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2-Headed Monster: Should Kevin Harvick See Phoenix Payback for Talladega Twister?

With no penalties issued and another slew of drama at Martinsville Speedway, Kevin Harvick appears to have gotten away with the ultimate checkers-or-wreckers move at Talladega Superspeedway – taking out multiple drivers in a race-ending wreck and advancing in the Chase because of it.

Harvick now goes into Phoenix International Raceway, a track he’s conquered four straight times in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, looking good to make the Championship 4 on points or with a victory on Sunday.

With the final race of the 2015 season quickly approaching, Harvick’s played all of his cards right for the second consecutive season.

Or has he?

While the former replacement for Dale Earnhardt has slipped largely under the radar in the weeks since his Talladega debacle, competitors that were wronged by his actions still have their wrecked racecars fresh in their minds. No driver paid Harvick back at Martinsville, but the opportunity still remains for someone to steal the veteran’s championship hopes away from him at his best track.

There’s little talk of such retribution occurring at Phoenix, but the possibility still exists, and with only a slim advantage over fifth-place Carl Edwards in the standings, Harvick has little margin for error.

Harvick has laid his cards out on the table. Has he played a championship hand, or will someone give the veteran a bad beat?

Should A Driver Crashed by Kevin Harvick’s Late Moves at Talladega Pay Him Back at Phoenix?

Opinion One: No. That’s ridiculous. 
By Aaron Bearden

There might still be a smattering of upset drivers in the garage area after Harvick’s race-ending crash at Talladega Superspeedway, but the concept of someone giving Happy retribution at this stage is ludicrous.

Harvick enters Phoenix International Raceway as the clear favorite to win after recent domination at the track, so competitors may find difficulty drawing close enough to the Californian’s bumper to make anything happen. But even if they do, wrecking the defending NSCS champion at this stage would be unfair.

If any of the drivers taken out in the closing stages of the CampingWorld.com 500 had a score to settle with Harvick, the venue to do so was Martinsville, a commonly known location for payback, whether justified or not. The track offered the safest location to make a statement without major risk of injury, as proven by Matt Kenseth’s punting – both physically and metaphorically – of Joey Logano as retribution for an incident between the two at Kansas Speedway. Phoenix, while slower than many tracks on the schedule, doesn’t offer the same safety for a driver in the event of a wreck.

Aside from the fact that it’s too late for retribution, the main reason that Harvick shouldn’t suffer is this: the wreck wasn’t his fault. It’s just another unintended consequence of the new Chase format. NASCAR itself is to blame.

Harvick’s actions – which were never found to be intentional, mind you – were at worst committed out of necessity to advance in NASCAR’s mocked attempt at a playoff. A similar action was not only permitted, but also praised by the sanctioning body when Ryan Newman forced Kyle Larson into the wall last year at Phoenix to advance to the Championship 4.

The new Chase format, applied for the first time last season, has produced its fair share of the Game 7 moments NASCAR was looking for when they implemented it. Brad Keselowski’s drive to victory at Talladega and Harvick’s domination of Phoenix immediately come to mind. However, the desperation created by the system has also led to its fair share of embarrassing moments for the organization and its fans.

Much like the bleak moments in the closing stages of a playoff loss often cause professional teams in the NFL, NBA and other sports to erupt into a series of hard fouls and fights, the moments of desperation and frustration have pushed seasoned veterans of the series to the brink, causing fights among the drivers and their fervent supporters on a near-weekly basis.

First, there was Keselowski vs. Jeff Gordon, then came Harvick vs. Jimmie Johnson. Kenseth vs. Logano quickly followed suit.

While the regular season brings little drama, the Chase offers more emotional roller coasters than a soap opera or an episode of WWE Monday Night Raw. With a playoff system equivalent to forcing the 16 NBA playoff teams to square off on the same court while the other 14 teams fill in the remaining open court, anything can – and often does – happen.

Given the ramped up intensity and level of competition, Harvick’s actions were justified. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver did what he had to do to not out of anger, but out of necessity to advance to the next round of the Chase.

For better or for worse, NASCAR’s championship format has made it not only acceptable, but also understandable for a driver to take out half the field to beat out four drivers in points.

Those who fell victim to the act have every right to be upset, but their anger shouldn’t be directed at Harvick. The frustration should go to the organization that makes such acts justifiable.

Opinion Two: Yes. Harvick Deserves to be Taken Out.
By Sean Fesko

What Kevin Harvick did at Talladega was much, much worse than Logano spinning out Kenseth at Kansas. While Logano’s contact caused nothing more than a lazy spin in the turn, Harvick’s turning of Trevor Bayne sparked a multi-car wreck that tore up equipment, significantly altered the Chase grid and robbed the fans of a green-flag finish.

Had the incident not happened, we might’ve seen Dale Earnhardt Jr. in this round instead of Harvick. Perhaps we’d see another different driver in this round, owing to the unpredictability of Talladega. The wreck had big implications, much bigger than Kenseth spinning at Kansas.

Which is exactly why someone will move Harvick into the wall during this weekend’s race at Phoenix.

The first two names that come to mind are the ones who lost their best chances at advancing: Earnhardt and Newman. Earnhardt, following the race, said that, “I’m not going to be too upset about it.” But Newman might not be so civil. He’s notoriously tough, not afraid to get physical to get what he wants – remember his move on Larson in last year’s Phoenix race? Might he do the same thing to Harvick?

And if so, he’ll have to contend with other drivers mad at the defending Cup champion for his move: Denny Hamlin, Bayne, David Gilliland and, if he were racing this weekend, Kenseth.

It’s no secret that drivers will exact on-track payback for a wrong — perceived or real. Harvick’s move, while never proven, is not quintessential racing, something on which both Brian France and Kenseth can agree. The words “driver’s code” could very well make another appearance this weekend because, while NASCAR didn’t believe Harvick manipulated the outcome of the race, many drivers do.

And when it does happen, expect a lot of happy drivers and crew members in the garage. Take a listen to the reaction from the drivers at Martinsville regarding Logano’s wreck.

There’ll be a penalty levied, no doubt. But unless you’re currently alive in the Chase, who cares? The precedent, a two-race suspension, will most likely be reduced to one to avoid carryover into 2016, and probation is a slap on the wrist anyway. If those are the stakes, why not take the championship chances of a driver that many feel doesn’t deserve to still be in contention?

And perhaps there’s an ulterior motive for revenge, even if the drivers don’t realize it. Perhaps by self-policing races under the guise of the driver’s code, picking and choosing who moves on in the playoffs, the drivers will force NASCAR’s hand to reevaluate the Chase.

NASCAR felt as though it lost control when Kenseth spun Logano, but what if more and more drivers take matters into their own hands? NASCAR told them to “have at it,” after all. When NASCAR realizes such shenanigans seldom pop up during the regular season but only come Chase time, might it seriously consider dropping the Chase?

It would mean a return to the sport’s roots, that’s for sure. But if there’s anything we’ve learned the last couple of years, it’s that tradition is the lifeblood of this sport. NASCAR has tried to grow its younger fanbase to mixed results and found itself losing longtime fans. Perhaps this is just what is needed to reinvigorate the long-timers. After all, the best way to grow a business is to have your most loyal customers evangelize the product. If you can recapture their attention, you’re well on your way to growth.

It all starts with a spin, though.

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kb

That whole payback crap, where does it end? It is testosterone over drive…go box a tree or something. I don’t think any of the old bitties club would have the nerve to do it to a fellow driver over 40. The AARP solidarity code prohibits it.

J. Smith

Makes you wonder if the over 40s are on “Low T” medicine. Makes for a good show. I don’t care about who is crapshoot champion, I just want to see some quintessential tire rubbin fender bumpin tree humpin and I’ll also watch a race this weekend, the Brazilian Grand Prix.

kb

Well the Tv floods our homes (with all sorts of age brackets present) talking about “that” problem, and how it could be fixed with a little pill. The Sprint Cup should be renamed to the Homestead Cup, because that is what that trophy is worth..one race. Said it last year, and I feel no different this year. A historical lie will be placed more than likely in the history books indicating the 2015 “Champ” (like last year) is the best, and so down the line p2, p3 etc. It could not be farther from the truth.

Dick

Harvick so needs to end on the hook.

Bill B

I don’t think anyone will have the balls to try something blatant after what happened two weeks ago. Harvick deserves to be taken out but he probably won’t be. More likely is one of the chase guys that need to win (Kurt Busch, Logano or Keselowski) racing him so hard for the win that something happens “naturally”. Imagine a restart with 10 laps to go if the four of them are in the first two rows.

DoninAjax

I was thinking (always dangerous). Why not split the chases races into two segments, Like different classes on Saturday night (which they are already). The chase cars have their own race of say 20% suggested distance, like 100 miles out of 500. Then the other cars go out for the rest of the distance. Chances are pretty good that the second race wouldn’t be televised because the bozos in the booth wouldn’t be able to zoom in only on the chase cars and we can go back to real life.

Bill B

I don’t know DoninAjax, how compelling would a 100 mile race between 4 cars at Homestead be? No matter how you slice it the chase just does not fit the sport. The bracket/elimination chase fits even less. As long as all 43 teams get to be on the field at the same time the whole chase/playoff deal is ridiculous and without more than 15 cars on a 1.5 mile track the race would look ridiculous. The glove just does not fit.

Chris

Agreed Bill. Tell me of another auto racing series that has a playoff system. Not at your local short tracks, F1, IRL, Rally series, etc. Only the France family could screw up the very simple concept of auto racing. I watch racing for the race not the Chase/Playoff/Crapshoot but the racing has been just awful with the aero-dependent cars running on 1.5 tracks while the teams are primarily made up of 4 or 5 owners. Great long-term plan NASCAR.

GinaV24

Agreed and yet NASCAR continues to push this Chase format – because they want it, not the fans. I’ll bet they want to do it for Xfinity and the trucks, too. Gee that will help two series that are already failing because of an overload of cup drivers in them and a lack of interest in them based on the sparse attendance.

DoninAjax

It seems to me that all we’ll see at Homestead is 4 cars for 400 miles.

rg72

That is how it was last year at Homestead. 39 props and 4 cars.

Bill B

That is an excellent point Don and one I can’t deny. The other 39 cars are just props and NASCAR has become more of a show than a sport but no one would watch the show without all those props making it look like a real race.

GinaV24

Agree about only seeing the 4 cars — gee isn’t Phil’s column this week about “chase-ing” away the fans?

Would be nice if TV would show the race, but that’s not their game or NASCAR’s either.

GinaV24

I doubt anyone will take any action unless they can make it look “accidental”. Could there still be incidental contact that could ruin Harvick’s day? Yes, sure and maybe someone will be able to do it. Newman would be a likely candidate for the job in my mind, too. I doubt Jr. will, he has never shown any of the family traits before so I doubt they will show up this late in his career.

I agree that NASCAR has created the mess that has resulted in these various “strategies” if you want to call them that. I don’t agree that what Harvick did was “out of necessity”. IMO it is equivalent to what Kenseth did.

Upstate24fan

After the Kenseth suspension, no one will be headhunting Harvick Sunday. The other issue, is if you want to wreck him you have to catch him first. Drivers have long memories and 2016 isn’t that far away.

J. Smith

They’ll catch him every time there is an entertainment caution.

Don in Ct

Harvick is a punk. It’s one thing to take out another driver head to head for real or perceived wrongs; it’s another to take out half the field to get your sorry ass into the idiotic chase. Here’s hoping Newman or anyone puts him into the wall early.

J. Smith

I agree, I bought a 29 T-shirt his first year but after seeing him explode time after time throwing his team under the bus for whatever it was at the time turned me off. I vaguely remember one time he wanted every one of them fired. Not a very attractive human bean. We hear about “Driver Code”, but isn’t it really just “Human Code” and don’t most of us have it. Simple, do the right thing, don’t cheat or steal and do unto others… Everything NASCAR is NOT yet I can’t turn away from this Train Wreck.

Tommy T.

Have to agree with a prior comment that pointed to two drivers, Jr. and Newman as the two most likely to feel the need to ‘get even.’ Also agree that it is unlikely that Jr. would as it doesn’t fit his profile. Newman, might but doubtful. He knows that regardless of how he feels about what Harvick did, he had no hope of legitimately running for a championship with the equipment he’s piloting. Thus, it leaves me hoping for the #4 to blow an engine during the parade laps.

Terry

Hoping the 4 puts it on the hook or in the fence all by himself. That action at Talladega to side check the 6 and scratch most of the field was pathetic. And it was obvious, at least to me this old dummy, he was mirror driving and looked dead right to effect and hit him gauging it every bit of the way. Yes, quite different than when the 22 clipped the 20. But actually not far from when the 20 pile drivered the 22 at Martinsville. And no penalty for the reigning ‘champion’ 4 – actions detrimental to stock car racing…. I was hoping the 4 shifter trouble last week would have been the demise for the 4. Here is hoping. The driver showed so much early promise after getting the opportunity to fill the seat and shoes for the 3. Yes, quite an opportunity and very difficult to do. But, in ensuing years, the driver 4 actions, conduct, etc has proven quite different. Still love remembering that incident some years back when I believe he, in full HANS device and helmet was shoving Montoya after a race on pit road.

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