SHR driver ready for the challenge of defending his title Registration for NASCAR Fantasy Live is now open! CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Turning the well-worn saying on its ear, the head that wears the crown is not heavy for Kevin Harvick , who enters the 2015 season with all sorts of burden removed from his shoulders. The nickname "Happy" still fits, but the description of "relaxed" also seems to apply. Harvick's pressure-free composure, on prime display Tuesday afternoon during the Stewart-Haas Racing portion of the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour, has plenty to do with the title of reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion after 13 years of coming up just short. But the lighter load is also equal parts being free of the controlled maelstrom from the offseason a year ago as SHR assembled the parts and pieces that made up the championship-caliber No. 4 team. For the here and now, Harvick was grateful that his first title meant no further questions about whether this would be his year. "The pressure's definitely off," Harvick said. "There's not that pressure of being that guy who was so close to winning championships and had not won one. To be able to accomplish that and take that pressure off is a really good thing because that's really what we wanted to accomplish in coming over to Stewart-Haas Racing . So to be fortunate enough to be able to do that is definitely a sense of relief, and now you've been through it, you understand it, you know the feelings, the emotions and the things that you've been through, and hopefully that leads to that chest full of experience that you carry around with you to just put another tool in that chest to hopefully win more." Making the leap from the familiar turf from Richard Childress Racing , where he spent the first 13 years of his premier-series career, came with some initial gnashing of teeth but his enthusiasm for showing up to work each day had grown stagnant. Joining SHR eventually bore fruit with plenty of rejuvenating qualities, but Harvick first had to prepare himself for the jump in to the unknown. "I didn't want to be comfortable," Harvick said. "I wanted to experience what we experienced last year, and sometimes you have to make some bold or hard decisions in order to make things like this happen. So for me, I'm as comfortable as I've ever been." For starters, Harvick won't have to deal with the same amount of change -- borne of necessity -- that the team had ahead of the 2014 campaign. Partnering a new driver with new crew chief Rodney Childers during a time when the organization was expanding to a four-car operation could have stalled the process of building chemistry on the No. 4 team. It didn't -- the combination produced its first victory in just the second race of the season. With all the parts still in place, it's a combination that team co-owner Gene Haas has no intention of tampering with. "He just won the championship. We've basically frozen the team as it is," Haas said. "So we've got something that works and we're going to treat it very, very delicately and try to repeat that. There's no use tempting fate." One thing out of the organization's control in the change department is the new rules package for 2015. A crucial cog to the No. 4 team's march to the title was how well it adapted to last year's rules package, spearheaded by the work Childers put into making that fateful December 2013 test a smashing success at the Charlotte track. Will the new rules package throw Harvick and Co. a curve ball? In a statement that could have the competition on edge, Childers said the changes might actually benefit the team since something similar to the 2015 package was one of the test configurations that suited the car the most. Even with that institutional knowledge in tow, Childers -- one of the most relaxed workaholics in the garage -- isn't ready to adopt Harvick's pressure-free approach. "I don't really feel that way at all. I mean, I always feel like my job's on the line every single day and either you can go in there and work hard or someone else is going to take your job," Childers said. "I try to be the first one at the shop and the last one to leave, work as hard as I can while I'm there and hopefully that'll constantly pay off as long as the years go on." With one title under his belt, the immediate task ahead of Harvick is focusing on a repeat. The pressure might be off for now, but it certainly wasn't the case during the elimination phases of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs, which debuted its new format last year. Harvick responded to the intensity by turning up the wick and winning the last two races of the season to wrap up his first title. His approach might have changed in terms of the pressure, but Harvick said his aggressive nature on the track certainly won't. "It's definitely going to be a challenge, as it is every year, and obviously there's some different rules and everything that comes along with that this year as far as the engine," Harvick said, "but I think the one thing we did learn through the last half of the year is I think everybody figured out that winning a race and being aggressive is the most preferable method in order to win a championship." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Kevin Harvick talks about his mentality before making a change to Stewart-Haas Racing and what it means to win a title heading into his second year with the team.
What are Harvick's chances of claiming the title back-to-back?
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2012 champion believes 'a new era' has come with current Chase format Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live CHARLOTTE, N.C. – It's hard to determine if Brad Keselowski relishes his "anti-establishment" image in the world of NASCAR, but one thing is clear – the former Sprint Cup Series champion remains unapologetic for the way he races and the fallout that’s been known to follow. "You know you're doing something … right in this sport when you're racing the establishment and you make them upset," Keselowski, 30, said Wednesday during the annual Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour presented by Technocom. "When you make them upset under the terms that I did – I made guys mad racing for the win, it wasn't racing for 20th. "If you get in a wreck and a fight racing for 20th, that doesn't make SportsCenter. You get in a wreck and a fight with a previous champion racing for a championship, going for a win then you're probably doing the right things." The Team Penske driver won a career-best six races last season and he and teammate Joey Logano were consistently fast throughout the course of the 36-race season. But it was incidents during the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup with Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth at Charlotte, as well as a post-race brawl at Texas with four-time champion Jeff Gordon , that thrust Keselowski, and the sport, into the glare of the national spotlight. Kenseth and Gordon both questioned not only Keselowski's actions on the track, but his unrepentant attitude after such incidents. Hamlin simply described he 2012 champ as "out of control." Keselowski said such episodes either during the race or afterward didn't affect him personally. Taking a big picture view, such altercations showed that "there's a new era coming in this sport with this Chase," he said. "Honestly, it's already arrived. You're going to have to be very aggressive to win championships under this format. That was probably the lesson I learned – more so about the sport than anything else." That others were angry, he said, wasn't surprising, noting "you should be upset when you don't win." The Chase format – which consists of four rounds with wins in any round by a qualified driver guaranteeing advancement into the next round – increased the on-track intensity and aggressive nature of the competition 10-fold. Evidence was impossible to miss. "We certainly saw that with some moves I made, and I wasn't the only driver," he said. "We saw that out of Kevin ( Harvick ) at the end; and Ryan Newman at the end. And I'm sure there was more than that. I don't view that as a bad thing. I think that's great for the sport. I think our fans will respond to that in the long term; that's what we should be aiming for is what makes our fans happy." Racing defensively and protecting one's position went out the window with the new format, he said, noting that, "when that … mentality disappears from how the races play out, you see more aggressiveness. "I think you see more heated moments. You see a lot of different things that I think are, in general, good for the sport." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
After rejecting 'easy' decision to leave, veteran embraces team's new outlook Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- For all the change that Roush Fenway Racing has undergone entering the 2015 NASCAR season, Greg Biffle remains the organization's constant, a cornerstone driver who first started his career with team owner Jack Roush in the Camping World Truck Series in 1998. But with the team firmly in rebuilding mode after its recent slide toward substandard performance, Biffle shed light on just how close he came to following the path of two prominent former teammates out the door. Biffle plumbed the depths of the company's recent low points Wednesday during the annual Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour presented by Technocom, saying that he had fielded offers from "great teams" to drive elsewhere. Ultimately, the 45-year-old driver made the choice to stay, in an effort to help lead the team out of its dark days. "You know, loyalty in this world only goes so far," Biffle said. "… I felt like I had to wrestle with the decision on whether I leave or not. It makes it easy to leave, it's easy to kick a guy when he's down, right? So we were having tremendous trouble last year, and I've been there through three of these cycles, and we're not going to sugar-coat it -- last year, we were at the bottom of the heap compared to the teams. We just were, and no light at the end of the tunnel, and so it would've been an easy way for me to leave at that point. "But knowing that the stock is at the lowest price that it's been at, sometimes that's the opportunity. It's going to go up. It doesn't have to, but logic says it's going to go up, and so I wrestled with it and sat long and hard about it and said, 'I want to be the guy that brings this organization back out of where we're at. We're in a bad place. I could jump ship right now.' And I decided I didn't want to do that. I was going to give it another opportunity." Biffle's tenure with Roush Fenway includes an enviable collection of career highlights -- 19 victories in the top-level Sprint Cup Series and championships in both the XFINITY Series (2002) and the truck circuit (2000). Even though he managed to qualify for last season's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs, his losing streak stretched to 57 -- nearing the longest dry spell of his career. Only Carl Edwards won races at the Sprint Cup level for RFR last year, and he departed in the offseason to restart his career at Joe Gibbs Racing . That move followed a similar career shift by Matt Kenseth -- another longtime Roush Fenway competitor -- just two years earlier. Biffle could've been the third domino to fall, but even with all the frayed emotions, the connections he'd established over the years kept him from severing those ties. "I stayed for relationships and things that I had built for a long period of time that I really cared about, and that was one of my decisions that really weighed on me to stay," Biffle said. "After I elected to stay, other people didn't and so I was left holding the bag a little bit, but I can't say enough about the partnerships that we've created since then. "I can talk forever about what's gone on, and I hate to keep -- so to speak, the cliché -- beat the dead horse. We all recognized the position we were in last year. We were drowning and we were trying to get to the surface, and it was difficult on all of us. All the relationships were all taxed, between me and my crew chief, the other drivers, the team engineers, the simulation group, and then fabrication, the guys hanging the (car) bodies. We were all taxed because we were not performing." Roush Fenway president Steve Newmark admitted that the offseason mission of rebuilding the team's stature in the sport had come with some soul searching. The organization has made plenty of offseason strides to meet the goals -- primarily through digging to the root cause of what went wrong in 2014 and closing the gap on its rivals in the technology department. But it's also revamped its mindset in more subtle ways, freshening the look of the shop and bringing it up to more state-of-the-art standards. Even though the overhaul has been dramatic, Newmark said losing Biffle was a change the team couldn't afford to withstand. "It was critical," Newmark said. "Greg and I spent a lot of time talking. He was solicited by a lot of teams, which I would expect with a driver of that caliber. After a lot of the discussions, I think he felt like Roush was the right fit for him and the right place, and he and Jack had some unfinished business. But he brings an element that we wouldn't have had without him. We have a lot of other talented drivers, but none of them has had the history with both our organization and the championships, so he's been fantastic." Though Biffle cracked in his opening remarks that Jack Roush, 72, had been racing Ford products since 1901, it's clear the team has begun to skew younger as it enters its 28th year in NASCAR. Biffle will race alongside third-year driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr ., 27, and 23-year-old Trevor Bayne , promoted to his first full season in the Sprint Cup Series. Change isn't all bad, as Biffle was quick to mention the championship fruits of the first-year partnership between Kevin Harvick and Stewart-Haas Racing last season. Taken a step further, Biffle said Roush Fenway's expectations equal those of the title-winning No. 4 team. "We're all that confident," Biffle said. "We all feel that good that that's the position we're in now. Everyone's so excited about the way our company looks, about how everybody's getting along and how excited everybody is to work together again, and on a common goal. We all feel really good." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule