Race Weekend Central

Only Yesterday: Kevin Harvick Vs. Ryan Newman for a Championship

The story of the 2014 NASCAR Cup Series championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway began over a year prior to the green flag.

A couple of weeks prior to NASCAR’s annual visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2013, Stewart-Haas Racing announced its initial 2014 lineup. Along with returning drivers Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick was a surprise: Kevin Harvick, who would pilot the organization’s new No. 4 Chevrolet.

But Harvick’s signing required a sacrifice. Ryan Newman had jumped in with his friend Stewart on the ground floor of SHR in 2009, helping to lay a solid foundation and making a great one-two punch with his boss. He would not be along for the ride.

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The Indy weekend wasn’t a disaster, as Newman ended up winning what ended up being his final victory for SHR. But his departure stung more a month later when SHR announced a fourth car to its lineup. Team co-owner Gene Haas decided he wanted a car with his own Haas logo out on track and decided to hire Kurt Busch instead of retaining Newman.

The seemingly-unwanted Newman eventually joined up with the unwanted Richard Childress Racing. With Jeff Burton being washed up and Harvick leaving after 13 successful but ultimately championship-less years, RCR needed a veteran. A winner who could pair well with Childress’ grandson, rookie Austin Dillon.

There was potential in the RCR lineup, which was rounded out with the solid but unspectacular Paul Menard. But it felt like it would take time for the team to rebuild around Dillon before it could finally compete for a championship once again.

Meanwhile, in September of 2013, “Spingate” happened. The incident itself led to a number of domino effects around NASCAR, but the direct aftermath led to the most radical change in NASCAR in decades.

It was a very bizarre format in 2014. Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Daytona 500, then had very little to fight for over the next 25 races. It was the first step into something that was ultimately perfected a few years later in 2017.

Say what you will about a one-race championship round with stage breaks, but the 2017-present version of the format is the best possible version of it. Martin Truex Jr. surviving all the way to the Round of 8 on the strength of playoff points, with no top-15 finish in the first six races of the playoffs, indicates this. The regular season matters now.

But it really didn’t in 2014, and it played to Harvick’s advantage. Taking an early win at Phoenix Raceway helped mask the No. 4 team’s growing pains throughout the year.

They always had speed but were prone to mistakes; crew chief Rodney Childers had essentially built up the team from scratch. Their success over the decade afterward proved Childers built a great foundation, but it didn’t come without having to fill some holes.

Harvick survived the first round on points, won at Charlotte Motor Speedway to advance in round two and then made some fireworks in round three. A bad finish at Martinsville Speedway forced Harvick to enter Phoenix Raceway in a must-win situation, one that Harvick was able to answer the call on.

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Meanwhile, Newman had a very quietly consistent season. The No. 31 driver made the playoffs without winning, but had scored 22 top-20 finishes in the 26 regular season races. Newman then went a perfect 10-for-10 in the playoffs, meaning Newman’s 22nd in the Daytona 500, 31st in the spring Dover Motor Speedway race, 24th at the July Daytona International Speedway race and a 41st at Watkins Glen International were his only blemishes.

Newman was not great almost all season. But he was good almost every single weekend, which is something very few drivers can say about any given season in their careers.

Newman survived all three playoff rounds entering Homestead, scraping by with his wits and old-fashioned consistency. While Harvick cruised to Homestead by leading 264 laps at Phoenix, Newman divebombed the final corner to get by rookie Kyle Larson in the very same race.

Entering the playoffs, Jeff Gordon had turned the corner and was the championship favorite. Gordon had won four races that year, the most for the four-time champion since 2007, and his average finish of 10.8 led the series.

But it all ended here. A Newman divebomb left Gordon just a point short, allowing the driver cast out of SHR a chance to win RCR its first championship in 20 years.

Throughout the week leading up to Homestead, I remember a lot of talk surrounding Newman. NASCAR had built this new system to incentivize winning races; here was a guy who hadn’t won all season. Newman was the rebel pick to many fans, one last middle finger to NASCAR from the fans who had opposed the Chase and the various formats for a decade.

But there was still a race to contest. Throughout the event, all four championship contenders and Gordon stayed in the top five or six, proving their worth.

During the second-to-last caution, Joey Logano’s Ford fell off the jack on his pit stop, ending his championship contention. Denny Hamlin led the race on a restart with nine laps to go, but had taken the lead without taking tires and was passed by Harvick on the next lap.

Newman was able to work up to second before one final debris caution set up the finish.

Harvick had spent years languishing in RCR cars, winning races but unable to put it all together. Newman had been effectively told he was unwanted at SHR and now was restarting side-by-side with his replacement for a championship.

The restart came with three laps to go. Harvick stayed ahead of Newman out of turn 2 on the restart, then checked out on his way to a championship.

In sports, there are winners, and there are losers. Not every story can end with a happily-ever-after. Newman had done everything to survive through the playoffs, but could only watch as what would end up being his closest chance at a championship drove off into the distance.

This upcoming weekend at Homestead will be a celebration of Harvick’s career, at the site of his greatest triumph. But there’s always more to a story than a highlight reel, a throwback paint scheme and a hashtag. The circumstances and the backstory is what makes Harvick’s championship truly remarkable.

About the author

michaelfinley010

Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021, and also formerly covered the SRX series from 2021-2023. He now covers the FIA Formula 1 World Championship, the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and road course events in the NASCAR Cup Series.

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