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(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Kevin Harvick Slathers Competition in Kansas

Who’s in the headline

Kevin Harvick continues to confirm the belief that Ford is the manufacturer to beat in 2018 in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. For the fifth time in 12 races, Harvick was in Victory Lane. He started the year with three wins in a row after the Daytona 500 and has now knocked off two more consecutive triumphs. Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson scored the wins in stages one and two, respectively, while Darrell Wallace Jr. was awarded Rookie of the Race.

What happened

The race started quite ordinarily, with a the majority of the field moving slightly forward or slightly backward, but Larson and Clint Bowyer, who had to start at the back of the field due to unapproved adjustments or failure to pass pre-qualifying tech, made a feverish charge to the front of the pack. A competition caution gave teams a chance for early adjustments, because most teams were struggling with handling. The remainder of the the first stage was uneventful, and Blaney held onto the top spot to score a stage win.

The second stage was very uneventful thanks to no cautions and little passing, although tire strategy added some excitement. When the green-and-white-checkered flag flew over stage two, it was Larson at the point.

The race looked like it might go caution-free until Alex Bowman and Daniel Suarez made contact on the backstraight to bring out the first caution for contact. Shortly after, a second flew for contact between Blaney and Larson on the frontstretch as they raced toward the point. Blaney’s night was ended while Larson had to battle back from the rear with less than 20 laps to go.

The final caution, which immediately turned to a red flag, happened when William Byron got loose under Bowyer in Turn 4 and triggered a melee that involved seven different cars. It ended the night for Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Chris Buescher, Ty Dillon and Blaney.

After that caution/red flag period, Martin Truex Jr. jumped out to a big lead while Harvick worked his way through traffic. It appeared Truex was far enough out front, but Harvick chased him down rapidly over the final five laps, taking the lead as they came to the white flag.

Why you should care

Fords continue to dominate, and Stewart Haas Racing continues to be the flagship for that effort. That said, Larson continues to show that Chevrolets aren’t as far out to lunch as they appear. Toyotas are already winners this year, and Truex and Kyle Busch were near the front for much of the night. The young drivers are learning and getting better while the old guard continues to win, provided their name is Jimmie Johnson, who was worse off this weekend than he’s been all year.

What your friends are talking about

The rumor that we hear on and off about NASCAR actually appears to have some legs. It has been reported that NASCAR has hired Goldman Sachs to evaluate the sanctioning body and determine a value. There is quite a bit to valuate, but part of the process will not include the tracks owned by ISC. ISC is a publicly traded company that is majority-owned by members of the France family but has no ownership by NASCAR. The only speedway that will be involved is Iowa Speedway, which was purchased by NASCAR, not ISC.

As the word began to circulate about the potential of NASCAR being up for sale, the rumored possible suitors went from the sublime to the absurd. Everyone has their idea of who will be the new head of the snake, and you never say never, but Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart were three very popular guesses. Stewart is always rumored whenever any racing entity is potentially up for sale. In the end, Stewart is a dirt racing guy, and the idea of him buying NASCAR just seems like it wouldn’t be a good marriage. Earnhardt has changed his priorities over time and, with the birth of Isla, really doesn’t seem to be a logical choice to take the reins. Gordon has a lot of interests in the world, but running racing organizations never seems to be something he pursues.

In the end, the best choice for a new owner and a new head of NASCAR really needs to be a person with a whole different vision of the sport. Sadly, the schedule will probably be shortened unless someone from World Racing Group gets in there and comes up with a schedule like they run. Ultimately, the series needs to get back to short tracks, because that it what promotes paint trading, rubbing and wrecking. Like it or not, that is what brings eyeballs to the sport. A road course or two will probably be added. Double races at facilities will most likely go away. Expect to see someone like Mark Cuban or Daniel Snyder come in and change the sport.

Larson’s car had a collapsed rear window, which allows more air to the rear spoiler. It happened with Harvick early in the year and Chase Elliott later. The end results were penalties from NASCAR. Darrell Waltrip suggested that body damage to Larson’s car may have been the fault but the R&D center, where the car was taken.

Contrary to popular belief, Matt Kenseth is not the almighty savior for Roush Fenway Racing. It has been terrible for a while and hasn’t made many changes over the last few years. On the plus side for Trevor Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., their complaints will no longer fall on deaf ears, because Kenseth is complaining about the same issues. Hopefully fans will relax now and let Kenseth help his old team as it tries to get better.

The All-Star Race will have restrictor plates at Charlotte Motor Speedway. That could be amazing, but it could suck. The race is an event that has long made part of its name by the various different formats over the years. Sadly, the format this year is no different from a normal race. Hopefully the plates will make up for some of that.

Who is mad

Blaney started on the front row, won a stage and was looking to snag his first win of the season. Unfortunately, that all went away on lap 248. Blaney and Larson were dueling at the front of the pack and made light contact on the frontstraight. That contact led to more contact, which ultimately cut Blaney’s tire, ending his night and severely hampering Larson’s opportunity to win.

Another young driver, Byron, might need to have a talk with his crew chief. There is something to be said for learning to swim by being thrown into the deep end, but there is also something to be said for learning by completing laps and getting seat time. Alan Gustafson has a reputation for taking chances in an effort to win races, but Byron has had some rough learning experienced thanks to some roll-of-the-dice strategy calls.

Who is happy

Paul Menard started the season off strong with two top 10s in the first three races, but the last three races had been terrible. Menard had two finishes in the 30s and a 24th over the last three races. Coming home Saturday night with a sixth-place finish was a boost for the Wood Brothers Racing team that it could certainly use.

David Ragan started 20th, avoided the late race chaos and came home with a 13th-place finish. Front Row Motorsports is one of the smaller teams that occasionally catches lightning in a bottle and knocks out a good finish, and Saturday night was one of those races. For the first time since early 2015, Ragan had a finish of 13th on a mile-and-a-half racetrack.

When the checkered flag flew….

  • Kevin Harvick wins his fifth race of the 2018 season in his 622nd start.
  • This is Harvick’s third triumph at Kansas Speedway.
  • Harvick has 42 victories in his career.
  • The 42 wins puts Harvick in 18th on the all-time wins list, two behind Bill Elliott
  • Martin Truex Jr. came home second after winning both of the races at Kansas last season.
  • Truex has finished in the top two spots five times at Kansas in his career.
  • For the second time this year, Truex finished the race in the top two.
  • In Truex’s career, he has finished in the top two 13 times, which ranks him tied with Donnie Allison, Curtis Turner and Morgan Shepherd for 56th all-time.
  • Rounding out the podium was Joey Logano, who grabbed his second top three of 2018.
  • Logano has four career top three finishes at Kansas.
  • For his career Logano has 50 career podium runs. That ranks him 49th on the all-time list with Dick Hutcherson.
  • Darrell Wallace Jr. won the Rookie of the Race for the sixth time this season. William Byron has also won Rookie of the Race six times.

Austin Dillon, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano are the six race winners in 12 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:

1) Kyle Busch – 17

2) Joey Logano – 7

3) Kevin Harvick – 24

4) Brad Keselowski – 4

5) Kurt Busch – 2

6) Clint Bowyer – 5

7) Denny Hamlin – 1

8) Martin Truex Jr. – 7

9) Ryan Blaney. – 3

10) Kyle Larson – 1

11) Aric Almirola – 0

12) Jimmie Johnson – 0

13) Erik Jones – 0

14) Alex Bowman – 0

15) Chase Elliott – 0

17) Austin Dillon – 5

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

There are some intermediate races that are great and some that are terrible. The race in Kansas was somewhere in between. It was basically a race with lots of cars racing on multiple grooves with tires that fell off. Unfortunately that didn’t translate into much excitement at the top spot in the race. As a result, we’ll give this one an average rating with four lukewarm Paver’s Porters from Cinder Block Brewery.

How many beers would you give Saturday night's race in Kansas?

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Where do you point your DVR for next week?

The Cup Series reaches its annual break for its All-Star event at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Coverage of the All-Star Race and the Open begins at 6 p.m. Saturday, May 19 on FS1. The race can also be streamed on the Fox Sports Go app. If you’d like to listen to the race you can switch 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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20 comments

  1. What exactly does “Slathers the competition” mean?? Sounds creepy….

  2. Sorry, but 30 laps of excitement after 370 laps of typical cookie cutter racing just does not make a race good. Unless there was a whole lot more side by side racing going on back in the pack the TV decided not to show, this one was a typical 1 1/2 mile snoozer.

  3. Rick Hendrick needs to shake things up and now with the All-Star break he has the opportunity. The current crew chiefs are not getting the job done and if Hendrick does not want to fire anybody, he should at least switch them up. He doesn’t have the balls to separate Knaus and Johnson and probably should not, since they are like an old married couple. But the other three need a spark (and much faster cars). Perhaps Ives to the #9, AG to the #24 and Grubb to the #88. It certainly cannot get any worse. Obviously, HMS is behind in both driver development and crew development, especially compared to JGR where Kyle Busch has trained a slew of drivers and crew chiefs while “destroying” the lower series. As for Elliott, he should get out of his contract with whatever kind of legal magic his lawyer can work. Kurt Busch can’t go on forever, and Elliott in a Ford would be a boost for the team and his dad’s fans. Plus Kevin Harvick clearly likes the kid and could provide the kind of mentoring NO ONE at HMS has the ability to do.

    And Janice, don’t get too excited about Larson’s car. The #42 was illegal and will almost certainly pay the penalty this week.

    • sure hope the bust the 42. i did read on sunday that the 42 was going to r&d center. hope they tear it down to the bolts.

    • Too early to switch up the 88 and 24 teams. They are rookies and they’ve only been together 12 races, which isn’t a large enough sample to make any conclusions.
      Maybe the 48 and 9 would benefit. While breaking up Knaus and Johnson seems counter-intuitive, it might give Johnson a second wind. He is definitely in the twilight of his career and he and Knaus haven’t been “the team to beat” since at least his 6th championship season (he backed into the 7th, he won it by default as the rest of the final 4 all had issues while they were trying to beat each other. Most of the day he was on the edge of going a lap down). The point is, why not try something different? Elliott seems to be stalled on his progress and Johnson/knaus isn’t getting it done anymore.

  4. Don’t you think you are premature in saying tha Kenseth won’t help Roush? Odd that you have figured out that a guy who hasn’t been in the car until this week was going to make it run top 10?

    Trevor Bayne has been driving that car to mediocre results for a long time. Only a fool would think that a change wasn’t coming.

    These things were so much better when Matt McLaughlin used to write them.

    • Not really. Mike’s upbeat style is easier to read than Matt’s doom-and-gloom Eeyore style. But everyone has their preferences. Matt’s column is on Tuesday’s now.

  5. If the ISC tracks aren’t included in the sale of nascar what is its real value? Just a sanctioning body which is sinking in relevance. So just cant t being of real interest to anyone but a media company.
    On the other hand I can see why the Frances, who are far and away the majority owners of ISC would want to hang onto the real estate. We shall see.

    BTW: have you noticed since the teams had to start to using the gas that the pit guns were intended to use you haven’t heard any more about them? Maybe the same principle applies to the problems teams are having with inspection.

  6. flipped over when it was red flagged for the wreck. glad no one got seriously hurt. when i saw the qualifying line up, they could had just had the same line up from the previous weeks.

    looks like mother nature might have a major hand in this coming weekend’s allstar race.

    i still think chevy needs to be looked at, one team out of all the chevy’s is not struggling. kind of reminds me of when the lumina came around all those years ago.

  7. Hey Mike,
    Alan Gustafson is Elliott’s (9) crew chief, not Byon’s. I think you meant Darian Grubb.,
    Or did they all switch while I wasn’t looking?

    Overall a forgettable race. It wasn’t bad just kind of routine for a one and an half mile track.

    • Mike Neff

      Thank you Bill B. My brain said Grubb and my fingers typed Gustafson. Grubb is an even bigger gambler than Gustafson is so the point it still valid.

  8. Bubba won ROTR finishing 23rd. ’nuff said.

    • Go figure. Not exactly a huge accomplishment.

      • Bubba will probably win ROTY with average finishes in the mid-20s.

        • Not a great deal of competition is it? And what if anything does that say about RPM? Are they the next BK Racing? I doubt it because of the need of the sport to have both Richard Petty and the only serious diversity figurehead.

          • Mike Neff

            FYI, Rookies of the Year average finishes –

            2017 – Erik Jones – 17.1
            2016 – Chase Elliott – 14.6
            2015 – Brett Moffitt – 30.5
            2014 – Kyle Larson – 14.2
            2013 – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – 18.9
            2012 – Stephen Leicht – 35.6
            2011 – Andy Lally – 30.8
            2010 – Kevin Conway – 30.65
            2009 – Joey Logano – 20.0
            2008 – Regan Smith – 28.2
            2007 – Juan Pablo Montoya – 22.7

            Average finishes in the 20s isn’t really unrealistic for a ROTY. I was only going to do 10 years but thought I’d go to 11 when I saw where Montoya averaged.

          • How many times has a rookie won a race and who was the car owner? Earl Ross won in 1974 for Junior Johnson. Elliott didn’t win but he drove for Mr. H. Money talks for rookies too. Who did Brent Moffitt or Stephen Leicht or Kevin Conway or Andy Lally drive for? Competition for the award wasn’t that great.

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