NOTHING TO SEE HERE: With a month to go in the season, Kevin Harvick very easily could have derailed his championship chances with an outburst directed at team owner Richard Childress' grandsons.
Upset that he'd been spun by Ty Dillon in a Truck Series race at Martinsville, Harvick had pointed words for Dillon and older brother, Austin, after the incident. He blamed the emergence of the Dillons for his impending departure from Richard Childress Racing, and Childress was livid over the accusations.
Fans speculated Childress would kick Harvick out of the car immediately and write off the remaining four Sprint Cup races.
Instead, Harvick publicly apologized, the No. 29 team hunkered down and goes into Sunday's finale with a mathematical shot at winning the title. Harvick is 34 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson following his victory Sunday at Phoenix.
"This deal is tough enough like it is, and obviously you don't want things like that to happen, but it did," Harvick crew chief Gil Martin said of the Martinsville incident. "I felt like after several phone conversations that we could get right back on track. I never had the doubt about the focus of the team or Kevin once the race started. After the race was over, I felt pretty confident that we were right back on track."
Harvick's final race with RCR is Sunday at Homestead. He grew emotional at Phoenix sitting between Martin and Childress reflecting on his time with the organization and driving for a no-nonsense owner.
"I think he'd probably sit here and tell you that we've been good for each other because we challenge each other," Harvick said. "You know, I obviously handle a lot of situations wrong, but it pushes a lot of buttons to try to make things better. There's no better way to go out than to do what we've done this year. Obviously we went to Martinsville, and I said things that I shouldn't have said and put everybody in a position that was not good, but I think we had conversations about things after that that probably made us closer as people, and I think as we move forward will probably make us closer as friends."
Harvick will drive for Stewart-Haas Racing next season.
VIDEO VETTEL: Four-time Formula One champion Sebastian Vettel says he enjoys video games, but doesn't see them replacing traditional driver training as a pipeline to professional racing.
Vettel said during a visit to Nissan Motor Co.'s North American headquarters outside Nashville, Tenn., on Wednesday that he considers the skills learned on track at an early age to be crucial to developing the key skill for drivers: figuring out how to go faster. The driver's comments may be at odds with the Japanese automaker's Nissan GT Academy, a worldwide competition among hundreds of thousands of PlayStation gamers to be selected to become professional drivers.
After meeting with Nissan workers, Vettel gave some of them high-speed rides around a makeshift track in a new Infiniti Q50 sedan.
Associated Press Writer Erik Schelzig in Franklin, Tenn., contributed to this report.