Kevin Harvick’s pit crew failed him again after another botched stop at Darlington Speedway. Was crew chief Rodney Childers and Stewart-Haas Racing switching things up just before the Chase the way to go, or should they have or stuck with who they’ve got?
John Douglas, Contributor: There’s no question that things needed to change at SHR for the No. 4 team, but it’s not the crew members. It has been a pattern all season of Kevin Harvick making his crew members so afraid to fail that they continuously fail. You can’t expect these guys to perform well when you keep the possibility of mistakes in the forefront of their minds by screaming about it on a public radio channel. You ever seen a child so scared of screwing up because of the punishment their parents will give them that they end up screwing up because they’re so worried? That’s what we have here.
Amy Henderson, Senior Editor: I am 100 percent in agreement with John on this one. I think perhaps the switch was right for the crew members because issues like they’ve had can snowball as they put more and more pressure on themselves. When your goal is to not screw up rather than to win, it’s not the right place to be. To a degree I understand where Harvick is coming from—he’s trying to win a title and losing races on pit road, and happened at Darlington will not get him very far. Hopefully the switch will be fruitful for all involved, but internal strife rarely makes for championship runs.
Mark Howell, Senior Writer: One or two miscues are one thing; repeated errors and bungled stops are another. If Stewart-Haas has a pit crew coach (and I’m certain they do), now is the time to make things right. Having spent time working with a few Cup teams, I can attest to the sometimes odd combination of personalities that comprise a crew. Walking through the gates at Chicagoland Speedway is not the time to address what’s going wrong. Crew faults must be admitted and corrected right now.
There’s an army of drivers at Richmond International Raceway who have a win-or-else directive Saturday night in order to make the Chase. We saw Aric Almirola come close last year; is there anyone in this group who can mount a serious challenge to pull it off?
Douglas: Unless someone pulls off an Michael Waltrip Racing tactic (better than MWR did) and doesn’t get caught, we’ve got what we’ve got for the 2016 Chase. I haven’t seen enough performance out of any of the remaining contenders to be a real threat for a win.
Howell: My eyes this weekend at Richmond will be trained on Ryan Newman. I know Rocket Man has previously pointed his way into the Chase and gone all the way to the Final Four at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but I don’t believe such consistency will be enough this year. Newman’s going to be crazy close on points, now he needs a win to punch his ticket for real.
Henderson: There’s always someone who can pull off a surprise, right? A guy like Ryan Blaney, Ryan Newman or Jamie McMurray could pick up a win and seal the deal, but I don’t think it’s likely, and in McMurray’s case, unless he stumbles big, there’s not much to see here. I think the field is pretty well set. That said, eyes will be on Landon Cassill because he is one driver who could help his teammate’s chances—but NASCAR knows that, and officials’ll be watching, so status quo is the most likely scenario.
Darlington Raceway has found success with its NASCAR throwback weekend for each of the last two seasons, with nearly a full field of retro liveries and a general appreciation for the past accompanying the event. Is there anything from the weekend’s success that could be applied to other tracks on the Sprint Cup Series tour?
Howell: There’s nothing wrong with admitting how things used to be done at tracks on the schedule. I think it’s great how Darlington takes the throwback idea to extremes by applying it to ticket layout, concessions and other non-racing areas of business. Other facilities could try to reflect the same sort of retro experience by how they market and package their events. Not sure if it’s the right time to have Linda Vaughn riding around a track as Miss Hurst Shifter (complete with larger-than-life shifter and famed white pattern ball), but there’s some creative stuff tracks might do to capture a piece of the throwback magic.
Henderson: I think the sport as a whole could take a look at why the Darlington throwback weekend is so popular; at the end of the day it’s a reminder of what the sport used to be, and NASCAR needs to think long and hard about fans want as they move forward. Hint: I don’t think it’s what NASCAR thinks it is. I love the throwback weekend—talk about eye candy—but if every track did something similar, it wouldn’t be special.
Douglas: The Darlington throwback event is an anomaly in our sport. The fans, teams and everyone in between get to relive the past and honor it. If we did that at other tracks it would take away from what is the most perfect promotion going today in the Cup Series. We can’t have Ken Squier and Ned Jarrett in the booth every week, and we DO NOT want Steve Letarte in a leisure suit every week either. The other tracks need their own special promotions, but taking cues from Darlington won’t work.
For the first time, it appears that Ryan Newman might fall just short of clinching a Chase bid on points. With uncertainty surrounding where Newman will be in 2017 and beyond, is Saturday’s regular season finale at Richmond an all or nothing race for the 2008 Daytona 500 champion?
Henderson: It absolutely is, and it’s about much more than the 2016 Chase — it’s about Newman’s career, at least in an elite ride. Newman’s contract is up this year, and his car owner has a grandson chomping at the bit for a Sprint Cup ride. It’s not just writing on the wall here; it’s big, fat, rainbow-colored graffiti. That said, after a penalty for failing postrace tech at Darlington, should Newman miss the Chase by fewer than the 15 points he was docked, that’s on his team, not him, although Richard Childress might not see it that way. (That the same 15-point penalty is absolutely meaningless to a driver with a win is another story.) The thing about Newman is that his best years were well at the beginning of his career, and in recent years he’s been just average. I’m not sure he can save his Chase or his ride this year.
Douglas: This is the last time you will ever hear Newman discussed in the Chase picture. Yes, he’s made Chases by pointing his way in. No, he hasn’t performed well enough in RCR equipment to ever be considered a legitimate Chase threat. If this was the early 2000s, I’d say of course Newman will be back in RCR equipment next year, he’s too consistent. That does not matter anymore. If you can’t win races, you can’t win Chases. It’s that simple.
Howell: For my response to this question, please refer to my comments regarding question number one. It’s now or never for Newman.