FORT WORTH, Texas — Crew chief Rodney Childers stood beside Kevin Harvick’s car after Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway wondering what could have been done to make the car perform better.
Harvick finished sixth in the rain-shortened race, meaning that he all but likely needs to win this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway to make the championship round a third consecutive season.
What troubled Childers wasn’t the situation Harvick is in — Harvick has won in must-win scenarios to advance before — it’s what they face when they get to the title round.
The race at Homestead-Miami Speedway will feature the same tire as what Sprint Cup teams raced at Texas and at Chicagoland Speedway to begin the Chase.
While Childers looks forward to Phoenix, Homestead weighs on his mind.
“I definitely feel good about next week,’’ Childers told NBC Sports of Phoenix, a track Harvick has won at six of the last eight times. “I feel that we’re probably taking our best car and we’ve prepared well for the race. It will be about fine-tuning it and it looks like it’s going to be real warm out there. I think that will kind of help us out a little bit. (Harvick) does good when it comes to a slick racetrack out there and all that.
“I guess the disappointing thing is even if we win next week I’m not sure what we can do at Homestead. All we can do is our best, definitely missing something with these tires.’’
Despite showing speed in qualifying (Harvick started third) and in practice Friday, Harvick couldn’t challenge the leaders Sunday.
“It’s something with these tires we just can’t get a hold of,’’ Childers said. “We just haven’t been good on them, haven’t been able to get a handle on it. We’ve tried two different cars and two different setups and way different air pressures and all different stuff and it’s not really helping us. It’s probably the first time in 2 1/2 years that we’ve had stuff like that we’ve struggled with.’’
Said Harvick of his race: “We were tight, we were loose, and we were kind of all over the place. We could take off okay, but we would fall way off at the end of a run.’’
In the three races with these tires, Harvick has finished sixth (Texas fall race), 20th (Chicago) and 10th (Texas spring race).
Harvick ranks toward the bottom among the remaining Chase contenders in average finish in those races:
2.3 — Joey Logano
4.7 — Kyle Busch
7.7 — Carl Edwards
9.0 — Jimmie Johnson
9.0 — Denny Hamlin
9.3 — Matt Kenseth
12.0 — Kevin Harvick
14.0 — Kurt Busch
Of course, Harvick still has to advance to Miami this weekend at Phoenix. But should he, the question will be how strong a challenger will the 2014 champion be for the rest of the title field, which includes six-time champ Jimmie Johnson and 2011 runner-up Carl Edwards?
TIME TO REPAVE?
Eddie Gossage, president of Texas Motor Speedway, said this weekend that the track will need to be repaved at some point because the surface’s top layer has become porous after years of beating by cars and Air Titans. That’s exaggerated the time needed to dry the track.
Gossage is trying to hold off repaving as long as possible, but he knows it will have to be done someday. When it does, drivers will howl because repaved tracks lead to increased speeds, narrow grooves and less side-by-side racing.
After finishing second in Sunday’s rain-delayed and rain-shortened race, Joey Logano was asked about the prospect of repaving the track: “I’d rather it just not rain. Is that possible? Start saying prayers. I don’t know. Talk to the man upstairs about that one.
“I don’t want to say I get it, but I do. You can’t have a racetrack that takes that long to dry. You can’t have that. But, golly, I really like the way this track races right now. It’s a lot of fun. You can run the top, bottom. It’s bumpy. It’s just awesome right now. All but that one thing.
“So depends what everyone wants to live with. Pick your poison, right?’’
BATTLE AMONG FRIENDS
Koch stands one point ahead of Allgaier for the final transfer spot to the championship round in the Xfinity Series. The four title contenders will be set this weekend at Phoenix and the close friends could be racing each other for a chance to win the title at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Koch calls Allgaier one of his best friends.
“Even if I wasn’t racing anymore, I’d probably talk to him everyday and hang out,’’ Koch said.
Koch noted that the bond with Allgaier includes Allgaier’s family. Koch said that there have been “dozens of times” that he stayed in the motorhome of Allgaier’s parents at the track because he couldn’t afford a hotel room.
“I can’t tell you how close of friends we are, but we both know when the race starts, that’s our job,’’ Koch told NBC Sports. “It’s business. No matter what happens, it’s not going to change our friendship.’’
Allgaier says it’s not hard racing against Koch even with their friendship.
“He’s somebody I look up to a lot as a race car driver,’’ Allgaier told NBC Sports. “He’s a talented race car driver.
“That’s probably what makes next week so much fun. I know he’ll race me hard and clean.’’
TWO WEEKS TO A DREAM
Johnny Sauter doesn’t hide from what could be ahead for him. After his second consecutive Camping World Truck Series victory last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, he remains the only driver qualified for that series’ championship race in Miami.
The other three title race competitors will be determined this weekend at Phoenix.
Sauter, who is in his eighth full-time season in the Truck series, has never won the championship. He finished second in 2011 by six points to Austin Dillon. Since, Sauter has finished no better than fourth in the standings.
“I’ve been racing a long time, I’ve had the thoughts of being a champion a long time,’’ he said..
“It would mean a lot to me … but I feel like the championship would mean a lot to my family. Everybody racing through the years and all the short tracks and all the stuff that we’ve done. It would be really, really cool to bring the championship home to family.’’
In two weeks, the son of a racer and brother of racers, could do just that.
— Carl Edwards became the seventh driver with three or more victories this season. It’s the first time in the sport’s modern era (since 1972) that there have been seven different drivers with three or more victories in a season. The last time it happened was 1964 when NASCAR had 62 races.
— Carl Edwards’ win ended a seven-race winless streak for Joe Gibbs Racing — the longest winless streak for the team this year.
— For the third time in the last five races, the Cup pole-sitter finished 35th or worse in the race. Austin Dillon crashed after contact with Kevin Harvick and finished 37th at Texas. Martin Truex Jr. was 40th at Talladega after a blown engine, and Harvick placed 38th at Charlotte because of an engine issue.
— Kurt Busch’s 20th-place finish Sunday, leaves him last among the eight title contenders and 34 points out of the final transfer spot. He essentially needs to win Phoenix to make the championship round. Said his crew chief Tony Gibson: “We’re not dead yet. We’ve got to swing for the fences. We’ve got to take some huge risks and put ourselves out there and see if we can win it.’’