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Pace Laps: Heartbreak & Triumph in Kansas

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series: Stewart-Haas Racing’s Blessing And Curse At Kansas

Kevin Harvick lost the battle at Kansas Speedway. He and his Stewart-Haas Racing organization could easily win the war.

But man, they do make it hard on themselves, right?

Harvick had victory in the bag Sunday (Oct. 21) at Kansas Speedway in the Hollywood Casino 400. He was on cruise control up front, holding a three-second lead until speeding on pit road during the last green-flag stop. Add in a broken valve stem at Dover, courtesy a flying lugnut and running out of gas at Talladega and you get a Round of what seems like 12 missed opportunities. What’s worse, two of those turned into Chase Elliott victories, keeping their lone Chevy rival alive for the title. NASCAR’s Most Popular driver was gift-wrapped momentum in the form of silly mistakes.

Bottom line, Harvick had three races in his grasp. He led 408 laps in this round. And the end result was… nothing.

“We have had fast cars,” he said afterward. “Whether it is speeding on pit road or flat tires or valve stems or fuel, we haven’t put together a full day. Hopefully, we have gotten all that out of our system.”

Problem is, that disease is spreading. Kurt Busch had an uncontrolled tire penalty one week after running out of gas while leading Talladega. He made it to the next round… just barely. Aric Almirola had an uncontrolled tire penalty of his own one week after winning ‘Dega. Clint Bowyer survived this round despite wrecking at Dover… a caution that also cost Almirola a win of his own. You know, 50-75 laps after Harvick gave the win away.

Get the picture?

On paper, whenever the engines start up SHR has owned these NASCAR playoffs. They should have won every race this round and were in contention to take Richmond (Harvick got 2nd) and the ROVAL (two top-five results) in round one. Their four-car team becomes the second in NASCAR history to all make the Round of 8. Joe Gibbs Racing accomplished the feat in 2016 with Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch making the Championship 4.

To even match that total, though this organization needs to do the little things right. Martin Truex Jr., by comparison survived because of his support on pit road. Gaining eight positions total during two stage breaks kept his track position until the No. 78 car’s handling could be brought under control. It was a true team effort.

SHR’s driving corps clearly works as a team, too (see their Talladega freight train for proof). Harvick, after losing the race was constantly asking if Bowyer was on the right side of the cutline in case he needed to hold back. But pure speed isn’t the only way you win. At some point, you need to come down pit road and every trip for this team turns into an adventure.

If they don’t fix that, their adventure will end after Phoenix, ruining what should be a championship season. – Tom Bowles

XFINITY Series: John Hunter Nemechek Silences Critics With Kansas Win

Over the past few months, John Hunter Nemechek has had limited opportunities in the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. He made the most of an opportunity in Saturday’s Kansas Lottery 300.

In a race that was dominated by Daniel Hemric, it was a few mistakes by both Nemechek and the No. 42 pit crew that set him into a position for the victory. During a cycle of green-flag pit stops with less than 50 laps to go, Nemechek overshot his pit still. With 35 laps remaining, the No. 42 pitted under caution, where the team had three loose lug nuts on the left front tire. Nemechek restarted sixth.

Within one lap after the restart, Nemechek was up to third. Two laps later, the No. 42 took the lead, where it would set sail, cruising to the victory by over five seconds.

Following a second-place finish, and 128 laps led, Hemric’s car was deemed to be too low in post-race inspection. In all likelihood, the No. 21 team will be penalized 10 points come Wednesday when the penalty reports come out.

Even by losing 10 points, Hemric will still sit above the cut-line of making it to Homestead by 13 points. But instead of being the point leader, that will go to Elliott Sadler, +14 on the bubble. Tyler Reddick had one of his best performances on Saturday and currently ranked third +11.

A lap 1 crash on Saturday pushed Christopher Bell back to being on the bubble. The No. 20 team has a one-point advantage on Matt Tifft, while Justin Allgaier is five markers back, Cole Custer -23 and Austin Cindric -43. Bell, Allgaier, Custer and Cindric were all involved in the first turn incident.

The series has an off week before heading to Texas Motor Speedway. Bell was the highest finishing XFINITY regular in the spring race, crossing the finish line in second. – Dustin Albino 

Sports Cars: DragonSpeed Announces Rolex 24 at Daytona Return

Normally, Saturdays are not big days for announcements.  DragonSpeed is not your garden variety race team.  The Florida-based team that races primarily in Europe chose Saturday afternoon to make a big announcement for their 2019 schedule.

Their 2019 season will start with a return to IMSA for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.  Regular European Le Mans Series drivers Ben Hanley, Henrik Hedman and Nicolas Lapierre will drive the team’s ORECA 07-Gibson in the new LMP2 class.  They will be joined by a fourth driver to be named later that will be of amateur status (either bronze or silver-rated) due to the Pro-Am nature of the LMP2 class.

DragonSpeed most recently raced in IMSA in last year’s Rolex 24.  The No. 81 ORECA 07-Gibson ran with Hanley, Hedman and Lapierre, in addition to Loïc Duval.  The team ended up finishing 10th in class (39th overall) after dropping out due to mechanical issues.  Since the ALMS/Grand-AM merger, the team has only one other start in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.  That occurred at Sebring in 2016, where the team finished fourth overall.  In that race, Nicolas Minassian joined Hedman and Lapierre in the car. – Phil Allaway

Formula 1: Kimi Raikkonen Surprises

What had looked to be a coronation for Lewis Hamilton and his fifth drivers title, turned out to be a party for Kimi Raikkonen.  The win was his first in 113 races, his last being the 2013 Australian Grand Prix.  The win comes as a swan song as the popular Finnish driver will be leaving Ferrari at the end of the season to move to Sauber, a Ferrari supported team.

Raikkonen has often been seen as a colorful character and, regardless of team affiliation, has earned the respect of many of the F1 fans.  His win is a popular one and breaks up the ostensible monotony of having Hamilton or Sebastian Vettel win all the races.
As for Hamilton, the third-place result is a blip, something that seems to merely delay the inevitable that will occur next weekend at the Mexico Grand Prix.  Should he finish seventh or higher, the title is his, regardless of where Vettel, the closest challenger finishes.
For the moment, however, the focus should be on Raikkonen.  He has been questioned as to whether his skills are deteriorating or if he should have kept the Ferrari ride as long as he had, and this win comes as a bit of public vindication – even if he said the win wonʻt change his life.  Ava Ladner
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Frontstretch Staff
The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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