Home / Cup Series / Thinkin’ Out Loud: Kevin Harvick Rakes in All of the Chips in Vegas
(Photo: Bruce Nuttleman)

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Kevin Harvick Rakes in All of the Chips in Vegas

Who’s in the headline

As Martin Truex Jr. did last year en route to his first championship, Kevin Harvick has a firm grip on what it takes to go fast at mile-and-a-half tracks and is letting the rest of the garage know he has no intention of letting them come play in his sandbox.

Harvick led 214 of the 267 laps on Sunday (March 4) at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to take his second straight win in 2018. Harvick won all three stages of the race and is guaranteed a spot in the playoffs, provided he attempts the other 23 races of the regular season.

What happened

Harvick picked up right where he left off at Atlanta. He grabbed the lead right at the start of the race and ran away with the first stage. He also dominated the second stage, and then, after some differing pit strategies were attempted, stomped everyone into submission over the last half of the final stage.

Jamie McMurray and Kurt Busch both had incidents that put them into the wall and ended their day. Unfortunately for Chase Elliott, he was outside of Busch when his incident occurred, which collected his No. 9 and ended his day as well.

Kyle Busch made a strong run at the end of the race when he pitted later than everyone else for his final stop but still didn’t have enough to catch Harvick, so he had to settle for second place.

Jimmie Johnson and Ross Chastain failed pre-race technical inspection three times each and saw their car chiefs booted from the premises.

Why you should care

All we heard from Brad Keselowski in 2017 was how handicapped the Fords were and what a huge advantage the Toyotas had over the Blue Oval. The problem was that by the time the series got to Texas Motor Speedway in the playoffs, Harvick beat Truex straight up, and Keselowski’s point was rendered moot. Ford is rumored to have a new car coming for 2019, but at this rate, the manufacturer’s teams might be begging to keep the Fusion if this domination keeps up.

What your friends are talking about

Pit guns, pit guns, pit guns — that was the topic all over social media while the ass-whipping was being administered by Harvick to the rest of the field. The race winner actually had two different failures with his system during the event, but both occurred at a point where they didn’t cost him any time on the racetrack.

NASCAR chose to go with a manufacturer that was not the industry leader in impact guns to administer this program, and at least for now, that decision seems to be backfiring. The problems will certainly be ironed out eventually, but for now, the teams are none-too-pleased with how this new program has begun.

In a disturbing report illustrated by Kickin’ the Tires, former Camping World Truck Series driver Rick Crawford has been arrested in Florida, accused of attempted enticement of a minor. According to the court files posted by Kickin’ the Tires, Crawford answered an ad for taboo activity on Craigslist. It was actually a sting operation by the FBI and the Seminole County Sheriff’s office. Crawford is being held without bond in the Seminole County Jail. His next court date is March 8.

Kyle Busch had a penalty during Saturday’s XFINITY Series race because his gasman stopped a tire from rolling out of the pit box with his hands. He had finished fueling the car and had handed the can back over the wall. He was not participating in the stop but simply had not stepped back over the wall. In the rules, the gasman’s hands may only be used to fuel the car. Had he used his feet to stop the tire it would not have been a penalty. If he’d gone back over the wall and then reached back to stop the tire, he would have been legal as well. Rules are necessary to keep the playing field level, for sure, but sometimes common sense needs to supersede the letter of the law.

Harvick’s victory is the 100th win of his career in the three NASCAR national series, and he becomes the fourth driver in history to accomplish that feat, joining Richard Petty, David Pearson and Kyle Busch.

NASCAR has yet to sign a contract for the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series banquet. If the sanctioning body doesn’t come to terms with a venue in Las Vegas, the nine-year run in Sin City could come to an end. Should the banquet move, Charlotte or Nashville could be the primary potential locales. NASCAR moved the XFINITY and Truck series banquets to Charlotte last year, combining them with the regional and all-American series banquets that have been held there for years.

The BK Racing story continues to evolve as the IRS has submitted a claim for $2.5 million in back taxes, penalties and fines owed. For those people who think that there is big money to be made in running a Cup team, these taxes are not owed for profits. The team is reported to have lost $28.5 million from 2015-2017.

Who is mad

He was in this section last week, and things didn’t get much better this week for seven-time champion Johnson. The No. 48 failed pre-race inspection three times, which resulted in Johnson’s car chief being sent off of the property before the race began on Sunday. Johnson ended up going down a lap early in the race, and while he battled back to the lead lap and stayed there for most of the second half of the race, he was never a threat.

It is very early in the season, and we’ve seen Johnson and Chad Knaus struggle in the past to get things pointed in the right direction before making a run to a title. The worrisome part for Johnson is that his team was bad late last year, and it has carried over. It used to rattle off a couple of wins early and then experiment until playoff time arrived. It needs to get a handle on things soon, or 2018 could be a second straight year of disappointment.

McMurray has been solid at Las Vegas for the last six years, with all of his finishes 16th or better and two top-10 runs. That string was broken on Sunday when a tire failure put him into the wall and out of the event. Kyle Larson had a strong run with a top-five finish, and McMurray was hoping for something in the top 10 for sure by the end of the event. McMurray hasn’t won a race since 2013, and he has to be starting to feel some pressure thanks to his teammate running so well week-in and week-out.

Who is happy

Paul Menard seems to be enjoying his new gig with Wood Brothers Racing. For the second time in three races, Menard scored a top-10 finish. In 2016 and 2017, he had three top-10 finishes for the entire year. With the strength the Fords are showing, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Menard grab a win before the regular season ends and get a shot in the playoffs.

While Daytona International Speedway ended in crushing fashion for Aric Almirola, the start of his career at Stewart Haas Racing has been encouraging, to say the least. Three finishes of 11th, 13th and 10th have to have him feeling encouraged about the move to the new organization. He had three top fives and six top 10s last season, with all three of the top fives on plate tracks. With the strength of his teammates so far this year, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Almirola put the No. 10 in Victory Lane by the end of the season.

When the checkered flag flew

Kevin Harvick took the checkered flag first for the second week in a row with his victory at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Harvick’s win is his 39th of his career in his 613th start.

This is Harvick’s second win of 2018.

For his career, this is his second triumph at Las Vegas.

Harvick is now 19th on the all-time list, tied with Tim Flock and Matt Kenseth.

Kyle Busch’s runner-up finish is his third career top two at Las Vegas.

This is Busch’s first top two of 2018.

Busch has 41 career second-place finishes, which ranks him 17th on the all-time list, one behind Rusty Wallace.

Kyle Larson crossed the finish line in third place for his first top three of 2018.

It is Larson’s second top three at Las Vegas in his career and second in a row after finishing runner-up in 2017

For his career, Larson has 28 top-three runs, which ties him with Ken Schrader for 69th on the all-time list.

Darrell Wallace Jr. won Rookie of the Race thanks to his 21st-place finish.

For the year, Wallace has won rookie of the race twice, while William Byron has won it once.

Austin Dillon and Kevin Harvick have each won a race in 2018. Assuming there are 16 or fewer unique winners in the regular season, they will both be locked into the playoffs based on winning a race. The remaining drivers who would qualify for the playoffs, and their associated playoff points:

2) Joey Logano – 0

3) Ryan Blaney – 1

4) Martin Truex Jr.- 0

5) Kyle Busch – 0

6) Kyle Larson – 0

7) Brad Keselowski – 1

8) Denny Hamlin – 0

9) Paul Menard – 0

11) Clint Bowyer – 0

12) Aric Almirola – 0

13) Kurt Busch – 1

14) Ryan Newman – 0

15) Darrell Wallace Jr. – 0

16) Chris Buescher – 0

What is in the cooler (one-to-six beers, where one is a stinker and six is an instant classic)

There are barnburners and there are clunkers. While it wasn’t a clunker, Harvick’s domination of the race and no real possibility of an alternative pit strategy playing out for a surprise winner made this one a tough watch. The Kyles, Busch and Larson, did put on a show carving through the field during the event, but that was small consolation for the cheap cigar smoking that Harvick laid down. As a result, we’ll give this one two lukewarm Perfect Ten Pale Ales from Banger Brewing Company of Las Vegas.

Where do you point your DVR for next week

Week two of the West Coast swing heads to the newly named ISM Speedway in Phoenix (technically Avondale). Racing coverage on Sunday, March 11, begins at 3:30 pm.m ET on FOX. It can also be streamed on the Fox Sports Go app. To hear the race tune to your local MRN affiliate, www.motorracingnetwork.com or SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.

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About Mike Neff

Mike Neff
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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8 comments

  1. Avatar

    Dillon and Harvick are in the chase. Doesn’t that mean Logano is third?

    • Avatar

      You expect a NASCAR writer to be able to count?

      And I love this “if the season were to end now” babble. It has been going on for years, usually starting midway through the Daytona 500. As bad as the racing is, the reporting is far worse!

      • Mike Neff

        I guess we all count in different ways Smarter. I count based on points and Harvick is first in points, Dillon is 10th. So I rank the drivers based on point position and don’t automatically count a driver in second in points just because he won a race.

        As for “if the season ended now”, would you rather we just ignore everyone else in the field who hasn’t won a race and then be miraculously stunned by the people who make it in after Indianapolis? I choose to let you know who is in the playoff qualifying positions throughout the season so you have a frame of reference around the people who are in, who are out, and who could be eliminated based on someone else winning a race.

      • Avatar

        And “IF the season ended now” Harvick would be champion and be worthy because he had the most wins, to satisfy those who want the champion to have the most wins.

    • Mike Neff

      Guess it depends on your perspective Don. Dillon is 10th in points and the way I compile that table at the end is based on their points position. The drivers who have won races are left out because they are listed in the paragraph above as having won a race and qualifying in that fashion.

      • Avatar

        “If the chase started now” wouldn’t Harvick be first and Dillon second because of their wins? Then third through sixteen?

  2. Avatar

    i flipped on right as they were getting ready to take green flag. everyone was saying how harvick would pick up where he left off last week.

    i flipped back over to fox at 6:15ish and saw how race was going to end.

    maybe it’s time that the johnson/knaus relationship split. if i recall they split gordon and evernham after numerous years together.

    onto phoenix. harvick’s playgound as well.

  3. Avatar

    Hopefully we don’t hear from the “There was plenty of passing behind the leader” crowd today.
    The same 10 cars were in the Top 10 after the first two stages and this may have extended to the final stage had it not been for the 41/9 incident.

    Also no mention of the ridiculous amount of time between the first and second stages. Apparently there was tire debris that was communicated several minutes prior. The implied reason for these stage breaks was to replace imagined debris cautions and yet they can’t get debris removed on a timely basis during the break.