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(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Kevin Harvick & Kyle Busch Best So Far in 2018

Who’s in the headline

The 2018 season has been the story of the haves and have-nots. Stewart-Haas Racing has been the strongest organization all season long and its number one driver has been Kevin Harvick. Harvick is the series leader in victories, stage wins and has accumulated the most playoff points. The other driver who has been the primary talk of the series with is Kyle Busch, who leads the points and is one win behind Harvick. Those two drivers are the class of the field at this point of the year. SHR has three drivers with victories this year, the most of any organization. William Byron has 15 Rookie of the Race awards in 2018 to lead fellow contender Darrell Wallace Jr.

What happened

The season started with Austin Dillon grabbing the Daytona 500 with a last lap spin of Aric Almirola. That was followed by Harvick establishing his dominance over the next three races with wins at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway and ISM Raceway. Harvick was going for four in a row but made a mistake early in the race at Fontana running against Kyle Larson and killed his chances, yielding the victory to Martin Truex Jr. That was followed by a losing streak breaking triumph for Clint Bowyer. Following Martinsville, it was Kyle Busch making the run with three consecutive wins at Texas Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway and Richmond International Raceway.

The second plate race of the year saw Joey Logano show off his talent with the restricted engines, grabbing another victory at Talladega Superspeedway. Harvick returned to Victory Lane again with triumphs at Dover International Speedway and Kansas Speedway. Kyle Busch then finally knocked off one of his final two winless tracks at Charlotte with a win in the Coca-Cola 600. Truex notched his second win on the year at Pocono Raceway, even though Harvick had the dominant car.

Another great race by Harvick was spoiled at Michigan International Speedway when Bowyer took a gamble on tires with weather coming in. The rain started before Harvick could get back past Bowyer, who scored his second win of the season. Truex booked triumph number three with a strong effort and good pit calls at Sonoma Raceway before Kyle Busch scored one of the most exciting wins of the year at Chicagoland Speedway, trading paint and bouncing off of walls with Larson throughout the final lap.

The second half of the season kicked off with Erik Jones notching his first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win at the World Center of Speed in Daytona. Kentucky Speedway came next on the schedule and it was Truex’s playground once again as he swept all three stages and continued as the only driver who has ever won a stage at Kentucky. New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s only race on the schedule followed, and it came down to Harvick putting the bumper to Kyle Busch late in the race to score his sixth win of the year.

Kyle Busch went back to Victory Lane the next week and knocked the other monkey off of his back regarding wins with a triumph at Pocono Raceway. Busch led a third of the race and held off a hungry Daniel Suarez to claim a win at every track on the schedule. The second road course of the season at Watkins Glen International saw our second new winner as Chase Elliott led the parade to the checkered flag. Harvick made up for the disappointment of the first visit to Michigan by destroying the competition in the second visit. Rounding out the 24 races leading up to the final off-week of the season was the night race at Bristol. Kurt Busch woke up the echoes of years gone by and once again stood on the door in Victory Lane.

Why you should care

Anything can happen in the playoffs but barring a catastrophic failure by the teams of Harvick and Kyle Busch, they will be in Homestead battling for the title. The other two spots could be occupied by anyone who gets on a hot streak through the playoffs. Hendrick Motorsports seems to be gaining some momentum over the last couple of races, and we’ve seen Jimmie Johnson make a run through the final 10 races after a poor regular season. It will be hard for some people to point their way all of the way to Homestead without a win but it isn’t out of the realm of possibilities.

What your friends are talking about

NASCAR is at a crossroads. There are a myriad of issues facing the sport from declining attendance and television numbers to long-time sponsors not just cutting back but leaving the sport altogether. Driver salaries are dropping causing established them to reconsider their position and some to walk away from the sport. The schedule has become stagnant and is in dire need of an overhaul, not just application of band-aids like a ROVAL and one short track. The biggest issue of all is the leader of the whole organization has given himself and the sport a huge black eye thanks to a drug possession charge and entrance into rehabilitation. The house of cards is teetering on collapse and there needs to be someone who is not only business savvy but dictatorial in their leadership style put into the glass tower in Daytona to turn the ship around before it hits the iceberg.

For the first time in history, the Cup Series is going to have rain tires mounted for a race weekend. As the sport heads to Charlotte for the inaugural race on the ROVAL, Goodyear is going to bring a pile of rain tires for potential use if weather moves in during the weekend. It seems only fitting since they are racing for the first time ever on the track in a playoff race, why not throw in some racing in the rain? Rain tires in the Cup Series have been due for a long time; I’m just not sure it should be during the first ever playoff race on the roval.

Front Row Motorsports made a $2.08 million bid for the assets of BK Racing, including its charter, and it was approved by the judge in the bankruptcy procedure. FRM is now faced with the task of fielding a third car for the remaining 12 races this season or it could lose the charter. At this late point in the year and with its current inventory, it is not known if the team will field a third Ford or keep the BK assets as a Toyota initially. While some people, including BK owner Ron Devine, were “shocked” that there wasn’t more spirited bidding for the assets, including the charter, the judge was not nearly as surprised. “Is this price reasonable and fair?” Judge J. Craig Whitley said during announcing his decision, “Fair and reasonable compared to what? We got what we got.” That statement speaks volumes about the actual value of a charter in today’s Cup Series.

Greg Biffle‘s violation of privacy lawsuit with his ex-wife is over. The jury awarded her $1 and found no fault with his former mother-in-law. They also awarded punitive damage of $500,000 that is limited to $250,000 by law. The punitive damage settlement was agreed on by Biffle to avoid a mistrial and ultimately a retrial. Appeals will be filed but, for now, this situation has come to an end.

NASCAR announced a couple of changes for the XFINITY and Truck series for next season. The field for the XFINITY Series will now be 38 cars instead of 40. Prize money from 39th and 40th will be reallocated throughout the field. Not that anyone knows what the prize money is anymore, though. The other change is designed to further discourage owners from putting Cup drivers in their vehicles. In both series next season, owners will only earn playoff points and wins will only apply to owner championship playoff eligibility if the driver competes for points in the series. Look for Cup drivers to be driving unique numbers in XFINITY and Cup next season rather than the established numbers of the teams.

Who is mad

Rick Hendrick has to be one of the maddest people in the sport. He spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year to win races in the Cup Series. At this point, the four-car operation has amassed one win in 2018. The odds are that the company will win more races before the end of the season but, for now, Mr. H. has to be less than thrilled.

Kasey Kahne was part of the HMS organization and even managed to win a race last year. This year he’s part of the No. 95 team with almost no chance of winning. With no better options on the horizon, he’s decided to pack up the helmet and go dirt racing. You can’t blame a multi-millionaire for going to race for fun where he has a chance to win. It still has to sting that he’s one year away from his last win and now he’s heading out the door of the sport.

Who is happy

Kurt Busch has to be feeling great. He’s part of the best organization in the sport, he’s fourth in points and he’s heading into some of his best tracks on the schedule. Busch isn’t sure where he’s racing in 2019 but wouldn’t it be a great story for him to win a second title before he moves to a new ride next season?

Jones was fourth on most peoples’ list of which Joe Gibbs Racing driver would win this season. Jones managed to pull off a win at Daytona and became the second JGR driver to visit Victory Lane. Most people are surprised that Denny Hamlin hasn’t won yet and many expected Suarez would win before Jones. The young driver has fulfilled a lifelong dream and looks to be headed for a very successful career in the Cup Series.

When the checkered flag flew

Most wins in 2018 – Kevin Harvick – 7, Kyle Busch – 6, Martin Truex Jr.,-4.

First-time winners – Erik Jones and Chase Elliott

Best race of the season – Bristol Night Race

Most popular descriptive phrase during a race broadcast this year – SLIDE JOB!

Best organization – Stewart-Haas Racing

Worst race of the year – Coca-Cola 600 (Kyle Busch leads 377 of 400 laps)

Most disappointing organization – Hendrick Motorsports

Most disappointing team/driver – No. 48 – Jimmie Johnson

Worst part of a race broadcast – Michael Waltrip’s grid walk

Austin Dillon, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Erik Jones, Chase Elliott and Kurt Busch are the nine race winners in 24 races of 2018. At this point it is impossible for there to be more than 16 unique winners in the regular season, so all winners are locked into the playoffs based on winning a race, assuming they attempt the remaining races in the regular season. Thanks to their accumulated points and the maximum points available over the final two races, Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Larson are also locked into the playoffs. The drivers who would qualify for the playoffs and their associated playoff points (race winners are bolded):

1) Kyle Busch35

2) Kevin Harvick40

3) Martin Truex Jr.27

4) Kurt Busch – 7

5) Clint Bowyer10

6) Joey Logano – 8

7) Ryan Blaney – 5

8) Brad Keselowski – 4

9) Kyle Larson – 0

10) Denny Hamlin – 2

11) Chase Elliott – 8

12) Aric Almirola – 1

13) Erik Jones – 5

14) Jimmie Johnson – 0

15) Alex Bowman – 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)

The 2018 season was looking like it was going to be another snoozefest, if not even worse thanks to the dominance of Harvick and Kyle Busch, before the NBC portion of the schedule came around. Outside of the awful competition at Watkins Glen and Michigan, the racing over their portion has been outstanding. As a result, we’ll give the season four ice-cold Budweisers.

Where do you point your DVR for next week

Next weekend one of the most anticipated races of the season takes place at Darlington Raceway for the annual running of the Southern 500. Coverage begins at 6:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN Sunday, Sept. 2. Action can also be streamed on the NBC Sports Live app. If you want to listen to the action tune to your local MRN affiliate, www.motorracingnetwork.com or SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.

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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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One comment

  1. Kyle Busch won a Cup race at Pocono in 2017 and again in 2018.

    Cup has had rain tires available for road courses. It will be interesting to see racing in the rain on the oval portion of Charlotte, especially since Nascar has previously refrained from racing on wet ovals (I am not sure if Nascar and Goodyear have tested rain tires, in the rain or on wet tracks, using current Cup cars, at Charlotte or any other ovals).

    Was interesting to read of at least one Truck driver questioning why the only road course of the Truck series is included in the Truck playoffs (by comparison, I have read of several writers and fans indicate a road race should be in the Cup playoffs).