Berrier tells Harvick to win, and so he does
Todd Berrier would have known his driver was going to keep his cool. But Kevin Harvick's teammates weren't so sure, and Berrier was at home since NASCAR suspended him for four races, which included Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
So Scott Miller wasn't sure what to expect when he went into the drivers' meeting before Sunday's race with more bad news for the driver of the No. 29 Chevy: There was a puddle under his car that morning and the team believed it was leaked power steering fluid. By replacing it, the team would be forced to start dead last.
Oh, and nobody had ever won at Bristol after starting from the 43rd position.
The dreaded scenario taught Miller, interim crew chief for Richard Childress' No. 29 car, exactly what it means to be a member of this oft-cursed team.
It's a team whose birth was initiated by the death of a legend, Dale Earnhardt; a team that had its driver suspended for a race two years ago at Martinsville Speedway; a team that felt slighted this week by what it termed "harsh" and "severe" penalties, especially those levied against the driver for an infraction committed by the crew.
Miller broke the news to Harvick hours before the race and hesitantly awaited Harvick's response. But Miller didn't know of Berrier's instructions to Harvick before the team left for Tennessee: "The only thing we need to do is win the race and that's all that needs to be said," Berrier had said.
So Harvick didn't fly off the handle or panic. His actions conveyed to Miller what it means to be a member of the No. 29 team.
"You have to learn how to get out of a hole," Harvick said later. "I think that's one thing that RCR has always been really good at, is recovering from being down. And they always come back stronger than what they were before.
"I mean, it's not anything you can get upset about," he added. "It's kind of the way the cookie crumbles. So, in light of everything that's happened in the past few weeks, it's something I told Scott this morning that hopefully it's the end of the bad luck. Hopefully we can go on from there, and it seemed like it was the end of the back luck."
Harvick took the news that his already-down team was getting a kick in the ribs, and he didn't even wince. Knowing that the car was fast all weekend and that Berrier has done everything possible for the car before shipping it out to Tennessee, Harvick was confident he could manuever his way up to the front.
And he did. Harvick reached the front with 66 laps left to race and, with his owner atop his pit box filling in for his banished crew chief, steered right into Victory Lane.
Afterward, Harvick had no choice words for NASCAR officials who suspended his crew chief, fined the team and docked him points for a qualifying violation three weeks ago at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Harvick and Childress were obviously frustrated the entire week, but after winning the race -- with Berrier celebrating from a distance -- neither owner nor driver had anything to say to NASCAR.
Harvick just thought back to the final instructions he'd gotten from his crew chief before the weekend and put it simply: "We don't have to say a whole lot because the performance we had today speaks for itself," Harvick said.
Said Childress: "We had a meeting and I told the guys that it's kind of a negative we have to start in the rear on top of everything else -- we don't have our crew chief here and we've just got to turn it into a positive. And that's what Kevin did. He turned it into a positive and won the race."
In Victory Lane for the first time in 56 races, Harvick credited Berrier for the win.
"When Richard decided to [team up Berrier and Harvick in 1999], it was probably the best thing that's happened in Cup racing for me," Harvick said. "I wish he could have been here because he's the main reason this stuff happens and the main reason the No. 29 goes around in circles."
Childress, while agreeing that Berrier was a big part of the win and also adding that Miller played a major role in the pits, insisted that his driver get some of the credit, too.
After all, Bristol is a driver's racetrack and it was Harvick who was able to save the tires and brakes, hit his spots and stay after the leaders. Harvick was also part of a crucial late-race decision to take four fresh tires when other drivers did not.
"I think if you watch Kevin's performance today, he gets the credit for this," Childress said. "We had a good car, but at the end of the day, the driver has to know when to go, when not to and how to get through traffic. He did a great job."
He's going to have to do it again next week, too, when the team heads to Martinsville Speedway, once again sans Berrier. The team has yet to determine if that car will be as strong as this weekend's rig was, and Harvick wasn't going to speculate. He'll let next week's actions speak for themselves.
Rupen Fofaria is a freelance writer living in Chicago and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.