By admin | September 14, 2012
By Richard Allen
Last year, Tony Stewart limped into the Chase for the Championship and by his own admission doubted his chances for success. However, fortunes turned drastically for Stewart as he went on a tear like few ever seen in NASCAR as he won five of the last ten events to capture his third Sprint Cup title.
If there is to be a somewhat unheralded driver to win a championship this season, it could potentially be Kevin Harvick. Like Stewart from a year ago, Harvick enters the ten race playoff without having won a race during the first 26 so far in 2012. And somewhat like Stewart of a year ago, a change has been made within Harvick’s team that could conceivably provide the impetus for a boost in the performance of the #29 operation.
In 2011, the internal decision was made well before Stewart was ever crowned champion to replace then crew chief Darian Grubb at the conclusion of the season. Somewhat strangely, the #14 team’s performance improved rather than declined after that determination had been made.
In 2012, Harvick has also seen a change within his team. But unlike last year with Stewart, the move has already taken place. Gil Martin has retaken the top spot on the pit box of the #29 after it was decided by the Richard Childress Racing organization that the pairing of Harvick with crew chief Shane Wilson was not panning out as hoped.
During the recent Bristol weekend, Martin reassumed the duties he had once held with Harvick for the better part of three seasons. In their time together, Harvick and Martin won three races in 2010 and four more in 2011.
Throughout his career Harvick has never been one to shy away from criticizing his crew. However, this season those criticisms seemed to increase dramatically as the driver and Wilson clashed on an almost weekly basis regarding car setup and pit strategy over their team radio.
With Martin back at the helm, Harvick has scored a 5th place finish in Atlanta and a 10th place result in Richmond. Prior to those two races, he had managed only three top-5s and nine top-10s all season.
Like Tony Stewart of last season, Kevin Harvick enters the 2012 Chase for the Championship off the radar screens of many. However, unlike the driver who eventually won the 2011 Sprint Cup, Harvick enters the playoff with a crew chief change having already been made and a bit of momentum on his side.
Will that be enough to make him a surprise champion come the final race of the season in Homestead-Miami?
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