NASCAR: Homestead Odds Back Harvick, But Gordon is Favorite

He has no friends to rally around him, but Truex could pull off a stunning upset.

He has no friends to rally around him, but Truex could pull off a stunning upset.

The Championship Four title contenders of Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, and Martin Truex Jr. are now poised to hit the track at Homestead-Miami Speedway next Sunday to settle NASCAR’s 2015 Sprint Cup Championship. Sold out for a second consecutive year under the revamped Chase playoff format, Homestead-Miami Speedway will be sweltering, not due to weather, but instead due to the drama surrounding this season-ending spectacle.

Each of these four title contenders has had a grueling season to get to the finish line, and now that crunch time is here, likely possess a low threshold of tolerance for fellow competitors.

While not at Super Bowl stratospheric prices, a grandstand ticket on the finish line can be obtained for $500, and might just be worth it for the memories, unless you’re a Ford fan.

Paradoxically, the Ford Ecoboost 400 Championship race will not have any Ford drivers in the mix to represent its Dearborn headquarters. Both Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski needed to win at Phoenix; instead, the Team Penske Ford dynamic duo will be resigned to waiting until next year and speculating as to what might have been done differently.

So, with next Sunday’s race commanding prime time slotting on the NBC network, how do the Championship Four contenders rate in their quest to claim the coveted Sprint Cup?

As the reigning NASCAR Champion, Kevin Harvick attained the pinnacle of his racing career by capturing his first Sprint Cup title last season. This, year, Harvick has shown no signs of downshifting; indeed, Harvick is even fierier, with a 2015 season average finish of 9.1, compared to 12.9 in 2014.

Kyle busch, should he win, would be the definition of "The Comeback Kid".

Kyle busch, should he win, would be the definition of “The Comeback Kid”.

At Homestead-Miami, Harvick has the best average finish of all contenders over the last 10 races at 6.7, having won last season’s Homestead race to climax his Championship Chase. Harvick has been the odds-on favorite throughout this season’s Chase playoff, and remains in the pole position heading to Homestead, particularly given how strong he looked at Phoenix, ending up with a rain-shortened second place finish after leading 143 laps.

For Jeff Gordon, Homestead-Miami has not been his most prolific track, having collected only one of his 93 storied career victories back in 2012. However, Gordon has still run strong on the 1.5 mile Homestead oval, with an average finish of 10.6 over his 16 career finishes.

Certainly, the preeminent feel-good Championship story would be for Gordon to definitively fulfill his “Drive for Five” quest upon his retirement. With his superstar career spanning 24 years, Gordon’s crossover appeal helped take NASCAR into the mainstream sports audience. Having an All-Star walk off as a Champion is an extraordinary event, reminiscent of legends such as John Elway, who concluded his 16-year NFL career by collecting his second Super Bowl ring after the 1998 season. For Gordon, the transformer of NASCAR is set to retire with his final shot at obtaining the elusive fifth Championship that he has pursued for the past 14 years, spanning more than half of his career.

Under the pre-Chase point system, some pundits say Gordon might have won two more Championships since his last title in 2001. Gordon laughs upon recalling that when he first learned of the new Chase system back in 2004, he felt that NASCAR President Mike Helton couldn’t be serious. Now, if able to win under the latest reincarnation of the Chase, Gordon exclaims “that would be poetic justice.”

My colleague Michele Rahal calls out that Gordon is the only eligible Hendrick Motorsports driver and that Papa Hendrick has delivered the message to the rest of his stable that they are to do everything they can to push Gordon to the Championship. HMS will make sure that the #24 team is fully prepping its finest car for his final ride. Reiterating his team directive at Phoenix, Papa Hendrick testifies that he is “really excited about going down to (Homestead) with the opportunity (for Gordon) to go out a Champion…if he can finish it off, what a storybook ending.” Hendrick will miss Gordon, and will do everything imaginable to give Gordon the royal sendoff.

Kyle Busch has a slot in the Sprint Cup Series championship finale for the first time in his career. For a racer who missed the first eleven Sprint Cup races of this season after breaking his leg in a devastating Daytona crash, Busch is certainly the Cinderella story in terms of a potential comeback.

Likewise, team owner Joe Gibbs Racing is in the same position as Hendrick in delivering team orders. Having the expansive resources of a four car team, JGR will strive to rally around Kyle Busch with the goal of bringing its first Cup Championship to the Toyota Racing organization.

At Homestead, Busch’s Sprint Cup career stats are relatively anemic, with an average finish of 23.1. His best finish of 4th came in 2012. However, Busch has supernatural talent when it comes to wheeling a stocker, and has shown that he knows how to get around the progressive banking of Homestead-Miami Speedway, at least in the XFINITY Series. In his last six XFINITY races at Homestead, Busch has won twice, and finished no lower than 3rd.

Often, Busch uses the XFINITY Series combo weekends to prep for the main Sprint Cup event the following day. At Phoenix Raceway on Saturday, Busch dominated the desert in his XFINITY ride by leading 190 of 200 laps on the way to a victory. In Sunday’ Sprint Cup eliminator race at PIR, Busch clinched his Championship berth by running strong and finishing 4th. We’ll see if Busch can apply the same sequencing strategy at Homestead.

Surprisingly, Martin Truex Jr. might just pull off the most stunning Championship upset in a long time. At the start of the Chase, Truex was given only a 12% chance of making the Championship Four, and an even slimmer 2% probability of winning the Championship. Yet, Truex has defied the odds all season as the little engine that could. Truex’s team has run steadfast and dependable all season, nipping at the heels of every Chase round on his way to Homestead.

Among NASCAR active drivers at Homestead, Truex has the second best average finish of 7.6 over the last 10 races (second only to Harvick). He finished 2nd in 2006, 3rd in 2011, and 4th in 2013.

Statistically, this season has been the finest of Truex’s career; he has delivered season bests for the most Top 5s (8) and Top 10s (22) during 2015. With those stats, Truex just might be the sleeper that shocks the NASCAR world, given he has only won three races over the entire span of his 12-year career.

Almost impossibly, the longest season in sports is coming to the white flag. Heading to Homestead, points no longer matter; the only goal for the teams in the Championship Four is to win the race!

My Prediction: Being sensible, Harvick seems to have the rest of the field covered. But if Harvick falters, my heart says there is far more fate and fortune surrounding Gordon, and that he will pull out a victory in a miraculous manner, leaving us with a storyline that hums through the off season and that can be passed along to future generations of fans.

By Ron Bottano. Let’s connect on Twitter @rbottano and @motorsportsunplugged

Harvick Will Be The Dominant Driver At Phoenix

Gordon's teammates will be playing chess at Phoenix in order to limit the competition for Gordon at Homestead.

Gordon’s teammates will be playing chess at Phoenix in order to limit the competition for Gordon at Homestead.

With this weekend’s NASCAR race at Phoenix looming four drivers will be out of the game and four will be in, Count on Kevin Harvick to be one of the drivers who advance to Homestead for the finale’.

Harvick has had one of those seasons that had the usual ebb and flow we’ve come to expect from top drivers and teams. Periods of excellence that move to mediocre results and then come back with a vengeance aren’t uncommon for those who are in the elite club. The trick is when to peak.

Kevin Harvick seems to be more than at home in Phoenix having won 5 consecutive races at the desert track as well as 8 wins overall. He’s the favorite to win again ensuring his Homestead spot for the chance at his second Cup championship.

There are no more chances, this race is it. Jeff Gordon is ready to go, having won Darlington. The top four drivers in points are: Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex, Jr, who seems to many to be an outlier.

One thing is certain the games will be in play at Phoenix with virtually all 7eligible drivers getting no help from their teammates and Hendrick rallying it’s team to block as many strong contenders as it can from being a threat to Jeff Gordon’s chances at Homestead.

Edwards should be the favorite to transfer to the big show after Phoenix.

Edwards should be the favorite to transfer to the big show after Phoenix.

We were witness to that type of chess play when Jimmie Johnson so skillfully and stealthily ran down a dominant Brad Keselowski to take away a guaranteed spot for the Penske driver as well as further keep Joey Logano at bay.

That could actually play into Martin Truex, Jr’s hands, though the cards aren’t in his favor as his record at Phoenix are far from stellar and Furniture Row is a one car team.

When it’s all said and done, the money seems to point to Gordon, Harvick, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards making the big show in South Florida.

Edwards has two wins at Phoenix and they are within the last few years rather than a decade old, so count him as a real threat to knock Truex out of the picture.

My picks going into Homestead: Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards. Not a stretch, right?

My real hope is that Gordon goes out as a Champion and we can close the books on these cars with too much down force.

2016 is pivotal point for not only NASCAR but IndyCar and Formula One as well. It can’t come too soon for me.

Talladega: Is Kevin Harvick a Genius?

Mike Helton

Mike Helton

What in the Hell actually happened yesterday in that slice of unique America, perhaps more accurately a Principality, called Talladega? Forgive me, I don’t have the prose, thought process or word-smithing ability of our Ron Bottano, but I’m clueless as to why NASCAR allowed Harvick to stay out on that track in a green/white checker situation.

Let me be clear, I don’t think NASCAR manipulated the situation, far worse, they let the bear grow too big. It got away from them somehow. Have they now become a corporation where everyone involved is the smartest guy in the room?

That’s probably closer to the truth. Unless my tiny little South Carolina cracker brain is finally failing me like a pair of jumper cables at a redneck funeral, cars must be capable of maintaining a safe racing speed. I believe there is a minimum speed established for that, they must keep up with the pace car, unfortunately they seemed to throw that rule right out of the window when it came to Kevin Harvick.

Knowing that he could advance to the next round in the Chase elimination process, Harvick could be accused of deliberately crashing Trevor Bayne on the only Green/White checker opportunity that NASCAR would allow under their special Talladega rule. He has been accused of just that by everyone from the drivers to multitudes of Dale Earnhardt Jr fans.

Is Harvick really that smart? Yes he is.

Is Harvick really that smart? Yes he is.

The best read on the incident and aftermath may be by Bob Pockrass. Read it.

I’ve no reason to elaborate on what Bob wrote, but the whole incident does make you wonder just how easy it is to implement a rule or regulation only to run into the rabbit hole of “Unintended Consequences”. Did NASCAR really sit down and think this race, it’s ‘special’ rules and what permutations of consequence it might have?

It doesn’t look as if they did or they didn’t count on a driver at Harvick’s level being clever enough to pull of a frozen field scenario. I’m not saying Harvick crashed intentionally, but he’s is certainly intelligent enough to have figured it out without being outed on the radio. He is most definitely smart enough to have done so. That doesn’t mean he did. But if I were him, I would have.

I would have to say that whether he did it on purpose or not, it was incumbent on NASCAR to have forced him to the back of the line knowing that he could not accelerate and was a moving chicane in a field of wolves ready to drop the hammer.

If he did it on purpose then he’s a genius to have called that play alone in the car.

To me the big question is: Why would NASCAR allow the field to approach a start at 30 to 35 MPH? That pace car should have been pacing the field at 50 to 55 MPH on a track that size and on a green/white finish.

They didn’t, Harvick did, NASCAR lost a lot of credibility.

No one really came out a winner on Sunday.

Harvick’s #4 Team: The Death Star

Harvick seems to be headed for a career peak. He hopes the streak continues.

Harvick seems to be headed for a career peak. He hopes the streak continues.

Is the title just a cheap attempt to emulate Matt Drudge and his sensationalism when it comes to headlines? Maybe a bit.

But, consider this: The Star Wars Death Star was a self contained world that accomplished everything it set out to based on it’s efficiency and self sustainability. OK, so has Kevin Harvick’s little side of the Stewart-Haas Racing garage. So there’s the comparison.

After his performance in Phoenix, there should be no doubt that Harvick’s team has a minimum of flaws. The trick will be to keep it that way through a grueling schedule.

Harvick has every intention of defending his title with a vengeance, now he’s figured out how. He, and everyone around him have meshed to create that always allusive well-oiled machine. Chemistry, gelling or meshed, it doesn’t matter what you call it he has it and the others don’t, yet.

The rest of the SHR organization were, and still are, all over the map.

In 2014 he was doing well with the new team, but a rash of failures, which could still happen, set him back a bit for the rest of the season. Despite this he took the Sprint Cup Championship under the new play-off system. Let’s face it, contrived, fake, whatever you want to call, NASCAR’s system worked. More people watched and Kevin Harvick took advantage of it’s idiosyncrasies.

DeLana Harvick has been in the racing business long enough to have Harvick's back totally. That comes in handy in auto racing decisions and operation.

DeLana Harvick has been in the racing business long enough to have Harvick’s back totally. That comes in handy in auto racing decisions and operation.

What does he have that they don’t have? Several things.

One, he has an immense amount of experience in owning other teams in the lower series and having a hands on approach with them, wife DeLana usually being the hatchet man.  He, along with his crew chief, Rodney Childers, have taken all the components afforded them by SHR, which is a satellite team of Hendrick and created another little biosphere of a satellite that can extract maximum talent from everyone on it.

The second part of that equation is that he has the aforementioned Rodney Childers as his crew chief. Childers jumped around quite a bit, but like Steve Jobs, his movements seemed to have purpose. He would pick up only the knowledge he needed and disregard the rest as chaff from wheat. Jobs never graduated college. He only took the courses he thought would benefit his future.

In Harvicks later days with Richard Childress he quickly saw the writing on the wall with grandson’s of the team. Austin and Ty Dillon.

Not one to be caught in a nepotistic spending free for all, he wisely took the opportunity to work with his friend, Tony Stewart, who had just completed another season as an owner/driver with a three car team.

For Harvick, it’ a matter of being consistent. He’s always been known as “The Closer”, but many times that moniker betrayed him through bad calls, mechanical failures and set-up miscues. No more.

It appears as if Rodney Childers and Harvick have put together the perfect team, although it is racing and anything can go wrong, they seem to have mitigated that risk so far in the 2015 season.

What is happening with Harvick is he is buying insurance. Win as many times as you can early, finish as high as you can when you can’t win and once you have a cushion begin to try the things you’re going to need when the Chase starts. Preparation under the new format requires an early start.

Winning at Phoenix shows he’s got the touch so far, different tracks, different compounds but high-end results.

I have no doubt that anything will change once the new NASCAR rules are fully implemented by the Charlotte race. In fact, I believe Harvick will thrive on them.

It suits his style.

 

 

 

Harvick: The Right Man To Win The Championship

Kevin Harvick is congratulated by his team owner, Tony Stewart, after Harvick won his first Sprint Cup title and the second for Stewart Haas Racing.

Kevin Harvick is congratulated by his team owner, Tony Stewart, after Harvick won his first Sprint Cup title and the second for Stewart Haas Racing.

Many competitors have already said that Kevin Harvick deserved the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship – and many fans agree.

During the course of the season he emerged as one of the most competitive drivers in NASCAR. He put up the kind of numbers it takes to win a title.

For example, he led 2,137 laps, more than any other driver. He’s only the third competitor to lead more than 2,000 laps in a given season.

Interestingly, Jimmie Johnson lead 2,238 laps in 2009 and Jeff Gordon 2,320 laps in 2001 – and both won a championship.

Just prior to the start of the Chase, Harvick started leading laps with ease. He led the most laps in four of the first five “playoff” races, but won only once, at Charlotte.

Prior to 2014, Harvick finished among the top-five in the championship standings six times. He finished third three times, in 2010, 2011 and 2013.

Despite his propensity for leading laps during the Chase, Harvick found himself in a quandary. He was eighth in points after Texas and had to find some way to move into the final four after Phoenix, the next, and last, race before the championship tilt at Homestead.

Harvick came through marvelously. He won at Phoenix – where he led the most laps, again – and cracked the top four, barely.

At Phoenix Harvick might have been at his best. Certainly his championship rivals – Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Ryan Newman – were not about to do anything than their best.

With Harvick in the lead much of the time, the championship contenders locked themselves into the top five, lap after lap.

It was pure, hard racing – the kind of which NASCAR fans so heartily approved.

Ford EcoBoost 400

Harvick came into the last race of the year, at Homestead, fourth in points. His second win in the Chase put him over the top.

Circumstances changed near the end of the race. Harvick found himself free of most of his challengers. Only Newman persisted.

Harvick led the last eight laps (of 54 for the race) and won his second consecutive race in the Chase. It assured him of his first Sprint Cup championship.

Harvick finished with five victories – tied for second-most on the season – 24 top-fives and 20 finishes among the top 10.

Harvick won career-high eight poles in 2014 and set qualifying records six times.

Harvick won the second Sprint Cup title for Stewart Haas Racing since its inception in 2009. The team won the championship with co-owner Tony Stewart in 2011.

But I daresay this year’s title has been far more satisfying. SHR has endured a difficult, controversial year. As you know, a grand jury would not indict Stewart after he struck and killed a driver in a Sprint Cup race in New York in August.

Kurt Busch faces allegations he assaulted his girlfriend in Dover in September. Investigation is ongoing.

It was Harvick’s championship that brought a new, positive focus to SHR and helped establish it as a quality team – despite its difficulties.

This might be Harvick’s first Sprint Cup title but he is no stranger to championships. He has eight driving titles in 33 years of racing.

He joins Bobby Labonte and Brad Keselowski as the only three drivers to have won Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series championships.

Harvick admitted that to win the title wasn’t easy. Prior to the Homestead race, he felt the pressure.

“The week ate me up,” Harvick said. “If it wasn’t for Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart, I would have been in bad trouble. Those guys really helped me get through the week.

“I was a little anxious both days of practice, overdriving the car and not doing things I needed to do. After every practice, Jimmie was in there, and in our team debriefs Tony was constantly telling me just to go race and that it’s just another race.

“It was. It all worked out. I’m just really proud of everybody.”

Harvick did not join SHR until the start of this season. He spent 13 seasons with Richard Childress Racing, where he compiled a record of 23 wins, 100 top-five finishes and 209 among the top 10.

But changes were coming at RCR, including the emergence of Childress’ grandson, Austin Dillon. So Harvick moved on.

And who could have predicted his first season at SHR would bring a championship?

“They gave us all the resources that we needed, and said, ‘Whatever you guys think you need, you go get,’ ” Harvick said. “We never talked about money, we never talked about any anything financial. It was just go get what you need.

“We built all brand new race cars, trucks, trailers with all new people. This format really helped us build through the year. We had really fast cars but it helped us build as a team.”

Harvick also acknowledged that the new Chase format was a boon and a success for him. – which is obvious.

“I think this Chase is about the best thing that has happened to this sport over the last decade,” he said. “This is probably going to shorten the drivers careers because it’s been so stressful.

“But I want to thank every single fan for sticking with this sport, and to the industry for working to get it right.”

 

 

 

 

 

Harvick Deserves Sprint Cup Title, or Maybe Those Other Guys?

Harvick deserves the Sprint Cup Title...just ask him!

Harvick deserves the Sprint Cup Title…just ask him!

Kevin Harvick should, by all indicators, be crowned the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion. Book it, put it on the board, write that down in the history books. Done.

What Happy and the #4 Stewart Haas Racing team has accomplished in their very first year as a brand new team is amazing. Harvick has been the most consistent of the field week in and week out speed-wise, and would have more wins to show for it if they also weren’t the most consistent in pit road mishaps and just bad racing luck in general.

Once it became evident that Harvick was a legitimate title contender, his boss Tony Stewart effectively fired the entire pit crew of the #4 and replaced them with his own championship caliber pit crew from the #14. With the right tools, support and confidence that only speed and experience can give, Harvick should be the guy raising that beautiful trophy Sunday afternoon at Miami Homestead.

Except for the fact that Ryan Newman should actually be the champion. The only driver to make it in the Chase on points alone, he has made every lap of every race count during the Chase. He’s stayed out of trouble, kept his fenders intact, and generally made very little noise, instead letting the likes of Brad Keselowski, Jeff Gordon and the woes of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson take the spotlight and pressure off.

Winless this season, Newman's intrusion into the Cup title finale has ruffled a few feathers, but his consistency can't be argued.

Winless this season, Newman’s intrusion into the Cup title finale has ruffled a few feathers, but his consistency can’t be argued.

His last lap-last gasp pass at Phoenix is the stuff legends are made of, when he drove his #31 Chevy as deep as he could in the corner, bounced off Rookie of the Year leader Kyle Larson to get that one last position he needed to advance to that one last race. If Newman were to win the Championship by winning at Homestead, that would be nothing short of amazing. There has been plenty of grumbling and criticism that Newman is even in a position to compete for the Championship, prompting Brian France to articulate that yes, this format is designed to reward winning, but not at the expense of consistency. So absolutely, Ryan Newman is the clear favorite for the title.

As a humorous sidebar, Harvick, the master of one liners, addressed the ‘Newman Not Gordon’ controversy this week by quipping to the media, “I’m just glad to get here tonight and not know there wasn’t a fifth participant added”, a polite but pointed jab at NASCAR for arbitrarily adding Jeff Gordon to last year’s Chase field. Harvick just gets funnier the more he speaks his mind.

Hamlin has been tenacious enough to earn him a spot in the UFC.

Hamlin has been tenacious enough to earn him a spot in the UFC.

But, no matter, Denny Hamlin is the favorite. The standard bearer for Joe Gibbs Racing, which encountered a bit of a slump this year (by JGR standards anyway) secured his position in the Chase with one win at the wreck-fest known as Talladega in the spring race. Hamlin has come a long way since the 2013 campaign, when an incident at Fontana with Joey Logano sidelined him with a back injury for 4 weeks and relegated him to finish 23rd in the points, missing the Chase for the first time since entering full time Cup competition. The JGR Toyotas have struggled to find speed this year, and if it weren’t for the talent and tenacity of Hamlin and teammates Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth (both early Chasers, as well), JGR would have far less to show for their 2013 efforts. Hamlin has been dedicated to re-establishing himself as a premier driver in the series, and if anyone deserves a nice piece of hardware, especially after narrowly missing one in 2010, it is definitely him.

Then again, Joey Logano should be the guy celebrating in showering confetti and champagne. The oft-overlooked little ‘brother’ of Brad Keselowski, it seems that Joey’s season in the #22 Ford was just a half step behind Keslowski’s in the #2. And truly, if it weren’t for the 2 and 22, Ford would be sorely represented in Cup for 2013. While Roush Fenway struggled, Penske’s teams found something special that had them contending for wins every single week. Brad finished the regular season with the most wins, and was probably the most exciting driver to watch in the Chase because of his ability to ruffle feathers and upset the driver establishment. However, Logano kept plugging away, and was able to advance through the first 2 Chase rounds by scoring wins at Kansas and New Hampshire, and now has made it to Homestead as a contender by finishing 5th, 12th and 6th the last 3 races. He has raced hard but smart, and if anyone deserves a beautiful Sprint Cup to put in the trophy case or on his mantle, it’s Joey.

Often under the radar, due mainly to his team mates flashy performances, Logano is a true contender.

Often under the radar, due mainly to his team mates flashy performances, Logano is a true contender.

And that’s why this race is the most anticipated in this Chase, which has easily surpassed the expectations of the competitors and fans alike. It certainly hasn’t been without controversy – in fact, this field stumbled from controversy to controversy like a drunken sailor. But for once, these were almost ACCEPTABLE controversies, revolving around drivers and teams rather than flubbed calls and cautions for debris.

To be fair, this week has seen a louder grumble from the long time and loyal fan base, particularly Gordon fans, who are absolutely livid that Gordon missed the final cut and Newman is in, but this isn’t a surprise to anyone. Everyone knew the rules before the season began, and everyone played to the same standards. NASCAR is always in a precarious position when they play with their ‘product’: Too much change, and the traditionalist fan base gets upset. Not enough side-by-side/wheel to wheel action, and the newer fans wonder why this sport was exciting in the first place. Brian France himself has stated categorically that the results of this Chase have exceeded expectations, and it’s hard to disagree.

Long time followers of local short track racing series know that the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is unique in the race distances (length), variety of tracks, and length of season. However, in what can be considered a ‘throwback’ move, the culmination of the 2014 chase resembles a Saturday Night Track Championship Feature. Four eligible drivers qualified, and it doesn’t matter HOW, only that they did, four drivers start, and one is crowned Champion. Kind of the way intense racing should be.

And that’s why he deserves the title. And him and him and him.

Harvick Shines With SHR, The Others Not So Much

Kevin Harvick dominated the race at Phoenix to win his first race of the season and his first with Stewart Haas Racing.

Well, one thing we can say about the Phoenix NASCAR Sprint Cup race with that infernal long name was that it wasn’t Daytona, was it?

Whereas Daytona was a very exciting event with several laps of riveting racing and a marvelous performance by winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Phoenix turned out to be a good ol’ fashion country butt kicking. Hey, it happens.

It was Kevin Harvick who did the kicking. That he did so shouldn’t be a surprise. He has now won five Phoenix races, more than any other driver.

He’ll tell you that Phoenix just suits him. During his earlier years of competition he raced on tracks that were very similar to the flat, one-mile layout in the desert.

Harvick led 224 of 312 laps, a performance that can be labeled dominating at the least.

Here’s the kicker:

Harvick was in new equipment. After 13 years with Richard Childress Racing – with which Harvick won 23 races, including four at Phoenix – the driver from Bakersfield, Calif., moved to Stewart Haas Racing for the start of the 2014 season.

Which begged the question: Could Harvick be his usual strong self at Phoenix with a new team?

We now know the answer.

Harvick admits that he has gotten comfortable quickly in his new situation and that, in turn, has contributed to early success.

“We do this to win.” Harvick said. “You want to win races. We’ve been fortunate to do that in the past. But in this arena it’s about winning championships and trying to be competitive on a weekly basis.

“I felt like I needed that enthusiasm to show up to work. I feel like as we go through situations, I’ve learned that Tony (Stewart) is one of the smartest people that I know.

SHR’s Danica Patrick has suffered several misfortunes this year in the form of accidents and this blown engine she experienced during practice for the Daytona 500.

“He sits there and listens to everything you say, takes all these things in. I know I’m going to say something and he’s going to remember it four, five, six weeks down the road.

“I’ve sat there and talked with Tony about what’s expected. He expects Rodney (Childers, crew chief) and I to lead the charge on the competition side.

“When he basically said that, right off the bat I felt comfortable speaking my mind. I think it gives these guys a lot of leeway to do the same thing.”

Harvick’s achievement smacks of what Matt Kenseth did in 2013. Kenseth raced for Roush Fenway for years and then departed for Joe Gibbs Racing.

It turned out to be a most fortuitous decision. Kenseth won seven races last season – more than any other driver – and finished second in the final point standings, 19 behind champion Jimmie Johnson.

Of course, it is way too early to declare that Harvick will do something similar. But it’s obvious the potential is there.

As it stands now Harvick is, without question, the main man at SHR. He’s got his victory, a potential spot in the Chase and is currently fourth in points.

The other three drivers have not fared as well.

Stewart, Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick have yet to crack the top 15 in two races. At Phoenix, Stewart was 16th, Busch 39th after engine failure and Patrick 36th after a couple of incidents.

Stewart ranks 20th in points, Busch 30th and Patrick 39th.

Maybe the fuel cell problem Stewart experienced in Daytona, where he finished 35th, and Busch’s engine problems at Phoenix could be traced to difficulties at SHR.

However, Patrick, in a year where she must show competitive improvement, has been wiped out due to accidents not necessarily of her making.

“It’s tough,” she said. “That’s two weeks in a row we’ve had good cars and nothing to show for it.

“The car was good all day, we just needed track position. I’m starting to think if we didn’t have bad luck, we’d have no luck at all.”

Harvick is not concerned about luck, at least not now. He is propelled by his victory and what it says about his team.

“I just enjoy racing the cars and being around the people and seeing the enthusiasm that comes with everything,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like a job to everybody. It seems like everybody wants to be here and is having fun doing it.

“It’s just a different atmosphere for me. The enthusiasm is just through the roof.”

Piquet’s Groin Kick Made Headlines But Harvick Wins The Main Event in Overtime Fight

Kevin Harvick does a burnout at Richmond after he won the Toyota Owners 400. Harvick raced from seventh to first over a two-lap “overtime” period that ended the event.

In one man’s opinion, the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway was the perfect example of what short-track racing can be.

The scenario for great deal of drama was set up by a two-lap “overtime” period, which meant there would be a frantic, no-holds-barred chase for the checkered flag.

Sure enough, when the green flag fell there was beating and banging all over the place.

However, Kevin Harvick, who drives for Richard Childress Racing, shot through the mayhem without a scratch to win his first NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the season.

Equipped with four fresh tires following the race’s last pit stop, created by Brian Vickers’ spin in the third turn, Harvick was able to charge from seventh place to first.

He led the last two laps of the race.“To be sitting there seventh on four tires and the only other guy on four tires sitting on the outside, I felt like if I could get by the row in front of me the guys on no tires were sitting ducks,” said Harvick, who has won 20 times in his career and is, to date, the only driver to win for Childress this season.

“It all worked out. We were fortunate to have it all line up.  I drove it in there, hoped for the best.

“Figured 4, 8, 12, whatever was on the outside tire‑wise would be plenty to lean on and by the time we got to the backstretch, everything had cleared out.”

As you might expect, tempers flared during the grinding, race-ending competition and in some cases, drivers vented their anger and frustration on the cool-down lap.

Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch – both of whom ran among the leaders all night – swapped paint while Busch got involved in another scrap with Tony Stewart.

Busch, who drives for Furniture Row Racing and is no stranger to on and off-track altercations, was upset with Kenseth, who moved him out of the way during the sprint to the finish.

The he had a door-whacking battle with an upset Stewart on pit road.

Juan Pablo Montoya scored a season-best fourth-place finish at Richmond and led the race for 67 laps.

“I don’t know why he was so angry,” Busch said of Stewart. “After all, it was a free-for-all at the end. Everybody’s slamming everybody.

“I’m getting hit from behind. I got shoved out of the way, too, by Matt.”

Busch finished ninth. Kenseth, who lead 140 laps only days after his Joe Gibbs Racing team was severely punished by NASCAR for an illegal engine part, wound up in seventh.

“If you ask me, Busch drove up there and knocked me into the marbles,” Kenseth said. “Just two laps left, everybody’s going to go for it – especially on a short track.

“We go for every hole we can get. That’s the best I could do.”

“I got hit every which way,” Busch said. “So did Kenseth, who moved us out of the way at the end. That’s why I was upset with him. We got a top 10 out of it but the biggest thing is our car didn’t have a scratch on it. Now it’s destroyed.”

Stewart was one of the drivers who remained on the track during the final caution period. He and four others were sitting ducks.

Busch nudged Stewart out of the way and sped ahead, leaving Stewart to drift from fifth to 18th place.

Busch and Stewart banged each other on pit road before Stewart drove away. He made no comment.

Michael Waltrip Racing’s Clint Bowyer, who led 113 laps as he and fellow Toyota driver Kenseth dominated over half the race, finished second.

“It really got wild there at the end – I was just lucky enough to be on the bottom,” Bowyer said. “They started making holes up there in front of me and the seas parted, and I just followed suit behind Harvick.

“It was a good run. Thanks to Toyota for coming on board to sponsor this race. Wish we could have won the Toyota race, but second’s not bad.”

Joey Logano’s third-place showing was a salve for his Penske Racing team, which will appeal penalties enforced by NASCAR on May 1

Juan Pablo Montoya finished fourth, the best run of the season for him and Chip Ganassi Racing.

“We had a great car. Same as last week, we had a great car,” said Montoya, who was leading the race before the final caution. “The pit crew redeemed themselves tonight. They did a great job all day, no mistakes. That is what we needed.”

And victory is just what Harvick and Childress needed. Harvick, who has now won three times at Richmond, will not be competing for RCR in 2014.

But when it comes to winning, being a so-called “lame duck” means nothing.

“I feel like our cars have performed well,” Harvick said. “I feel like we’re getting better with some things coming down the road.

“It doesn’t feel like it’s any different for me than any other year has been, other than you know at the end of the year everybody knows what’s going on.

“In the end, we all have big egos and we want to be competitive and we want to win races and do the things that it takes to go out there and fulfill that feel that you like, whether it’s in victory lane or anywhere else.”

 

 

 

 

The Dogfight: Three Way NASCAR Battle

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase is tighter than it’s been since it was created. Michele Rahal of The Motorsports Channel and www.themotorsportschannel.com breaks down the series going into NASCAR’s fastest track, Texas. Harvick, Johnson and Hamlin can’t hold back.

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