Did You Notice? … Kevin Harvick is on pace for NASCAR history? Harvick has won five of the first 12 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races this season along with the All-Star Race. That puts him on pace to earn 15 victories in 36 races, shattering the modern era record of 13. (That’s held by both Richard Petty (1975) and Jeff Gordon (1998), both of whom went on to win the season championship in a rout).
How likely is Harvick to cash in? Here’s a look at all MENCS drivers who won five of the first 12 starts in a season and what their year-end stats were.
5 WINS IN FIRST 12 STARTS (MIN. 12 STARTS)
1954: Herb Thomas
Finished: 12 wins*, 1,252 laps led*, 2nd in points
1955: Tim Flock
Finished: 18 wins*, 3,227 laps led*, series champion (second place in laps led that year: 790)
1964: Fred Lorenzen
Finished: Eight wins, 2,375 laps led in just 16 starts (13th in points despite 62-race season)
1965: Junior Johnson
Finished: 13 wins*, 3,984 laps led* in just 36 starts (12th in points despite 55-race season)
1971: Richard Petty
Finished: 21 wins* (10 more than anyone else), 4,932 laps led, series champion
1972: David Pearson
Finished: Six wins, 12 top-five finishes in just 17 starts
1973: David Pearson
Finished: 11 wins*, 14 top-five finishes in just 18 starts (still 13th in points)
1974: Cale Yarborough
Finished: 10 wins*, 3,530 laps led*, second in points
1975: Richard Petty
Finished: 13 wins*, 3,158 laps led*, series champion
1976: David Pearson
Finished: 10 wins*, 16 top-five finishes in 22 starts (ninth in points despite eight races missed)
1977: Cale Yarborough
Finished: Nine wins*, 3,218 laps led*, series champion
1982: Darrell Waltrip
Finished: 12 wins*, 3,028 laps led*, series champion
1985: Bill Elliott
Finished: 11 wins*, 1,920 laps led*, second in points, won Winston Million
1987: Dale Earnhardt
Finished: 11 wins*, 3,357 laps led* (2nd best: 1,399), series champion
1997: Jeff Gordon
Finished: 10 wins*, 22 top-five finishes*, 1,647 laps led, series champion
2018: Kevin Harvick
Finished season: ????
* – led series
As you can see, it’s a rare occurrence (just 16 times in 70 seasons and only the second time in 30 years). Ten of the 15 previous times, the driver went on to finish no lower than second in the standings. The other five times? The driver was running part-time so a championship would have been impossible.
The fact Harvick’s accomplished this feat in the modern era, where 20-25 cars have a realistic shot to win each week is beyond impressive. Add in stages, double-file restarts, pit strategy on late caution flags and… you get the picture. Among those peers who have never matched this sizzling start: Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart and Rusty Wallace.
If there was any doubt Harvick was a NASCAR Hall of Famer, I think this season is putting it to rest. There’s no question he enters Memorial Day weekend as the overwhelming favorite for the 2018 title.
Did You Notice? … The bizarre reaction to NY Racing’s return to NASCAR? This week’s Coca-Cola 600 entry list ballooned to 41 with the entry of the new No. 7 Steakhouse Elite Chevrolet. The team, formerly known as the No. 44 Team Xtreme car is owned by Johnathan Cohen and hasn’t competed at the Cup level since 2015.
In case you forgot, the last time we saw Cohen is when a March 2015 warrant was issued for his arrest. A failed Manhattan nightclub led to a $55,000 judgment he had supposedly not paid to two former business partners. That was after one of his race cars, stolen from a parking lot during the Atlanta Cup race weekend was recovered but without $100,000 in parts and supplies. Crew members claimed Cohen owed them money, chaos reigned and the team suspended operations just six races into the year.
Make no bones about it: the situation was a mess. On the list of new owners you’d choose to be on the entry list, Cohen wouldn’t make your top 200. That said… it’s a new team, a new car in an age where the charter system makes breaking into the sport near impossible. You’d think more supply in terms of cars and owners at the track is a good thing.
But not everyone sees it that way. Most notably, Chip Ganassi Racing partner (and influential Race Team Alliance Chairman) Rob Kauffman criticized the new NY Racing entry.
— rob kauffman (@kauffmanrob) May 22, 2018
It’s an exceptionally strong response to a team that might not even qualify for Sunday’s race. NY Racing is one of five teams fighting for four part-time spots on the grid; the other 36 are guaranteed to Kauffman and the other owners holding charters. NY Racing’s purse money comes out of a fund that’s significantly less than what’s given to those full-time programs.
So what does it matter there’s more part-time teams? As Kauffman knows, the few charters changing hands these past few years haven’t exactly been worth tens of millions. There’s been little demand to buy while the sport struggles to simply fill the field with 40 cars.
Having new owners attempt to qualify, in theory I’d argue shows there’s some interest in others breaking into NASCAR. The thought would be you can build your team by qualifying weekly and racing without a charter; then, you can secure a spot full-time by purchasing one. So if NY Racing wants to play against Chip Ganassi, why not? They have every right to be there if their car is NASCAR sanctioned and legal. Last time I checked, the field was 40 cars, not 36. And maybe there would be a buyer willing to pay more for spots down the road if there were weekly DNQs again.
But Kauffman and the RTA don’t want others to have a seat at the table unless they do it their way (i.e. – buy a charter and pay a fee). Hiring a new executive director, Jonathan Marshall, last week is the latest move in what appears to be a power struggle as NASCAR goes up for sale. The longtime owners want their piece of the pie protected and are increasingly bonding together in a way they feel is in their financial interest (wrapped into the sport’s long-term financial interest). For decades, NASCAR was a family-owned benevolent dictatorship but the RTA seems to be itching for some sort of NFL owner’s meeting with shared decision-making authority.
You know, I feel like we’ve seen this movie before. Team owners increasingly consolidate their power at a time the sanctioning body seems vulnerable. The resulting battle for leadership leads to division among rich men. Power struggles ultimately lead to philosophical differences and a split of a major racing series.
See: CART/IRL, mid-1990s. It’s happened once and it can happen again. The rise of RTA’s power and influence is worth watching.
Did You Notice? … Quick hits before taking off….
- My comment on the new MENCS handling package: I’m somewhere in the middle. There’s no question the racing produced the best All-Star Race we’ve seen in a decade, probably more. There were 12 lead changes in 93 laps Saturday night, one less than what we saw in 267 laps at Kansas a week earlier. For the first time all year, Nielsen ratings were flat year-to-year (no decline) and it felt like NASCAR officials were ready to hold a party in the streets. Fans overall appeared happy, although I think everyone ran with it a bit too quickly. Bravo to everyone involved for taking a serious stab at a product that needed help.
But happy doesn’t mean completely fixed; that’s important. For some, the cars were too slow and comments from the stands reflected that fact. One person attending I spoke to (who attended with several friends) claimed his section felt the cars were “running in place” even though they were often side by side. The excitement of the actual passing was sometimes lost in translation, he said, due to slower speed. The leader also had (albeit a smaller) aero advantage everyone still noticed. This source claimed his section left the race with mixed reviews.
That’s just one opinion but it also shows you this race wasn’t 100% OMG NASCAR IS SAVED FOREVER!!! Overall, is this race a step in the right direction? Absolutely. There’s no question NASCAR’s on the right track, especially with the spoiler and duct work. Bravo. But restrictor plates to me are the lazy fix. We need to take what we learned here, go back to the drawing board and come up with a happy medium long term. Putting plate racing on all the cookie-cutter tracks I predict would get old quickly. Making sure there’s a mix of handling and tire falloff at each track remains critically important.
NASCAR needs to make sure this package is perfected and implemented right. Desperation should not lead to moving up the timeline even though….
- …. One of my short-term fears here is what happens now. Fans have seen a cookie-cutter package that works significantly better and what comes next? A Coca-Cola 600 with the old package that could easily be a ten-second runaway for Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. or somebody else. When people realize the shiny new toy is at least several months away (those few XFINITY races notwithstanding) will they be more likely to turn off the product they have in front of them?
Probably not for the playoffs, I suspect. But it may make NASCAR more vulnerable to some ratings dips as the regular season slogs into summer.
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