NASCAR drivers had one of those rare weekends, not because they were in California, but because it was their chance to make some right turns this weekend. While they did make a lot of right turns, still along with some left ones, things didn’t go right a lot of times. Unless of course, you’re Kevin Harvick. It all went right for him on Sunday afternoon.
While the win Sunday was Harvick’s first of the season, he was by no means having a bad season. Harvick had been hovering in the top two or three in the points standings for much of the season. He had finished in the top five in five races before Sunday. But now that’s he’s guaranteed a spot in the playoffs, he and crew chief Rodney Childers can work on the set ups at other tracks during the second half of the season, and gamble for a win here or there if they want to. It was no surprise at all that Harvick won as he and Childers make up one the top driver crew chief combinations in the garage. It maybe was a little surprise that it took them this long to find their way into victory lane though. But nonetheless, there’s a good chance the No. 4 team could be one of the those final four teams to run for the title at Homestead in November.
Kasey Kahne’s day ended with a thud, and a rather hard one at that, at Sonoma. His final finishing place was 24th, which actually was not terrible considering his not so fun finish into the concrete wall. The problem with Kahne though is he can’t be having a lot of fun, considering how his season has gone. There was a time when it seemed he was going to be the driver to bring the No. 5 car back into vogue for Hendrick Motorsports and make it not just competitive, but title contending worthy. It seems that time has all but come to an end for Kahne. He sits 21st in the points with just three top 10 finishes in 16 races this year. He also has sponsorship issues for next year and Hendrick has young drivers who appear nearly ready to move up to the next level. Unless the results change drastically for Kahne, it’s not a reach at all to think someone else will be driving the No. 5 next year.
It seems odd to say, especially since the Cup cars only race twice a year on road courses (it will be three next year), but watching a NASCAR road course race is off the charts better than watching a Formula One or IndyCar race on the road course. In those other two series, we’re talking about primarily follow the leader events with the announcers getting excited when there is the rare pass for position inside the top 10. The qualifying and the race to the first turn when the green flag drops to start the race are often the most exciting moments. For NASCAR, you’ve got cars that can make and take a little contact and these cars on the road courses are better than we could have imagined several years ago.
Sunday was supposed to be AJ Allmendinger’s day. He’s had success on the road courses before in NASCAR and he and his team know the road courses are his best chance to grab a win and make the playoffs. But those chances weren’t meant to be on Sunday. The combination of the stages along with the gradual improvement of several NASCAR Cup regulars on road courses in recent years has changed the game for the so-called road course specialists. Allmendinger is not necessarily one of those road course specialists, but his ability to shake that reputation has been minimal at best. The problem is when he can’t have a good showing on a road course (he was 35th Sunday), it takes a lot of steam out of a team that was counting on that good finish. Allmendinger’s next chance will be at Watkins Glen in August. Since he sits 27th in points right now, it will be a win or no playoff situation for him again.
It may have been a little too sentimental for FOX to point out that it was its last NASCAR Cup race with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. as a regular competitor in the series. However, what Junior said in response to the question about his accomplishments showed us why that even if you don’t have Junior as your favorite driver, it’s still pretty much impossible to not like him. Junior’s basic point was that while the wins and accomplishments are nice and good etc., what really matters is the people you get to know and the relationships you build over the years. There are certainly a lot of fans who wish he had accomplished more by now, and some critics who think his name carried him into the sport. But in the end, while Junior hasn’t got the big trophy at the end of the season, he did get what the big picture is all about.
Lug nuts. It seems drivers, crew chiefs and tire changers should know that on what could be the final pit stop of the day you better have those lug nuts on securely. This week it was Kyle Busch’s team that was found to be missing a lug nut on two different tires. But let’s not just point to Busch and the No. 18 team here. It seems the lug nut violation happens almost every week. So, unless you’re going to win the race without a lug nut and risk joining Joey Logano in the encumbered (we know you won, but you didn’t really win) category, teams and pit crews should start making a more concerted effort to have those lug nuts on tight at what could be the last stop of the race because you know what happens if you are counting on a late-race yellow . . . it doesn’t happen at all.
The Cup series heads to the its final race of the year at Daytona on Saturday and of course, everyone will be talking about how this could be the final race at the famed 2.5-mile oval for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. He will be the sentimental pick to win and well . . . why not. Let’s go with Junior for the win at Daytona. The deep sleeper underdog who you might not think about pick could be just about anybody on a restrictor plate track. So, let’s dig deep into the underdog list and go with . . . Danica Patrick. Sure, she will probably get wrecked at no fault of her own during the race, but let the imagination run wild for a second and think of Danica standing in victory lane.
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