Haas. “Whether we win or lose, it was a heck of a first-year season. I mean, that team with Rodney and Kevin was fast out of the gate.

“It’s just unbelievable to do this in our first year.”