Did You Notice? … Two races into 2014, Kevin Harvick is the only Stewart-Haas Racing car with either a top-5 or top-10 finish? SHR’s struggle has been notable as Tony Stewart was off the pace at Atlanta, uncompetitive long before getting caught up in a mid-race accident. Regan Smith has run admirably, keeping the No. 41 team afloat in Kurt Busch’s absence, but he’s been little more than a midpack driver. Danica Patrick has run reasonable, posting an average finish of 18.5 but that’s far less impressive considering the two tracks we’ve been to. Daytona is one of her best, a restrictor plate opportunity to run up front and Atlanta’s a place where she’s run top 10 in the recent past.
SHR’s sluggish push out of the gate sits in sharp comparison to Hendrick Motorsports, posting three drivers inside the top 7 in points. Jeff Gordon, while stuck in 35th, has been highly competitive in both races before getting caught up in accidents not of his making. Overall, HMS has led over 250 laps in this very young season to lead any organization on the circuit; SHR, if not for its No. 4 car would have led none. Stewart, in fact sits 36th in points and is already 35 points out of a Chase spot.
How is the Hendrick knowledge not filtering on down? At this point, it appears Harvick’s team is working on an island while the other portions of the organization simply tread water. While Rodney Childers is an exceptional crew chief, the difference in performance shouldn’t be that noticeable. Early on, it looks like the HMS knowledge of the new rules package has them slightly ahead, with Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing nipping at their heels. But it’s still early.
Did You Notice? … On the other end of the spectrum, Roush Fenway Racing appears to have hit a new low. Running on an intermediate track Sunday, Trevor Bayne ran a respectable 19th but was out of the top 20 most of the race. In fact, RFR’s three-car tandem of Bayne, Greg Biffle and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. was so far off, they spent time running behind underfundeds like Front Row Motorsports’ Cole Whitt. How are the chassis for these guys so far off while their engines are spurring teams like Penske to new heights?
Once the cornerstone for Ford, RFR now feels like it’s an in-house engine program with the actual cars competing there as an afterthought. Carl Edwards, while not off to a rip-roaring start with new employer Joe Gibbs Racing also sits higher in points (13th) than either of these three drivers. Las Vegas will truly tell the tale, but it seems like offseason engineering changes have done little to close the gap internally between RFR and other Ford programs.
Did You Notice? … Quick hits before taking off
- Found it interesting Michael Waltrip Racing felt compelled to issue a statement about the impressive performance of Brett Moffitt. Certainly, to earn a top-10 finish in the No. 55 car is an impressive achievement; I’m not trying to minimize it. You just don’t see press releases from middle-tier organizations trumpeting a top-10 result they typically take for granted. Maybe they’re trying to market Moffitt to sponsors early and hope someone bites? I’ll tell you this much: Brian Vickers’ leash at MWR suddenly got a little shorter beyond 2015 (good luck to him as he returns to the cockpit this week after heart surgery).
- So far, Chip Ganassi Racing is 4-for-4 in their start/wreck ratio this season. Not exactly what the doctor ordered after all their late-season momentum gave Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray high expectations for 2015.
- In just the second Truck race of the season, eyebrows were raised as the field couldn’t get filled to 32. Several of the trucks who started were far down on horsepower and were lapped several times within the course of a 200-mile race. Perhaps the turnaround after Daytona was too quick for some teams whose trucks got wrecked? It’s not a promising sign for a series which is known as the most competitive… when enough Trucks show up to compete, of course.
- NASCAR says implementing the SAFER Barrier everywhere is its highest priority. What would be better is a statement that multiple tracks, places where the series won’t compete until midsummer, have decided to implement them all over their inside walls. Actions speak louder than words, you know.
- Keeping the reinstatement process of Kurt Busch secret seems just as bizarre as the whole domestic violence incident itself that got him into this mess. Is the sport just doing private polling and, when it seems like enough fans have gotten over it, will put the guy back in the driver’s seat? Every NFL drug addict has a specific reimbursement program spelled out for them. Shouldn’t NASCAR have the same for domestic violence instead of “indefinite” reinstatement processes?
Did You Notice? … I’ve been gone for a week? Thanks to my dedicated staff of editors and writers who held down the fort while I had to take some unexpected personal time. They’re the best out there!