NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: Is Harvick This Year’s MTJ?

Kevin Harvick continued his dominance by spanking the field this past weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for his second consecutive victory. And this weekend, the circuit heads to ISM Raceway, Harvick’s most successful track. Is it too early to say that Harvick is this year’s MTJ?

Davey Segal: Folks, let’s look at the big picture here. We have 33 races to go until Homestead and 23 until the playoffs start. So much can happen in those weeks, so it is too early to anoint Kevin Harvick as the 2018 version of Martin Truex Jr. If he keeps this performance up, I’ll be the first one to give him the crown of this year’s MTJ. But let’s slow down just a tad here and let some short track and more intermediate results show up on the desk before we jump to conclusions.

Christian Koelle: We can’t say if he’ll dominate this whole season or not yet. These tracks that Harvick has dominated at were ones he’s dominated before in the past but he’s finally been able to put a cap on it and earn the victory. As noted in this weekends power rankings, we do have a championship contender just because he has two victories and is locked into the playoffs.

Vito Pugliese: Speed coupled with the repeated issues on pit road, he most certainly is this year’s Martin Truex, Jr. story — with the notable exception that Harvick is a past champion. How much has his super bendy flex roof Fusion is the result of the dominance remains to be seen. It may not have the same effect this weekend in Phoenix, but it most certainly would at Auto Club Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway. This is the type of speed that the No. 4 showed back when Harvick first joined SHR, with many of those ridiculously dominant performances up-ended by equally absurd pit road miscues. The fact the No. 4 is already locked into the playoffs and is in the process of racking up wins and stage points this early in the year bodes well for Harvick to become a legitimate repeat champion in 2018.

Michael Finley: Harvick is off to a good start but it’s not a guarantee that he’ll be unstoppable this season. Want to feel old? This is the fifth season of the Harvick/Childers era. In the first four years of this pairing, Harvick won 14 races. Yeah, seems like it should be a lot more right? The No. 4 has been the most consistent car in the garage just about every week, showing speed and competing for top-five finishes everywhere they go. But they have struggled with turning those top fives into wins, something Truex had no problem of doing last year. In 2015, they only won three races, impressive but not as impressive once you consider they had 20 top-three finishes. Podiums are great, but only wins give out playoff points.

Amy Henderson: Way too early. Look at Jimmie Johnson last year: won three races early in the season, completely fizzled out by fall.  Harvick is on his game, the cars are fast, but there are a lot of good teams who haven’t hit their full stride yet. Someone else will hit a hot streak, then someone else…Harvick is a perennial threat, but it’s too soon to call him the title favorite.

Photos surfaced of Kevin Harvick’s rear window, which appeared to be buckling during the race. The No. 4 passed pre and post-race technical inspection. Do you think Rodney Childers and the No. 4 SHR team have found something, or is this much ado about nothing?

Johnny Thomas: If they did find something they will never tell. Childers claims a rear window brace failed during the race and that’s what caused the buckling. The window was not an issue during Atlanta and Harvick put on a whooping there as well. Pretty confident in saying Childers is not too fond of Reddit.

Pugliese: They absolutey have found something, because they wouldn’t have been soft-selling it all week to any media outlet that would listen. I like Rodney Childers a lot and respect his talents for sure — but that car was bending all weekend long. Images have surfaced of the same thing occurring in practice and during qualifying. Much like the tape on Chase Elliott‘s spoiler being peeled loose at Chicagoland in the playoffs last year, things don’t just happen by accident. That’s not to accuse them of cheating at all — this is what they SHOULD be doing. Like USPS boxes and NASCAR templates, if it fits – it ships.

Koelle: It was a great disguise for what actually was going on. A window hinge that wasn’t aluminum that ultimately earned him the penalty he was assessed this weekend. With only two winners this season though, it doesn’t matter yet. It could if it comes down to more than 16 drivers entering Indianapolis with a win. Otherwise, it’s like Denny Hamlin‘s penalty after Darlington last year, it doesn’t even matter.

Drew Mongiello: If you read my Frontstretch debut article, Harvick and Childers didn’t get away clean from Vegas. Hopefully for Rodney Childers’ accountant’s sake, they can figure out a way to not get fined for something each week, with exception to Daytona. But it was talked about how the sort of revamped aero package brought the Fords a bit closer to the Toyotas. This is the second season for SHR with Ford so they are starting to show their strengths. Harvick’s team will definitely be a factor for the title.

Segal: Somewhere in the middle. I have no doubt that Rodney Childers and Robert “Cheddar” Smith knew what they were doing when they saw the rear window buckle. But I honestly don’t think this gave the No. 4 a distinct advantage on Sunday. The buzz around the garage all weekend was that Harvick was the car to beat: nothing about the rear window. Those smarter than me that happen to work in television and used to drive/crew chief also added that this specific modification wouldn’t have aided to a signifiant degree aerodynamically. Plus, the penalty shows the rest fo the field to better not play around. And I don’t think they will.

The highest Hendrick Motorsports driver in the points standings heading to Phoenix is Alex Bowman in 17th. Jimmie Johnson sits 29th, the lowest driver in the organization. Although we are only three races into the season, is it almost time to hit the panic button for HMS?

Phillip Allaway: During FOX’s broadcast Sunday, they replayed a piece from last week on NASCAR RaceHub where the analysts on-set were asked about it.  Johnson’s apparently a low-key man.  He’s not sweating it that much.  Chad Knaus likely is because that’s who Chad Knaus is.  In Johnson’s case, it would have helped greatly had Johnson’s team been able to get the car through inspection in less than three tries Sunday morning.  Otherwise, they’ve got teething issues with the new Camaro ZL1 and some bad luck.  This isn’t horrible.  They’ll recover.

Thomas: If you asked this question last week the answer would have been no, Atlanta is much different than any other 1.5-mile track. Las Vegas, on the other hand, was a telltale sign on the state of HMS. Elliott is by far the strongest car in the No. 9 and Johnson has shown some signs of speed, but bad luck has resulted in poor finishes. Alex Bowman has been running mid-pack, much like the No. 88 did all last year as well. The biggest surprise to me is how slow the No. 24 of William Byron has been. It’s not every day you see an HMS car battle Cole Whitt and Ross Chastain for position.

Wesley Coburn: Maybe not just yet, but definitely getting there. Elliott was runner-up in the fall Phoenix race; if the best a Hendrick car can do is hang around 10th all day, then yeah, it’s certainly time to start panicking.

Howell: Hendrick Motorsports isn’t used to such struggles, but the organization also hasn’t been the competitive force it’s known to be by giving in early. My thinking is that the new Camaro has been a challenge to figure out. Once the teams collect more data and crunch more numbers, look for HMS to return to its winning ways. Too much talent there to go 0-36….

Mongiello: Not entirely. Chase Elliott has been a top-10 car all season, he was caught up in wrecks that were not his fault so his two DNFs hurt right now, but he’ll be back. If the Chevy Camaro gets its but in gear, I think Chase wins a race or two this season. It’s interesting how Hendrick’s dynamic of power seems to shift with each new hot shot. 1995-2001 was all Jeff Gordon, once JJ hit the scene, it appears that Johnson got the better resources from Hendrick and Gordon fell from power. Same seems to be happening with Johnson/Elliott now that Chase has some more solid experience in MENCS. Bowman and Byron need much more time and they seem to be the new Nos. 5 and 25 car that never really played a factor in most races.

There were more pit gun problems this week. Although teams will wind up using these each week, what is one piece of technology (not including your phone) that you couldn’t live without?

Segal: I’m not going to take the easy route out and say my computer or even a television. Can I say my phone charger? No, that’s probably cheating too … I’ll go with my headphones. Without them, my countless hours every week at the gym and walking to class would be so boring. No music, no podcasts, no nothing = a very gloomy Davey. Headphones = happiness.

Finley: Computers and phones are important but if I can’t live without my car, I can’t get to work or get food. I live in the woods so in about three hours I’d be full on Michael Scott pretending to be Survivorman mode.

Thomas: My phone, whoops not allowed to say that. After getting into iRacing in 2012 I would have to say my rig.  It is so much fun to compete in a virtual race setting against all forms of race car drivers. If anyone wonders where I am at on Monday nights you can bet I will be on iRacing competing in the popular league, 3Wide Racing.

Mike Neff: It would seem as though a car might be too big of a piece of technology. Obviously not having a means of personal travel at the drop of a hat would be a tremendously difficult situation. Outside of a car I would say cable television. In the modern era of becoming unplugged, live sports is still key for what I do. Searching for random streams and having to jump around to different sites and devices to try and find live sports is just not practical. I’m still attached to cable/satellite for the foreseeable future..

Koelle: I would hope most everyone in this group would say their computer. We’re journalists and without computers, we’re writing with pens and paper. That’s the piece of technology I can’t do without.

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kb

Oh dear God. Not a fan of Harvick, but this discussion. Really? Marty is a GOD somehow? Kevin’s stats wipe the floor with his (Marty) 12/13 years in CUP and a mid pack driver and worse up until his miraculous driving improvement the past two full seasons. SARCARM INTENDED!!!! How insulting! Desperate for stories it seems.

Bill B

I don’t think they were comparing their careers, only the 2017 season to the 2018 season. You can argue that MTJ was lucky or cheated or that a lightning bolt from the gods gave him the edge, but he did have the most wins (and dreaded playoff points) in 2017 so the question being asked is, will Harvick have the most wins this year.

SmarterThanYo

To me, it’s interesting that last year all we heard was “playoff points,” and how they would lead to a championship for the otherwise mediocre Martin Truex. Now Harvick has lost 7 of those “valuable playoff points” and the media is saying it doesn’t matter. Can you get your stories straight, please?

As for the L1 penalty, it is obvious that it hurts a driver with no other wins more than a driver who has already won with a supposedly legal car. Seems it is time for NASCAR to toughen up the penalty for offenders who are already guaranteed playoff positions. Stripping the win and giving it to the second place driver is the obvious answer, but NASCAR refuses to go that route. Yet, it sure would hurt Harvick a whole lot more to have given a win to Kyle Busch who is certain to be one of the main contenders for the Championship. That would really be an OUCH moment and would make the winners of races less cavalier about testing the gray areas of the rule book.

Bill B

I remember pointing out the gist of your second paragraph when they first started the win and your in championship format. Once a driver wins a race they pretty much have a license to cheat (or, at least, really go into the gray area) with little recourse. Points penalties are meaningless and fines are, and always have been, a joke.
Meanwhile, those who don’t have a win and may have to rely on points at season’s end, can’t push the envelope at all because a points penalty will kill their chances. Hardly a level playing field.
Instead of owners points they should be taking away playoff points. So in this case, Harvick would not receive the 7 points for the Vegas race and would have a points penalty of minus X playoff points (in addition to 20 owners points). And I’d also make it possible that you’d accumulate negative playoff points if you have few or no playoff points. That would keep them in check.

JohnDoe

Hell, what exactly does MTJ mean???

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