Who’s happier than Happy Harvick right now? He, crew chief Rodney Childers and the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 team are firing on all cylinders as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads into the third leg of the Cup series’ west coast swing. A trip to Victory Lane at Las Vegas, followed by sitting on the pole and winning the CampingWorld.com 500 this past weekend at Phoenix International Raceway, has propelled Harvick to the top of the field in the point standings in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Harvick didn’t just take the checkered flag and win the race at Phoenix, he dominated… it’s just that simple. The No. 4 car led 225 of 312 laps at the one-mile tri-oval speedway in the desert, securing his second win of this still, very young, season.
This weekend as the traveling circus that is the Sprint Cup Series heads into Fontana, Calif. for the Auto Club 400, a homecoming of sorts for the Bakersfield, Calif. native Harvick. In 21 career starts at Auto Club Speedway, he has an average finish of 16th, including two DNF’s and one lone victory back in 2011 when he was with RCR driving the No. 29 Chevy. Harvick hasn’t been bad by any measure at California, but he hasn’t seen the same dominance as he’s had in the past at a track like he had with Phoenix this past weekend.
Seeing what the No. 4 Chevy SS can do this at Auto Club Speedway will be one story to follow this weekend. Another storyline of sorts is the dramatic turnaround of Harvick’s teammate, Kurt Busch, who was just reinstated by NASCAR following his legal issues, this past weekend at Phoenix. Busch, who hadn’t turned a single lap in his No. 41 Haas Automation Chevy this season in a Sprint Cup points race, took to Phoenix starting eighth and finished fifth. A top-5 finish for the series’ 2004 champion is exactly what crew chief Tony Gibson and Gene Haas wanted to see considering everything that has transpired with Busch and the No. 41 team so far this season.
And now, let’s dive into this week’s mailbox questions…
Q: Greg, do you think that Danica Patrick will win a Sprint Cup Series race in 2015? If yes, what race to you think that Danica will win? –Chris Fiegler, Latham, NY
A: Hey Chris, thanks for writing in. Discussing Danica is always one of those ongoing points of conversation for any NASCAR fan. I talked about her in week one this season, and my opinion on her and her potential doesn’t waver. She’s got a ton of it. Its just a matter of putting it all together into solid runs week in and week out, which she’s had a tough time doing in her really only 2 full seasons in Sprint Cup racing (running 10 races back in 2012, and the 4 this year). She has made progress, posting three top-10 finishes in 2014 at Kansas, Daytona and Atlanta, so things are trending in the right direction. She’s had some bad luck more than bad driving (I’d say) this year and gotten into some trouble out there on the track, not due to any fault of her own, just of where she was running.
If the No. 10 GoDaddy machine and Patrick’s crew chief Daniel Knost can tap into the same setups on the intermediate tracks with this new rules package as teammates Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch have run, and in Harvick’s case won with, Patrick should be able to get some top-10 finishes (at least) this season. Thus far, she has a best finish in 2015 of 16th at Atlanta.
With all of that said, I can’t say that I think Patrick will win this season, but that doesn’t mean she couldn’t. If she were to, I’d say just based on her past runs, and what she’s comfortable at, it would be at a plate racing track like Talladega. If she and Knost can get that car setup just right, she has the speed to be competitive, and she’s been decent at restrictor-plate tracks when she can stay out of trouble.
Q: Whatever happened to that race car that was stolen down in Georgia? Thanks! –Steve R., Almira, MI
A: The car was recovered, thankfully just 24 hours after the theft happened from a Marrow, Ga. hotel parking lot in early morning hours. The Team Xtreme Motorsports’ No. 44 Chevy SS was taken along with its tow-behind trailer and the truck carrying it, a black Ford F-350. Both the Sprint Cup car and the truck were recovered on a backwoods road outside of Atlanta, just 20 miles from the hotel. The trailer, which also carried a spare engine for the car, and other equipment, has yet to be found.
Thanks to the theft Travis Kvapil and the No. 44 team were forced to withdraw from the Atlanta race, and things didn’t get better as it has yet to qualify for a single race attempted this season. It’s just a crazy story for small budget, single-car team that would have taken a devastating blow without the return of its primary car. But things have only gotten more bizarre as owner John Cohen has had to juggle a bench warrant for a civil case not related to the NASCAR team and a lawsuit from Brandon Davis and the now defunct Swan Racing.
Q: Since this is Jeff Gordon’s final season, do you think he’ll win multiple races this year like he did in 2014 even with his rough start to the year? –Jake, Easton, MD
A: Jeff Gordon said almost immediately after he announced that 2015 would be his final full-time season in Sprint Cup racing that he was setting out to enjoy the season more, and really soak in the experience of each race weekend, in the garage area, and around his fellow drivers. Given that statement and the fact that everywhere he goes, each week he’s reminded that this is his final season, a culmination of a 24 year career, I feel like Gordon’s focus has really been affected by his decision to step back from full-time competition.
We all know winning even one race at this level is no easy task, even for a four time Sprint Cup champion. Doing it multiple times is probably one of the hardest things to do in sports. Can he do it? Yes, he has the speed and the right team and equipment to win every week. But I really think that the distraction of his last season and the thought of retirement and the end of what has been one of the most influential careers in motorsports by any driver might hurt Gordon’s chances at reaching victory lane multiple times and competing in the Chase as he did last season.
Have a question? Email me at [email protected], and make sure to check back next week when we’ll answer your questions on all things NASCAR. Until then, enjoy the racing this week from Fontana!