INDIANAPOLIS – Sometimes the greatest inspirations and ideas happen in the middle of the night.
Just ask Kevin Harvick’s crew chief, Rodney Childers.
He woke up in the middle of the night with a great idea that could get his driver to victory lane in Sunday’s Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“Last night I was sleeping really good, and at 3:02 I woke up and my brain said we’re going to pit a lap before the competition caution comes out,” Childers explained. “I went to the restroom, then I got my computer out and worked for an hour-and-a-half. I decided to turn my computer back off and go back to sleep for an hour.
“Something woke me up in the middle of the night that told me I needed to pit on lap 11 and try to get control of the race early.”
That crafty move by pitting on lap 11, one lap ahead of the planned competition caution, allowed Harvick and Childers to gain an important strategic advantage once racing resumed after the yellow flag waved. By foregoing a chance to take the points at the conclusion of stage one on lap 50, the earlier move was enough to put him out of sequence to the rest of the field, which paid off with another win at Indianapolis.
Harvick started 11th following the random draw that set the starting lineup. Childers determined their pit stop strategy by counting backwards from the end of the 160-lap race. He calculated a pit stop before the competition caution would be enough to put Harvick in proper position to battle for the victory.
It worked as Harvick was able to win the Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 for the third time in his career, the second year in a row. It was also his 53rd victory, leaving him one win behind Lee Petty’s 54.
Passing for the lead at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is very difficult for the NASCAR Cup Series cars. That is why Childers’ believes it was important to jump to the front after starting 11th. With a fast Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, Childers knew once they got there they could fight it out for the victory.
“I think that’s something that will get brought up when you talk about this race – ‘Can you pass, can you not?’” Childers explained. “You have to make those moves on the restarts when everybody is jumbled up. You have to get your track position when you can, whether on pit road or on a restart.
“He’s done a great job with that stuff. You look back at last year, it almost took us a little while to start figuring out these restarts, how important they were, how aggressive you had to be. He’s shown he can do it just like the rest of them.
“Today he made some bold moves that worked for us, was able to come out on top.”
Another important decision came with 40 laps to go. Harvick pitted one lap after Hamlin and it could have cost him the advantage they created by pitting on lap 11.
“Things aren’t ever going to go perfect,” Childers explained. “To win big races, you need them to go perfect. That two‑lap stint right there didn’t go perfect.
“Getting into turn three, I called him to pit road at the same time the spotter in turn three was talking on top of me. Kevin never heard me. There was some miscommunication there for about half a lap on what we were doing. He couldn’t hear me because us talking on top of each other.
“We came down pit road. Our pit crew has been absolutely incredible all year. The front changer, his button switched on his gun during the middle of his pattern. The rear guy, his button switched on his gun the middle of the pattern, which is odd. I feel like the guns have got a lot better. We haven’t had any issues. Just so happens on the money stop of the Brickyard 400, both buttons switched. Didn’t have a very good stop, just a lot of things that didn’t go our way in those couple laps.
“With us being side‑by‑side, we were trying to play cat and mouse a little bit. Their team wasn’t up on the wall, our team wasn’t up on the wall. I really wanted to go another lap, but we could have made it from that standpoint on fuel. They were just going to try to push it a little bit harder than what we did.
“I wanted to leave a lap for green‑white‑checkered if we had one. That part just didn’t work out that great. We tried to race each other all day. That part just didn’t work out for us.”
The dramatic battle that was shaping up featuring Hamlin in the lead and Harvick trying to catch him came to a dramatic end with seven laps to go when Hamlin’s right-front tire blew out, sending the No. 11 Toyota into the turn one wall.
“We weren’t going to get by him unless he made a huge mistake,” Harvick said. “Obviously that tire was wearing out. At that point we were pretty even. The longer that we went, his car was a little bit better than mine on the long run.
“The restarts for me were our strong point. We would have needed a caution. We weren’t going to get by him under green.”
On the restart, Harvick got a push from behind from teammate Cole Custer that launched him in front of second-place Matt Kenseth with two laps to go. From that point, Harvick was able to pull away to the victory, the 30th for the combination of Harvick and Childers.
“We’ve been able to do some special things together,” Childers said. “To win 30 races together in, what, six and a half years, seven years, I don’t know what it is any more, but 30 races is huge. To have I think now 33 wins and 34 poles, it’s pretty crazy. Two Brickyard 400s, back‑to‑back. He’s got three of them.
“We love racing together. It’s really about everybody else on the team, everybody back at the shop that builds great cars, our shop guys, our road crew, our pit crew. Everybody is just firing on all cylinders right now. It means a lot to win together, not just for me and Kevin.”