Kevin Harvick finished 42nd at Chicago after a mid-race crash. Can he rebound and make the cut after Dover, or is his repeat bid toast?
Mark Howell, Senior Writer: As the dearly departed Yogi Berra used to say, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” That said: Harvick must win one of the next two races; it’s that simple. Kevin’s only realistic chance at rebounding and having a shot at the next round (and a second title) is for him to put the No. 4 Chevy in Victory Lane at either New Hampshire or Dover. It can be done, but Harvick and company face an uphill climb.
Matt McLaughlin, Senior Writer: Harvick has been a threat to win almost every week. Obviously a win at NHMS would be clutch but a pair of top fives and some foul fortune (Like, I dunno… a 25-point penalty for someone in a tarted-up car?) would probably do the trick anyway. You don’t need to lead the points, just sneak into the top 12.
Aaron Bearden, Assistant Editor: Harvick chose a bad round to have issues. He has only one win combined at the next two tracks. However, the blessing is that with his problems occurring in the first round, he has a shorter gap to close to advance. Clint Bowyer already suffered a penalty, and two or more drivers will assuredly suffer issues in the next two races. Harvick just needs to do what he’s done all season – compete for wins and maintain consistency – and he should be alright in the end.
Phil Allaway, Senior Editor: The penalty that Bowyer copped on Wednesday actually does help Harvick’s case a little bit. That’s one less dude that he’ll have to deal with. Regardless, he’s still in a world of hurt. Whether he succeeds or not is at least partially out of his hands. Harvick has to do his part. If he wins either Dover or Loudon, he’s home free. If he doesn’t, it’s not going to be easy
Tom Bowles, Editor-In-Chief: Harvick’s in a whole lot of trouble. I doubt he’ll win the next two weeks; his track record at New Hampshire includes just one victory (’06) and his record at Dover is wildly inconsistent. That said, two top-five finishes from the No. 4 team would be perfectly reasonable and that’s what they’ve been capable of all year. Will it be enough to make up 22 points? In some of the later Chase rounds, it’s a definite no, but the cutdown from 16 to 12 might be the only place we’ll see it done.
Amy Henderson, Senior Editor: While Harvick can rebound, it’s unlikely that he will. Last year, a terrible run in the first race of a round pretty much spelled disaster, and I don’t see this year being much different in that respect. So, the bread is definitely in the toaster, but it’s not burning… yet.
Denny Hamlin won at Chicago and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates had strong runs as well. Can JGR put four teams in the final round of the Chase at Homestead?
McLaughlin: Well, they’re in positions one through four right now, aren’t they? It’d be a statistical anomaly but given the fickle nature of the ultra-exciting Chase it could happen. Kyle Busch clearly had a fast car at Chicago. Hamlin gambled on old tires and won. But I was more impressed with how Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards had lackluster cars and still posted decent finishes. Given the Chase. It seems the trick is to top-10 them to death.
Bearden: Can they? Yes. Will they? No. Each driver is capable of the individual performance necessary, but expecting the entire team to go accident-free or win over the penultimate round (which includes Phoenix, aka Harvickville) is too much. I’d say to expect two drivers in the final round, whichever ones can make their way to victory lane at the right time.
Allaway: More than likely no. Talladega’s still coming up. Think back to last year. Busch entered the race second in points (best of those not locked into the next round) and had a 26-point cushion on Kenseth in ninth. Essentially, he only had to finish mid-pack to advance. What happened? He got wrecked and finished 40th, eliminating himself in the process. Anything can still happen. I wouldn’t be shocked to see two Gibbs cars in the hunt in Homestead, but all four of them? Heck to the no.
Bowles: I just don’t think it’s possible. Those conspiracy theorists looking to take down the Chase would love it if the entire field was comprised of JGR. The reality, though is you have big names like Joey Logano, Harvick (if he makes it), Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch who have put themselves in position to go deep during this Chase. JGR was behind all four at times on speed at Chicagoland and only rose to the top after a number of lucky breaks went their way to put Hamlin and Edwards back on the lead lap. Now, could four JGR cars wind up in the final eight? I think that’s a much stronger possibility. But the odds to go four for four are just too far stacked against them.
Henderson: Sure they can. The way they’ve been running, it wouldn’t be a huge shock if they did, though there are a few teams who can certainly make it difficult for them. I don’t know that JGR (or any team) monopolizing the final four would be good for the sport, especially considering that a large part of the fanbase still doesn’t accept Toyota and others aren’t fans of their drivers. I think the odds are good that there will be at least two JGR drivers in it at Homestead (right now, I like Kenseth and Kyle Busch), but I also think Logano will have a say in things, along with possibly Johnson or Harvick, if he survives the first cut.
Jerry Jordan, Contributor: No. This goes back to the first question about my Chase Grid. We’re playing for $16 million, folks, this is big money and by golly I intend to win it all. Oh wait, I am not eligible but my ego and bragging rights are way more important than money. On a serious note, I don’t think all of the JGR cars will be in the final race but their presence will be felt and some lucky Toyota driver may just be going back to Huntersville, N.C., with a big check and a trophy.
NASCAR announced it would not penalize Harvick or Johnson after a post-race confrontation at Chicago. Was it the right call?
Bowles: Of course! This fight is the most overblown piece of news we’ve seen from the sport in months mostly because there hasn’t been much news to report on. When ratings dwindle, fans disappear and the sport is stuck with a terrible rules package, desperation sets in to make any piece of on or off-track conflict a big deal. I’ve seen bigger shoving matches from a pair of second graders fighting over the seesaw than the pathetic display of “fighting” we saw Sunday after the race. There’s no penalty here because there’s absolutely nothing to penalize anyone for. What, should NASCAR fine Jamie McMurray $50,000 because he stepped on some fan’s toe by accident while leaving the garage area? That’s how minor I think this whole incident is over the long-term.
Henderson: Yes and no. It was the right call in that NASCAR doesn’t need to police what’s going on in the motorhome lot after a race, and it was certainly the right one in Johnson’s case as he never laid a finger on Harvick. They didn’t penalize Jeff Gordon or Brad Keselowski last year either. On the other hand, they had no problem penalizing two drivers from smaller teams last year, and guys like Harvick and Johnson can afford it better than those guys probably could, so if this is the new norm, NASCAR should say so. But they cannot pick and choose whom to penalize for doing the same thing.
Jordan: Yes, as much as I hyped up this post-race fiasco on Twitter, it wasn’t a NASCAR-punishable incident. It was funny watching DeLana telling Kevin to get in the car and behave himself.
Howell: The Harvick/Johnson post-race dust-up at Chicagoland was the biggest non-event in NASCAR’s long history of non-events. Shame on NASCAR and/or the mainstream media for making such a mountain out of an anthill (it wasn’t even big enough to qualify as a molehill). If that’s what fans want to see in the Chase, and if that’s what NASCAR thinks makes for exciting racing, then I’m going to spend more time watching college football. To me, it was just the aftermath of two racecar drivers doing their jobs.
McLaughlin: With the brouhaha after the “fight” I think people are overlooking one part of the story. Blame Logano for pushing the No. 48, blame Harvick for not yielding the line that early in the race or blame Johnson for forcing the issue. But the No. 48 didn’t put Harvick into the wall. Harvick continued on with his rear tire smoking for several laps. It was a high stakes gamble and they lost. As for the “fight” I’ve seen toddlers in a sandbox engage in worse without a getting a timeout. If anything, NASCAR was probably delighted given how much they’ve used the footage from last year’s skirmishes to promote the Chase. But if Harvick doesn’t have a chance at winning his way in at Dover I wouldn’t want to be in the No. 48 car.
Bearden: Yes, choosing to let Harvick and JJ slide was the right call. Sixpack didn’t do anything outside of going big on a restart, and Harvick’s shove created much less controversy than a certain shove last season. This is the Chase, let the boys have at it a bit.
As the CWTS prepares to run its 500th race, which drivers will go down in the history books as the series’ best, and who will be the first CWTS driver to wind up in the Hall of Fame?
Bowles: When I think Truck Series, I’ll always look back on the tooth-and-nail battles between Ron Hornaday Jr., Mike Skinner and Jack Sprague. That trio and their ferocious fight at the front defined a division and got fans watching over the long haul. Hornaday deserves to be in the Hall of Fame first. His career endured the longest and he’s won the most titles, mostly becoming a Truck Series lifer. But the other two should never be sold short. In the end, all three of them deserve induction. It’s just a shame there isn’t a senior tour of some sort where these talents could continue to shine and bring disinterested fans back to the track on a Saturday afternoon.
Henderson: The obvious one here is Hornaday Jr., as he’s the series’ winningest driver and he certainly knew how to wheel a truck and make it exciting. But you’ve also got Jack Sprague and his titles, guys like Todd Bodine, and currently, Matt Crafton is as good as they come. I think who gets the Hall nod is irrelevant — have lowered the bar pretty far in the last couple of years. Still, look for Hornaday and Sprague to get in eventually, and possibly Crafton, whose odds improve exponentially if he can win a third straight title.
Jordan: It’s pretty clear that Crafton is one of the best-ever in the NCWTS. His back-to-back championships and overall performance in the series put him at the top of the list. However, since he is unlikely to quit racing anytime soon, he won’t be eligible for consideration. With that in mind, I think you have to go back to some of the other drivers like Sprague or Hornaday.
Howell: I have Hornaday, Skinner and Bodine atop my all-time greats list. Hornaday seems like a realistic addition to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, although my guess is that the NCWTS is a non-priority when it comes to attracting visitors to the facility. I remember working the race at Rockingham back in 1994 when Skinner took to the track in the No. 3 GM Goodwrench Chevy truck. He ran about 10 exhibition laps and the crowd seemed stunned in a “This is too cool” kind of way. The series has come a long way since those ancient days! Right now, it seems to be the best show in NASCAR.
McLaughlin: Hornaday would be the obvious pick with four truck titles, and he might have had a fifth if some whacker-doodle Cup driver moonlighting in a truck hadn’t wrecked him under caution. Sprague and Skinner kept Hornaday honest and won multiple titles. Seriously, the Hall of Fame is an afterthought, just another roadside attraction.
Allaway: Hornaday Jr. will be the first to get the Hall nod based on his accomplishments in the series. Given the voting committee liking to put a more recent candidate in the Hall of Fame in addition to the legends, he stands a good chance of getting in on the first or second try. As for the best all-time in the series, that depends on how you feel about including Kyle Busch in there. The top five all-time in the series is some combination of Kyle Busch, Hornaday, Skinner, Sprague and probably Dennis Setzer (despite the fact that Bodine has a title and more wins). If Kyle Busch is not included, then both Bodine and Setzer make it.