Home / Beth Lunkenheimer / Pace Laps: Harvick’s Historic Run, XFINITY Series Downhill Slide
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Pace Laps: Harvick’s Historic Run, XFINITY Series Downhill Slide

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series: Harvick Having Historic Run

Every once in awhile, an athlete reestablishes the level of greatness in their sport. NASCAR is no exception to the rule. There were Dale Earnhardt’s next-level championships in 1987 and 1994, Bill Elliott’s 1985 Winston Million and Jeff Gordon winning 13 races in 1998. More recently, you can make the case Martin Truex Jr. was the most dominant champion (eight wins) in NASCAR’s newer, 16-team playoff format.

But Kevin Harvick is on the verge of rewriting those record books. Five wins in 12 races have the driver on pace for 15. That would set a new modern era standard, shattering the 13-wins seasons of Gordon and Richard Petty (1975).

Harvick, who has nine top-five finishes is also on pace to lead 2,460 laps. That would be the most since Gordon’s first title in 1995 (2,610 laps) while establishing a new high for NASCAR’s playoff era.

And, like Truex a year ago, the No. 4 team is racking up an impenetrable road to the championship. His 24 playoff points now are on pace to blow by the 54 his rival in the No. 78 collected in 2017. He’ll enter September a near certainty to make the Final Four at Homestead barring a 35th-35th-35th catastrophe of epic proportions.

That puts Harvick in position to relinquish some demons of a few years ago. Even during his 2014 championship season, the No. 4 had a chance to be historical but saw so many victories ruined in the name of late-race mistakes, pit problems, and mechanical failures. But this year, the breaks are headed Stewart-Haas Racing’s way; Kansas proved just the latest example.

For a time, Ryan Blaney and then Kyle Larson were cruising to Victory Lane – not Harvick. But the duo took each other out in a late-race battle that briefly paved the way for Martin Truex Jr. Once again, the No. 78 did battle with the No. 4 late in the race but, as in every mano-e-mano since Texas in November, it was Harvick and SHR who came out on top.

“We’re missing something,” Truex admitted after the race, waving the white flag of surrender (for now) to Harvick’s dominance. He even joked the No. 4 had an unfair advantage.

They don’t. It’s simply a driver and crew chief (Rodney Childers) peaking at the right time, armed with the motivation to ride this wave as long as they can.

“Now, it feels like a game,” Harvick said. “It really does, because of the fact that you want to see how many races you can win.  You want to see how many laps you can lead. A night like [Saturday night], it really shows the experience of the team because I feel like this is the kind of cars that we had in 2014, but we had a lot of parts failures.  We were all new.  We made a lot of mistakes and just didn’t really know how to deal with it like we do now, and it’s — but yeah, it’s addicting.”

Come November, it could also be record-breaking. – Tom Bowles

LUNKENHEIMER: FULL KC MASTERPIECE 400 RECAP

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XFINITY Series: Ratings Down, Action Up 

Despite being in its first of two consecutive off-weekends, the XFINITY Series has gotten off to a hot start to 2018.

Through the opening 10 races of the season, 10 different drivers have visited Victory Lane. Tyler Reddick kicked off the year with the closest margin of victory in NASCAR history, followed by a Kevin Harvick domination at Atlanta. Kyle Larson hit the jackpot in Vegas, while Team Penske won the next the three races with Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, and Ryan Blaney.

It took until Bristol for the next series regular to visit the Winner’s Circle, but Ryan Preece got it done at Bristol. Christopher Bell followed that up with a win at Richmond, while Spencer Gallagher scored his first career triumph at Talladega. Justin Allgaier won the series’ most recent race at Dover. What’s unique about those four races? They were all Dash 4 Cash events, and Cup regulars weren’t allowed to compete.

Even though it’s been an action-packed season, ratings continue to decline. Each race this season has seen a drop in ratings compared to last season. Talladega, which was the Driver’s Only broadcast, earned a 1.2 rating and 1.90 million viewers on FOX, down five percent from last season.

It’s not good that the viewers are leaving, even worse that crowds for XFINITY races are spare. However, the last time there were 10 different winners in the first 10 races of the season was 2004. – Dustin Albino

ALBINO: RYAN TRUEX RELISHING CAREER OPPORTUNITY WITH KAULIG

Camping World Truck Series: Noah Gragson Scores First 2018 Win

Just a week after he ended the race in the garage, heartbroken from crashing following an aggressive race for the lead with two laps remaining at Dover, Noah Gragson emerged victorious after a dominant Friday at Kansas Speedway.

The driver of the No. 18 Toyota started on the pole and led five times for a race-high 128 laps en route to his second career victory but his first of the season.

The win moved Gragson 16 points closer to Johnny Sauter for the championship lead and gave the second-year driver a good chunk of playoff points to take into the playoffs later this season. But perhaps what was more important is just how much his confidence has grown in recent weeks.

Following three successful XFINITY Series starts, Gragson now appears much more confident in himself as he gets on track and more sure of the race program itself. Kyle Busch Motorsports won the championship last season with Christopher Bell, and Gragson is making a case for his own shot to continue the organization’s legacy. – Beth Lunkenheimer

LUNKENHEIMER: REDEMPTION FOR GRAGSON

KOELLE: FULL KANSAS TRUCK SERIES RECAP

Formula 1: Hamilton Wins While Grosjean Becomes A Wrecking Ball

Lewis Hamilton can remember the days when he and his current Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas could just dominate the race. It could be a gap of seven seconds or more, between the two, but Hamilton would be happy, and the others would wonder on how can they beat “those Mercedes cars”?

This season leading up to this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix, Hamilton could not seem to get to grips (literally) with trying to coordinate how the tires are working on his car. It was disappointing to see his rival, Sebastian Vettel, winning many races this season.

However, this past weekend in Spain, the tables turned. Not only Hamilton did well in practice and qualifying but won the race by over 20 seconds ahead of (you guessed it) Bottas. The Ferraris were nowhere in sight, as Kimi Raikkonen had an engine issue and Vettel botched a pit stop when a virtual safety car period happened, finishing in fourth.

Speaking of safety, there is an honorable mention award in the sickest sense, that should go out to Haas F1 driver Romain Grosjean. It is either the Frenchman is worried that his teammate Kevin Magnussen is putting tension on him, or he is just beginning to crash and spin like he did back in Spa when he took out many cars on the opening lap just like he did this past week in Barcelona. In both circumstances, he is being penalized for his actions, and hopefully, Grosjean is not beginning to go back to his old tricks of making dumb mistakes while in the cockpit such as spinning on a safety car lap or trying to not think under situations that could cause problems with other drivers. This could lead to him being replaced for next season.

Next stop is Monaco, where the race is more like a lottery, with tight corners and lots of attrition. Not good for sensitive drivers, but good for Hamilton and Vettel. – Mark Gero

GERO: HAMILTON THE HERO IN SPAIN

Sports Cars: Porsche Dominates Zurich 24 Hours Nürburgring, Unveils 2019 GT3 Challenger

Last weekend was a very successful time for the Porsche factory.  On Sunday, the factory-owned Manthey Racing claimed overall victory in the Zurich 24 Hours Nürburgring with their No. 912 Porsche 911 GT3 R shared by Richard Lietz, Frédéric Makowiecki, Patrick Pilet and Nick Tandy.  That was actually the slower of the two factory entries.  The No. 911 led for a good chunk of the race from the overall pole before Romain Dumas crashed out of the lead during the nighttime hours.

The race ended up being much closer than expected due to the No. 912 getting a 212-second stop and hold penalty for going too fast in a “Code 60” slow zone (Note: In lieu of full course cautions, segments of the track are neutralized in order to tend to issues.  A Code 60 means that drivers must slow to no more than 60 kilometers an hour).  The penalty gave the overall lead to Black Falcon’s No. 4 Mercedes.  In addition, the race was red-flagged for two hours due to rain and heavy fog.  After the race restarted, Makowiecki was able to get by Adam Christodoulou for the lead and pulled away for a 26.413-second victory.

Earlier in the weekend, Porsche unveiled the new 911 GT3 R that will race beginning in 2019.  Unlike the GTE version of the 911, this car will remain a traditional rear-engined racer.  However, there have been a number of aerodynamic improvements to the car.  The nose and tail have been re-designed to resemble the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup while improvements to the suspension are also in store.

In North America, the car will be eligible to race in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s GT Daytona class and Pirelli World Challenge’s GT class.  The car will not be allowed to compete in SRO-sanctioned events until the beginning of the 2019 Blancpain GT Series season.

Currently, the 2019-spec 911 GT3 R will make it’s debut late this year in an unknown endurance race.  Porsche did not indicate which race that would be. – Phil Allaway

ALLAWAY: G-DRIVE PUTS ON A+ PERFORMANCE AT MONZA

Verizon IndyCar Series: Will Power Achieves Milestone Win for Team Penske in IndyCar Grand Prix

For the third time in four years, Will Power won the IndyCar Grand Prix. The victory marked the 200th time a Team Penske machine took the checkered flag in Indy car racing.

Scott Dixon finished second after starting 18th. Robert Wickens, the sensational Schmidt Peterson Motorsports rookie, stood third, earning his second career podium.

Simon Pagenaud, a two-time winner of the race, was involved in a first-lap accident with Ed Carpenter Racing rookie Jordan King. Pagenaud managed to escape the gravel trap he slid into and eventually salvage a seventh-place finish, but King finished two laps down in last place.

With 30 laps to go, reigning series champion Josef Newgarden attempted to overtake Sebastien Bourdais in Turn 12, but spun, bringing out a full-course yellow. Newgarden entered the day with a 13-point lead in the standings over Alexander Rossi, but his 11th-place finish cut his advantage to a mere two points. -John Haverlin

HAVERLIN: Josef Newgarden’s Spin Relegates Him to 11th in IndyCar Grand Prix

KOELLE: Will Power Secures 200th IndyCar Victory for Roger Penske in IndyCar Grand Prix

 

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4 comments

  1. NASCAR is the most competitive it has ever been. Certainly more competitive than F1 but perhaps not quite as competitive as Indy (you can pass for the lead in Indy) yet the ratings slide in comparison. A competitive field is not really the problem, perhaps it is too competitive in the sense that everything has become lowest common denominator. The grand France Family experiment in socialism.

    Gibbs can spend a pile of cash to hire the absolute best designers and fabricators to make an air gun that will trim a tenth off of a pit stop and the NASCAR response is to hand all of the teams a Harbor Freight pit gun and take away a crew member. Great, now everyone sucks as bad as an ARCA crew but the suck is evenly distributed up and down pit lane. The current aero design makes it impossible to pass the leader in clean air unless you have 30 lap freshers tires so one of the most compelling must see things while watching a race, on TV or in the grandstands, is the performance of the pit crews.

    At its peak NASCAR had a bunch of genuine characters, they were politically incorrect and they didn’t care. Occasionally a sponsor would get chapped but a steady stream of sponsors was in queue to take their place on the hood. Then NASCAR decided that they had to go after the snowflake millennials which means that no one can say or do anything remotely controversial. Bold moves like suspending Kurt Busch after his fruitloops felon girlfriend made an unsubstantiated claim, The Green Initiative (who the hell cares other than NBC), No more Stars and Bars in the parking lot. Hollywood and the coastal elites made fun of it (us) but everyone was making money. Guess what, the coastal elites still make fun of us. My millennial aged son was at the track with me this weekend and he made some great observations. If you want to get the guys his age to the track then set up an area like the Snake Pit at Indy or the infield at Talladega at every track. With enough drinking and debauchery they will come out in droves, even if they never remember the race.

    There are some problems that are fairly deep at this point and it isn’t going to turn around before Homestead this year. It might stop the decline after Sonoma and the end if this season’s adventures in Boogity Boogity and the visor barf-cam but I don’t see NBC making any great upward strides.

    Looking down the road how about getting rid of the splitters and the coil bound setups along with them. I’m no race engineer but I can shove packers into the shocks until the splitter quits scraping the track and the splitter ride height seems to trump everything else in the setup. I’ll need to get with Rusty Wallace to figure out what a “Two Bleed” shock is but back when guys worked on handling the racing at the front was a heck of a lot better than it is now. It seems like all you can do is see how far you can crab the car sideways and how much camber you can get by with and still get through tech and the guys are trying to drive something that gets “aero loose” when a competitor pulls up on your quarter panel at Bristol.

    Even after all of that I love motor racing and all three NASCAR series are at the top of my list. The last three years or so in the truck series has been some of the best racing going, even if nobody sees it.

  2. So, the geniuses at FS continue to be wrong. Cup drivers are not killing the NXS or Truck Series. Fans have lost interest in auto racing, especially when it is the equivalent of AA or AAA baseball with a bunch of has-beens and never-weres competing. Tiger Woods may be 10 years past his prime, but fans would turn out to see him in a pitch and putt tournament. Stars put fans in the seats and NASCAR has not had a genuine star driver for over a decade. Plus the events themselves are colossal bores.

    And please, don’t write any more crap about Kevin Harvick re-writing the record books. If he wins double-digit races, that will be newsworthy, but a fast start does not guarantee a great season. And his car is probably illegal anyway, just as Truex’s car was last year. You are just grasping at straws. NASCAR is dead for all the reasons Al Torney mentioned. You should fire your staff and hire the two of us to tell the remaining 20 fans the truth.

  3. We are witnessing the General decline of auto racing throughout the country. Many short tracks are experiencing declines in race car counts and attendence. The NASCAR truck series and Xfinity series have been drawing sparse crowds for several years now. In fact I look for the truck series to go away after the tv contract expires. They do not draw enough fans, except for a couple of races, to even pay the purse. TV money is keeping the series afloat. Same with the Xfinity series. We all know that the Cup series has lost over two million tv viewers. And over one million race attendees. These are hard figures to swallow. Two things I think are important here. One is the removal of grandstands from the speedways. If you expected a turn around would you remove them? Secondly why is the France Family even considering selling the series? It just may demonstrate that they all realize the possible growth of NASCAR is over. No I don’t think the sport will go totally away. However there are going to be changes over the next five years that are going to totally revamp the sport. The sponsorship money is lessening at an alarming rate. Drastic cuts in team budgets are inevitable. This has to happen for teams to survive. The charter system has discourages any new owners to enter the sport. With sinking tv ratings the next tv deal will not be as lucrative as the last one.

    On can write a book on the decline of auto racing in the United States and give a multitude of reasons for it. Again two things stand out. Number one it has just plain gotten to expensive to race any car here. From a hobby car at a dirt bullring to a NASCAR Cup car at Charlotte racing has priced itself out. The national economy plays a big part in this. The second part is America’s love of the automobile as anything other then transportation is over. This is evidenced by the fact that Ford is discontinuing production of passenger cars. Chevrolet is rumored to be doing the same. Chrysler hardly sells many anyway. We have four American enthusiast cars left: the Camaro, Mustang, Challenger and Corvette. And young people can’t afford them and the insurance rates that go with them. I addition the electric car, hybrids and suvs are the wave IOC the future.

    • Al I do think in a lot of ways you are making sense of what the future holds. Although I would look a little closer at a couple of things.
      As to why nascar (lower case on purpose) is selling their could be several reasons. But I think that will become clearer when the question of whether the tracks are included. Regardless the real estate the tracks sit on is worth far more than the sanctioning body is.
      Yes the love affair is over, and to many people its a mobile office or other form of tool than something we desire. There a reason virtually all new cars come with Bluetooth. I am never out of touch with customers now. (for better or worse)
      As to the enthusiasts cars you mention the younger people cant afford them, and the older people cant get in or out of them. LOL
      And in addition to the electrics, hybrids and SUV’s don’t forget the autonomous vehicle. Its coming whether we think it is or not.
      In short the problems of nascar aren’t just stage racing and the playoffs. People may think nascar has gotten too expensive to attend but people have no problem buying the latest Apple product.