Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) has signed Daniel Suárez to its Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series lineup in 2019. The Mexican driver, who turned 27 today, will pilot the team’s No. 41 Ford Mustang with sponsorship from Haas Automation and ARRIS International PLC, joining teammates Kevin Harvick, Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer. Continue reading “Suarez Joins Stewart-Haas Racing”
NASCAR announces that it has levied an L-1 level penalty against Stewart-Haas Racing on its #4 entry driven by Kevin Harvick. The penalty was the result of the team creating their own spoilers versus using the premanufactured ones mandated by NASCAR. Stewart-Haas Racing would not appeal the penalty, which was to strip Harvick of his automatic birth into the championship four by virtue of his Texas win, loss of 40 championship points for Harvick and the team, suspension of both crew chief Rodney Childers and car Chief Robert Smith for the final two races of the season. Stewart-Haas Racing named Tony Gibson as Harvick’s interim crew chief for the final races at Phoenix and Homestead.
NASCAR also announced penalties to Team Penske (#12 Ryan Blaney) and Joe Gibbs Racing (#20 Erik Jones). Blaney was issued a L1-level penalty for unapproved door front crush panels which resulted in a loss of 20 driver and team points, crew chief Jeremy Bullins was fined $50,000 and car chief Kirk Almquist was suspended for the next two races. Jones was issued a L1-level penalty for infractions on the body and package tray, which resulted in a $50,000 fine to crew chief Chris Gayle and car chief Jason Overstreet was suspended for the next two races.
For Kevin Harvick, yesterday’s poor finish can be directly linked to the actions of Jimmie Johnson. That much was evident after Johnson tried to talk to him about the contact that led to a cut left rear tire. Harvick gave Johnson a shove (or punch depending on how you saw it) and many choice words. If you didn’t see the video, you will soon because NASCAR will be pushing this baby all over to promote their Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship battle.
Johnson took the jab in stride, let Harvick yap, and when it seemed nothing would be accomplished, walked away. Not all of this falls onto Johnson’s shoulders, sure it was his car that made the contact that put Harvick in that position, but there’s other factors involved.
If you watch the video, you can see Joey Logano push Johnson on the restart, leaving Johnson with nowhere to go but low below Harvick. The option there would have been to plow into Harvick and we could only guess where that would lead. A giant pile up? Harvick’s car getting trashed anyways? Or maybe nothing would have happened.
The option Johnson went with was going low next to Harvick, something Harvick was aware of. There was an opening next to Harvick, so the option was there for him to slide over without contact, but Harvick wanted to send the message he wasn’t giving an inch to Johnson.
“I saw those guys coming on the apron. They must have gotten together and had a good run up. But I just held my ground and he (Johnson) just slammed into the side of the door like I wasn’t even there. So, the spotter was telling me four-wide and I guess he just figured that he’d come up the race track,” said Harvick.
Johnson also had that mindset, as he came over whether Harvick was willing to move or not. “He (Harvick) didn’t leave me any space. He was pinning me down, and I had to get back up on the track. I wouldn’t say that what he did was any different than other situations I’ve been in like that. When you are in his position, you want to get the inside car in a bad angle so they have to lift. I was fine with lifting, but I had to get back on the race track, so I worked my way back up on the track,” commented Johnson after the race.
The contact took place, which is a common occurrence in the world of racing. What makes this unique, is Harvick and his crew ran the calculated risk that the damage inflicted would not lead to a cut tire. It is a coin flip situation, as you can try and run around hoping the tire and fender separate before the tire goes. That was not the case of Harvick, who shortly thereafter lost his left rear.
While it would have been costly to come down pit road, it paled in comparison to what transpired and the time lost repairing a fully wrecked vehicle. I understand it is the Chase, you are up front and want to do your best, but you have to error on the side of caution when something like that happens.
Right now Harvick doesn’t want to hear it or share the blame, but things could been done differently on both sides. The good thing for Harvick is he is fast enough each week, that winning at New Hampshire or Dover is a possibility, it just means he and his crew need to be flawless the next two races.
One year ago it was chaos for NASCAR fans as the announcement came through there was a new version of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, one that put emphasis on winning, had eliminations, and an expanded field. Many, include me, thought this was the dumbest idea ever and no way would it work. Sometimes I can admit when I’m wrong, and judging by the tempers that overflowed and nail biting season finale at Homestead, this was the correct move for NASCAR to make. Continue reading “Sprint Cup Series 2015 Season Preview”
The call of a championship raised the performance for all four of the drivers going for the Sprint Cup Series title on Sunday. That was evident by all four being in the top-5 at multiple times during the race. Statistics and history was thrown out the window for the most part, but those pointed to Kevin Harvick winning, and that’s exactly what happened.
It wasn’t overall surprising to see Harvick capture the crown, given that the team has been fast every week. The only thing they could not get going was luck on their side, but they did it the correct way. Get all the bad luck out of the way early, then execute for the title. Interesting that the pit crew for Harvick was able to pick up their second championship, the first being with Tony Stewart in 2011.
Ryan Newman made a big statement in his second place finish that he did not luck his way into this battle. His team even improved up their performance as the race went on, going from losing Newman spots to gaining him spots on pit road. That was key to getting him close to the lead for the final stretch of restarts. This team has a lot to build on and I’m hoping there is not second place hang over.
For the team of Denny Hamlin, they showed a lot of guts making calls late to put them in a position to win. It was just worn tires were not his friend and the nail in the coffin was spinning his tires on the second to final restart. That made him loose track position he could never get back. It will be interesting what Joe Gibbs does with his crew chiefs, as a major swap seems evident.
While Newman’s crew came through at the end, Joey Logano’s team failed him at the end. Well, you can’t blame the crew too much for the side of the car giving way, but because of that, the car fell off the jack, and a lot of valuable time was lost trying to get it back in the air. He will be left with dwelling on what could have been had that executed as planned, but there is always next year.
This new format really puts the television producers in a small box for their finale coverage. Luckily I had a vested interest in two of the final four drivers, so I didn’t mind the extremely bias coverage of them. I could see how someone who was a Jimmie Johnson fan, for example, could get frustrated with the coverage. That said, it is the title and that is more important than whatever position Johnson (for this example) could have gotten. Tough spot for NASCAR and ESPN, but based on the early numbers, I don’t think many are complaining.
Congratulations are in order for Brad Keselowski, who is the first loser. He was able to rise to fifth place and with Jeff Gordon can just think about what could have been had they made it into the finale. Well, just hopefully they don’t think about that together, because that could get ugly.
As much as I would like a Super Bowl like feel of moving the season finale among many tracks, Homestead does provide a lot of action and options for drivers. You can run high, low, middle, and even push it four wide, and we didn’t see many big accidents because of that. The racing was hard and fast, just the way it needs to be for the title.
Looking at the history of close point battles, you could put this one at the top because of the one point difference between Harvick and Newman. Realistically that was fabricated by the rules, so I would throw that out on that level. Looking overall I would rate this as the top four best season finales: 1992 when Alan Kulwicki out smarts Bill Elliott, 2004 the first Chase where Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, and Jimmie Johnson all went neck and neck with Busch prevailing, this title fight, and the 2011 Tony Stewart/Carl Edwards duel that ended with Stewart rising the occasion.
Kevin Harvick flat out dominated the Quicken Loans 500 from the Phoenix International Raceway. He led 264 of the 312 laps and punched his ticket into the Chase finale with his win. Joining Harvick with a shot at the title at Homestead next weekend is Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, and Ryan Newman.
Here are some observations on the Chase and this weekend’s race:
Anything For A Championship
If the past few weeks haven’t been indicators of the pressure teams and drivers are under, today provided another example of that. While there were no post-race fights on pit road, Ryan Newman did everything he could to wrestle 11th place from Kyle Larson, which included a slide job into Larson to get the spot. Different from last weekend, Larson did get into the wall, but still salvaged a 13th place finish. Dirty move by Newman? No way, he’s going for a title and it is racing. Larson might not disagree, but he’ll understand in time like Newman said.
Second Just Isn’t Good Enough
Jeff Gordon finished second and became the first loser when it came to the Chase cut off. He might have tied Kevin Harvick for fourth place, but Harvick’s win gets him in. After last weekend, there will be lots Gordon will dwell on, but this season has been a major resurgence on his career. Capping off with another Homestead win will go a long way to putting this behind him.
Hamlin And Logano Try To Give It Away
Both Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano tried to give away their positions in the Chase. Hamlin had a tire go down and lost two laps, but battled back to make it in with a top-5 finish. I had already given up on Hamlin, equating him to being toast at one point, and began to wonder where crew chief Darren Grubb might be working next year. They hang on for one more race, but I can’t imagine there will not be changes across the board at Joe Gibbs Racing. Logano had a simple pit miscue, and like Hamlin, he just couldn’t get through the traffic back in the pack fast enough. Both persevered and will look to take home a title.
First Timer Next Weekend
We will have another first time champion when the checkered flag falls next weekend. The only driver of the four that has a NASCAR title on his resume is Kevin Harvick, owning two Nationwide Series championships. A quick look at the title contenders at Homestead, you’ll see by virtue of average finish it is Harvick’s to lose. He’s averaging an 8.08 finished followed by Hamlin (11.22), Newman (17.00), and Logano (20.80). Hamlin though owns two wins at the track versus the zero for everyone else.
Harvick Takes The Record
Kevin Harvick used his dominating performance to move past Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin, and Jimmie Johnson to become the all-time lap leader in Sprint Cup Series history at Phoenix. He now has led 978 laps, which is 45 more than Johnson. This is one record that could seesaw over the next couple of years, but it is an impressive list of drivers Harvick got past. Rounding out the top-10 are Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, and Denny Hamlin.
Johnson Continues To Look At 2015
It’s hard to rationalize a four win season as being “terrible,” but when you’re Jimmie Johnson, that’s how the bar is set. Phoenix was another forgettable race for Johnson and his team as an accident knocked him out on lap 235 for a 39th place finish. Dominating last weekend to near last the next has been the exact example of his season.
Ambrose Gears For The End
Marcos Ambrose’s NASCAR career has one more race left in it, but he is not going down without a fight. Ambrose picked up his 46th career top-10 finish at Phoenix with a late charge past Ryan Newman and Kyle Larson. Coming into Homestead, Ambrose has a lot to be proud with after his eight years in the Sprint Cup Series.
Hindsight is always 20/20, so looking back at NASCAR’s decision of an emphasis on winning it shouldn’t be surprising that tempers are flaring at every turn. With time running out before the season finale, another flare up at the Texas Motor Speedway has again put NASCAR in an interesting box. Continue reading “NASCAR In An Interesting Box”