NASCAR Race Weekend Central

VFW 200 Truck Series Race Recap – 8.20.2011 – Vito at MIS

It was fitting that Kevin Harvick’s sponsor was mixed martial arts clothing company Tap Out for today’s VFW 200 at Michigan International Speedway. It was just such an event that paved the way for Harvick to win his second Truck Series race of the year as a driver, and fourth for his company Kevin Harvick Incorporated. It was touch and go also before the race even began, with fears of threatening skies ending the race at the halfway distance of just 50 laps.

Crew chiefs were radioing drivers as their trucks were sitting on pit road after the command to start engines to start saving all the fuel they could – while idling.

As the storm clouds gathered and off of Turn Three, the action on the track picked up. Mark Martin and points leader Johnny Sauter battled back and forth with Martin leading at the stripe for laps 21 and 22 – but come lap 23, the 32 truck checked out, extending a lead of four seconds over second place before ceding first place to Austin Dillon, pitting for tires on lap 34. Kyle Busch and Joey Coulter took turns leading at the front as green flag stops cycled through, with Busch retiring early on lap 63 after suffering a punctured radiator from a piece of A-pillar Plexiglas that fell off another truck.

A debris caution (presumably for debris…) on Lap 79 bunched up the field for a series of restarts, which eventually led to points leader Johnny Sauter’s No. 13 spinning out exiting Turn Two, and the elimination of five of the day’s primary contenders.

The next restart, with 10 laps remaining saw Harvick take the lead through Turn One and Two after restarting third, as Parker Kligerman tapped out Mark Martin in second, sending them both spinning in front of the field. As trucks scattered everywhere, so were the principles in the Camping World Truck Series championship points standings. Matt Crafton clipped Martin’s truck on the apron of the track, while Austin Dillon was forced into the outside wall. As Kligerman’s wounded ride continued down the track, he had no visibility or brakes, and ran into Dillon from behind.

Upon reaching pit road, Dillon’s engine let go, at which point he abandoned his ride. Dillon would end the day in 22nd, now eight points behind Johnny Sauter. James Buescher would end the day in fourth, vaulting up to second place in the standings, just five markers behind Sauter.

With Dillon’s crippled No. 3 Bass Pro Shops Silverado parked in front of the “Pure Michigan” logos on the inside of the pit road wall were tragically ironic for a state that has seen it’s fair share of struggles in recent years.

For the principles collected in the lap 90 melee, it was a snap shot of those who had dominated the afternoon. It was Martin, Crafton, and Dillon who conspired to lead most laps of the event, with Martin up front for 33 of 100 laps, Crafton 20, and Dillon 16. Kligerman was lurking all race long, having pitted for four tires on lap 79 with eight other trucks, giving him the freshest set of four for the final restarts.

Kligerman accepted responsibility for the incident afterwards, saying he was not trying to pass, but simply trying to hang onto the truck to get through the corner.

The final restarts following a debris caution for Joey Coulter’s shredded tire at the Start/Finish line were merely a formality, as Harvick took the green as the leader, and held on as the caution was displayed on lap 102 for an incident on the backstretch between Brazilians Miguel Paludo and Nelson Piquet, Jr. Piquet was walking through garage area after being released from the infield care center, looking dazed and despondent after hitting the outer edge of a retaining wall, that thankfully featured the energy absorbing SAFER Barrier.

While the Truck Series has traditionally been known for it’s furious and frantic finishes, it has also been taken to task for the number of start and park teams and field-fillers – which become more glaring when there are but 36 positions in the field, rather than the 43 we normally see. There were nine trucks that failed to complete 20 laps, while five trucks lasted for six laps or less. The No. 57, 75, 07, and 89 trucks were audibly either running tired sickly engines – or simply running at half throttle nearly a half a lap down simply to make time and preserve what was left of their equipment.

Far be it from me in these times of dire straits to suggest how somebody should abuse or mitigate the damage to their racecars – and livelihood. That is something best left up to the car owners who are responsible for maintaining pay rolls and invoices of their operation, something Kevin Harvick is keenly aware of. As he sat answering questions in the media center following his Victory Lane obligations, Harvick was trying to follow the Nationwide Series race from Montreal, to see how his driver for the weekend Scott Speed was faring in the KHI No. 33 Rheem Chevrolet.

While he was literally wearing his driver’s hat just moments earlier, it was Harvick the team owner who was seated before the press.

“Owning the stuff, we’ve seen the stuff from start to finish, from when the buildings were just a piece of dirt to what it’s evolved into today,” Harvick said of his Kevin Harvick Inc. organization. “The last several weeks are what we expect out of the race team; it can be not near as much fun when you’re not winning.”

With the continued success that Harvick has enjoyed as an owner in both the Nationwide and Truck Series, I asked if these subsequent wins ever provide any additional motivation or help give consideration to eventually bringing KHI to Cup level competition. Harvick chuckled at the notion and left no doubt to what the future holds for his company.

“I can tell you, you’ll never see this company in Cup, as long as I’m driving.”

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