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(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Kevin Harvick Sweeps Up Dover

Who’s in the headline

After a drought of six long races, Kevin Harvick is back in Victory Lane. The No. 4 Ford was the most dominant car all weekend at Dover and it showed throughout the race. Harvick started on the outside of the front row with the second fastest qualifying time. He led the race six times for 201 laps. He finished first in all three stages for the second clean sweep of his career.

What happened

Kyle Larson qualified on pole but failed pre-race inspection three times and was sent to the rear of the field for the start. Alex Bowman and Austin Dillon were also relegated to the rear. Harvick led the first 21 laps before pitting under caution for a blown engine for Corey LaJoie. Bowman stayed out to try and recoup track position and led the next 26 laps before Brad Keselowski grabbed the point for 60 circuits. Fuel was a concern at the end of the first stage with some teams pitting, some running out, and Keselowski backing up to try and make his fuel last. In the end, it allowed Harvick to make it to the finish of the stage and win his series-leading fifth stage of the season.

Stage two started with Harvick on point. He led until lap 153 when Derrike Cope crashed. Keselowski led after the caution until lap 200 when Harvick reclaimed the point after a drawn-out battle. Harvick claimed stage two, his sixth stage win of the season, and continued to lead until a caution for fluid from Kyle Busch‘s broken car. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. stayed out and battled with Clint Bowyer until just shy of 300 laps. Bowyer led until a red flag for rain. Out of that stoppage, Bowyer led until lap 338 when Harvick reclaimed the lead and never looked back.

Why you should care

There were those people who believed that Kyle Busch had assumed the mantle as the driver to beat this season. After this weekend Harvick has reasserted that he will be a force to beat for the championship. There is no doubt that Busch and Harvick are the two strongest players at nearly the one-third point of the season. They most certainly will not be the only two drivers in the mix as the year winds down, but at this point, they are the two most prominent players. Jimmie Johnson was in the mix throughout the race but still didn’t make it to the front. Daniel Suarez finished third for his best career oval run, looking like he just might have the potential to be the second winner out of the Joe Gibbs stable. Aric Almirola finished 11th or the Stewart Haas Racing contingent would have scored another four-car top-10 effort. SHR is still the dominant organization in the sport and Ford is still the manufacturer to beat.

What your friends are talking about

Spencer Gallagher was suspended indefinitely after failing a drug test, just days after winning his first XFINITY race. He has agreed to go into the Road to Recovery program to get back into the sport. While the substance was not identified, there were some discussions about marijuana being on the list of banned substances and whether it should be removed. As marijuana continues to be legalized in various states and its healing properties continue to be touted, the discussion is legitimate. Drivers should never be on the track under the influence but when a substance is heading toward full legality, wouldn’t it be the progressive thing to go ahead and remove it from the list?

MASSIE: SHOULD NASCAR LEGALIZE MARIJUANA?

With Matt Kenseth climbing into the seat next weekend at Kansas, the discussion has now turned to the return of Trevor Bayne to the organization in 2019. He is reported to have a contract through next season but the possibility exists that, should Kenseth bring success, or at least better performance, to the company, Bayne might just be booted completely next season. It wouldn’t be the first time that has happened in the last year. With William Byron joining Hendrick Motorsports, Kasey Kahne was moved to Leavine Family Racing while still under contract to HMS. We’ll have to wait and see how things play out this coming weekend in Kansas.

Lawrence Hayden, a former crew member of the newly formed JP Motorsports was arrested Friday morning at Dover International Speedway after an altercation with team owner Jerry Hattaway. The crew member and Hattaway had an argument that led to fisticuffs in the garage. Hattaway ended up in the hospital for treatment of a broken jaw and Hayden ended up arrested and suspended from NASCAR indefinitely.

Goodyear conducted a tire test at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Tuesday, May 1 on the new Roval. Drivers kicked off the month of May at Charlotte by turning right and left and giving Goodyear a read on the tires it proposes for the Roval race in September. The weather was much closer for this test than the initial foray onto the track when it was in the 30s with some rain.

Who is mad

Corey LaJoie has competed in four races this season. Aside from Bristol, where he was able to run the race and complete 494 of 500 laps, he has not even broken a sweat in the other three. LaJoie blew an engine eight laps into the Daytona 500, 23 laps into the race at Phoenix and 20 laps into Sunday’s race at Dover. When you run a limited schedule for a team and it can’t manage to build an engine that will last until a pit stop, it is far beyond frustrating. Hopefully his next race he can at least see his third green and white checkered flag of the season.

Kyle Busch started the race on Sunday complaining about a vibration in the drive train of his No. 18. He initially thought it was an engine issue but, after a failure of the driveshaft in the car, it was obvious that was the source of the vibration. In his post failure interview, Busch clearly felt that there was human error involved in the issue. He will always back his team if they earn it, but he does not suffer fools well. If failure to perform one’s job as defined costs Busch an opportunity to win it won’t go well.

Who is happy

Suarez had one third-place finish in his career before Sunday, and it came at Watkins Glen. His finish Sunday tied that result and marked his best finish on an oval. Suarez showed great improvement over the early races of his career but had taken a bit of a step back early this season. However, in the last four races he’s finished 11th, 10th, 10th and now third. Suarez looks like he’s back on track to finally land in Victory Lane for JGR.

It is hard to be happy when you won a pole and had to go to the back of the field thanks to tech failure. However, not only did Larson suffer that setback, he also had a tire violation on an early pit stop that sent him to the back a second time. His team battled all day and managed to wrangle a 10thplace finish on the day. The result may not have been what the team wanted for the day but efforts like that are what can build a team into a champion.

When the checkered flag flew

Kevin Harvick won the 41st race of his career in his 621st start.

The triumph was Harvick’s series-leading fourth victory of 2018.

This is the second career victory for Harvick at Dover International Speedway.

41 career wins put Harvick 18th on the All-Time list, three behind Bill Elliott.

Clint Bowyer crossed the line in second place behind Harvick.

Bowyer’s top two run was his second of 2018.

This is the best career finish for Bowyer at Dover.

For his career, Bowyer has come home second 14 times. That ranks him 55th on the All-Time list.

Rounding out the podium at Dover was Daniel Suarez.

Third place is the best career finish for Suarez on an oval and ties his career best.

His third-place run was his best of the season and his best ever at Dover.

Suarez second podium finish means he is tied with a myriad of drivers for 200th on the All-Time list.

William Byron finished 14th to claim the Rookie of the Race.

For the year, Byron has won Rookie of the Race six times. Darrell Wallace Jr. has won the Rookie of the Race award five times.

Austin Dillon, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano are the six race winners in 11 races of 2018. Assuming there are 16 or fewer unique winners in the regular season, they will be locked into the playoffs based on winning a race. Harvick and Busch are locked into the playoffs thanks to two victories, assuming they attempt the remaining races in the regular season. The drivers who would qualify for the playoffs and their associated playoff points (race winners are bolded):

1) Kyle Busch – 17

2) Joey Logano – 7

3) Kevin Harvick – 19

4) Clint Bowyer – 5

5) Brad Keselowski – 4

6) Kurt Busch – 2

7) Ryan Blaney – 2

8) Denny Hamlin – 1

9) Martin Truex Jr. – 7

10) Kyle Larson – 0

11) Aric Almirola – 0

12) Jimmie Johnson – 0

13) Erik Jones – 0

14) Alex Bowman – 0

15) Chase Elliott – 0

19) Austin Dillon – 5

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

Sunday’s race in Dover, Delaware was nearly a duplicate of Richmond two weeks ago. Cars in front had an advantage but it wasn’t insurmountable. There was intense racing throughout the field and, in the end, the best car of the weekend was triumphant. The race wasn’t spectacular but it was quite entertaining. We’ll give it four Double D Double IPAs from Fordham and Dominion Brewing Company

Where do you point your DVR for next week

The series heads to the Midwest for the one-third mark of the season at Kansas Speedway. Race coverage is on FS1 starting at 8 p.m. ET, Saturday, May 1. It can also be streamed on the Fox Sports Go app. If listening is your preferred method of following the race, you can catch the action on your local MRN affiliate, www.motorracingnetwork.com or SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.

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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7 comments

  1. I understand NASCAR doesn’t disclose it’s illegal substance in the press release. But you would think a racing journalist would find out, or someone would leak it to the press. I don’t get it all the secrecy. It’s easier to find out Government classified information!

  2. Not sure how I feel about the whole marijuana thing. I fully support legalization, but I do think there are some occupations where a person would do best to abstain from drugs. Reactor Operators, airline pilots, etc. Personally, I would not want to be racing with someone who ingests drugs. My guess is that Tony Stewart feels the same way. On the other hand, pot isn’t nearly as dangerous as alcohol, the whole reason stock care racing came into being. So I’m conflicted.

  3. Hey Mike, typeo, the date for Kansas is May 12th not May 1.

  4. I didn’t realize this while watching the race because I usually tune out everything once the stage ends until the next stage begins (because I hate that forced break at stage end), but according to Jeff Gluck they opened the pits sooner than usual so that those who were stretching gas mileage wouldn’t run out. I suppose that would look ugly as cars run out on caution laps which further extend the caution laps and more guys run out. I call BS on that. If someone wants to stretch their fuel mileage to win a stupid stage then they should bear the risk if they run out. NASCAR shouldn’t make it work out for them, What a load of crap.

    • and that explains why i didn’t even bother to turn race on often. when i did, noticed empty seats (and this was before rain).

      same top ten starting every week, just mixed up between these particular 10 cars, just same crap.

  5. Larson was 3 laps down and finished 10th…where would a good races be without wave around and lucky dogs…four cold ones is pretty generous

  6. One area where NASCAR caught a break this weekend was the rather brief rain delay, one day after foregoing the option to start the race an hour earlier. It’s an only a matter of time before these 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. starts at tracks without lights backfire.
    I will give Daniel Suarez credit. Dover is one of the hardest tracks to “luck” your way into a top finish.