Kevin Harvick

NASCAR America: Scan All: Anger and miscommunication at Sonoma Raceway

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Some people like to call road courses the new short tracks in NASCAR and at the end of Sunday’s Cup race at Sonoma, many cars backed up that assessment.

When there’s beat up cars, that means tempers flared, which makes for an interesting edition of NASCAR America’s Scan All. This week’s version gives you some of the best scanner traffic from Kevin Harvick‘s win at the California track.

Highlights include:

  • Israeli-born driver Alon Day, making his Cup debut, telling crew chief Randy Cox he can’t understand his accent. “You have to talk a bit slower so I can understand every word.”
  • “I needed a lot more help on that. The spotter doesn’t tell me ****.” – Danica Patrick after her Lap 14 accident with Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  • “We’ve got your in-car camera here. That was fun to watch. A little scary, but fun to watch.” – Crew chief Ernie Cope to AJ Allmendinger after he went from 11th to first in one lap on a restart.
  • “This year just could not get any better,” the sarcastic response of Kyle Busch to receiving a pit road speeding penalty.

Watch the above video for more from Scan All.

Who is Hot/Not ahead of Coke Zero 400? In restrictor-plate races, Ford is very hot (VIDEO)

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In the last two seasons, restrictor-plate races have become playgrounds for teams powered by Ford.

Playgrounds full of chance, chaos and luck if the first two don’t end your day.

A combination of all three have resulted in Ford teams winning four of the last six Daytona races and the last five plate races overall dating back to the May 2016 event at Talladega. That race was the first of three straight won by Team Penske, as Brad Keselowksi won it and the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona. Joey Logano followed suit in October, winning his second fall Talladega race in a row.

The Ford parade continued in February. After Kevin Harvick led a race-high 50 laps, it was his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kurt Busch who won, leading only the final lap after a string of leaders ran out of gas in the closing laps.

It was only the second time in a non-qualifying race and the first time since July 1994 that a Daytona winner led only the final lap.

The last-lap heroics were again on display at Talladega, when pole-sitter Ricky Stenhouse Jr. took the lead from Kyle Busch heading into Turn 1. He held the field off for his first career Cup win.

Here is who is Hot and who is Not heading into the Coke Zero 400.

Who is Hot

Kyle Busch
• Busch is winless in the last 32 race, but after finishing fifth at Sonoma has top-10 finishes in six of the last seven races.
• Passed for the win on the final lead change five times this season.
• Led the most laps four times in first 16 races with total 746 laps led.
• One Daytona win in 2008 Coke Zero 400.
• Finished top three in two of the last three races at Daytona, crashed out of Daytona 500.

Kevin Harvick

• Coming off first win of season at Sonoma Raceway
• Finished top 10 in eight of the last 10 races (23rd at Talladega after being in wreck, 14th at
Michigan).
• Two-time Daytona winner but has three top-four finishes and three finishes of 22nd or worse in last six races.

Brad Keselowski

• Finished third at Sonoma. Has not had back-to-back top 10s since Talladega and Kansas.
• Nine top fives this season leads all drivers.
• Won this race last year at Daytona, only Daytona win and only finish better than 18th in the last six
races at Daytona.
• Five restrictor-plate wins, tied with Johnson for second most among active drivers

Kyle Larson
• Finished 26th, a lap down at Sonoma for worst finish of season outside of DNF in Coke 600.
• Two wins this season, at Auto Club and Michigan; leads the points after 16 races.
• Finished in the top two seven times this season.
• Best Daytona finish is sixth in 2016 Coke Zero 400.
• Finished top 12 in the five of last six plate races.
• Finished 12th in 2017 Daytona 500 after running out of fuel from the lead on the last lap.

Who is Not

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

• Finished 38th at Sonoma Raceway.
• Won at Talladega, but only one top-10 finish (Michigan) in the six races since.
• Finished fifth in this race last year for best finish at Daytona in 10 starts.

Kasey Kahne

• Finished 24th at Sonoma after wrecking on the last lap.
• Only one top-10 finish (Talladega) in the last 14 races.
• Best Daytona finish is second in 2010 Coke Zero 400.
• Only two top 10-finishes in the last nine races at Daytona, including seventh in February.

Austin Dillon

• Finished 18th at Sonoma.
• Despite Coke 600 win, has only two top-10 finishes this season after having seven at this point last year.
• Best Daytona finish is fifth in the 2014 July race.
• Finished top 10 in five of his eight Daytona starts, his most top 10s at a track in the Cup Series.
• Finished 19th in the 2017 Daytona 500.

Ryan Blaney

• Finished ninth at Sonoma Raceway and scored points in both stages.
• Scored his first career win at Pocono Raceway.
• Only three finishes better than 24th in the last nine races.
• Finished second in the 2017 Daytona 500, only finish better than 14th at Daytona in four starts.

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Ryan: What was overlooked about Rodney Childers and Kevin Harvick after Sonoma win

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There was as much focus on what was said after Kevin Harvick’s victory Sunday at Sonoma Raceway as on how he won for the first time this season.

Crew chief Rodney Childers’ spicy shot at Martin Truex Jr. naturally drew the headlines (and as seen on Monday’s NASCAR America in the video below, it was grounded in some degree of reality, though Truex’s target is debatable), but it detracted from another takeaway.

It’s not only what Childers and Harvick were saying after Sunday’s victory at Sonoma Raceway. It’s how they were saying it.

Just like the three-time series champion they drive for, you typically don’t have to guess where this championship pair stands on something.

Whether it was Childers playfully throwing shade at a rival, or an unusually light-hearted Harvick tossing off jokes between every other answer of his postrace news conference, there was a decided sense of relief about a win that helped ameliorate months of anxiety stemming from the move to Ford this season.

“I can say this now, but I had mixed emotions about how the year was going to go just because of the fact that we had a lot on our plate to switch over,” Harvick said. “And I think as we started the year, we had good performance, and we went through a little bit of a spell where it wasn’t as good as the first three or four weeks, and then the last month and a half has been really good.

“So it’s just a big undertaking, and one day I think when we get done with this year, I think everybody will actually learn all the details of all the things that it took to get to this particular point, but it’s a huge undertaking.”

There actually were many hints since nearly a year ago at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, where Childers said Harvick’s postrace anger was because of lackluster preparation stemming from an in-season overhaul as Stewart-Haas Racing began building its chassis. The Ford move “panics all of us out a little bit,” Childers said with the characteristic honesty that he shares with his driver.

When Childers is distressed with a rival, NASCAR or even his own team, he lets the world know in his blunt but understated style. When Harvick is angry, the message is more demonstrative but no less candid.

But they also like to deflect the attention away from their team through their outspokenness, lest the scrutiny finds them the way it did during the 2015 season when the defending series champion’s No. 4 had a weekly reserved parking space in the NASCAR R&D Center’s inspection bay.

During an episode of the NASCAR on NBC podcast, Childers said he intentionally backed off on Harvick’s speed during practices last season and diverted from the team’s ambitiously simple goal.

For a duo whose partnership is built on a relentless quest for perfection, it was a mistake, and they vowed to return to the basics this season. Despite the transition to a new manufacturer, the renewed dedication to winning every lap on the track seemed to be working at the outset of 2017. Harvick led the most laps in each of the season’s first two races and would have won at Atlanta Motor Speedway without an ill-timed speeding penalty.

It was followed by a four-race slump that resoundingly ended with a pole position at Texas Motor Speedway. Harvick since has posted top fives in six of 10 races as he and Childers methodically recaptured their mojo with a meticulous dedication toward improving.

It’s another facet of their working relationship that gets overlooked when controversy (which Harvick admittedly relishes) sometimes gets in the way as it did at Sonoma, but Harvick’s win was a testament to their preparation. Eschewing stage points after agonizing over strategy for days, Childers gave his driver a chance to win by pitting out of sequence, and Harvick took care of the rest once primary threat Martin Truex Jr. was eliminated by an engine failure.

“We were able to manage the car really after (Truex) fell out,” Harvick said. “I felt like he was the guy that we were going to have to race all the way to the end.  He had a great car, and once he fell out, I felt like we were 100 percent in control of the race.”

And now, it feels as if he and Childers have re-asserted control of their fortunes after a bumpy year

“There’s still a lot of room for growth,” Harvick said. “There’s still a lot of things we don’t know about our cars that we learn on a weekly basis, and that’s the fun part is to know the upside potential to this whole deal.

“Once we get it all ironed out and how great everybody has been from not only Stewart‑Haas Racing but Ford in putting all this together, I feel like we have way more room to grow than most any team in the garage because there’s so many new things for us and new people and still trying to work all the details out.”

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Five months before his 20th birthday, William Byron has eight wins and 15 top-five finishes in 38 starts in NASCAR’s top three national series.

Are those numbers worthy of promotion to a Cup ride with Hendrick Motorsports, which has the JR Motorsports driver under contract and at least one vacancy currently available for 2018?

Until a 2018 replacement is named for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 Chevrolet, Byron’s future is sure to generate debate. The conservative option would be keeping the Charlotte, N.C., native in the Xfinity Series for another season. An online racing prodigy who has competed in real-world conditions for roughly five years, Byron has far less experience with full-bodied cars than the competition.

Which is all the more reason to move him to Cup now.

Byron’s prodigious talent is allowing him to acclimate as quickly as other drivers who have been fast-tracked to Cup with roughly the same training (he should have just under 60 starts in Xfinity and Truck combined by the end of the season).

Kyle Larson, who had limited time in stock cars before coming to NASCAR, had three victories and 10 top fives in 43 starts across Cup, Xfinity and truck before moving full time to the premier series in 2014. Jimmie Johnson had one win and four top fives in 75 starts before his 2002 rookie season. Chase Elliott had five wins and 32 top fives in 80 starts before entering Cup last year.

The comparison trotted out most often as a cautionary tale is Joey Logano, who had one win and five top fives in 23 starts in NASCAR national series before entering Cup full time in 2009 with Joe Gibbs Racing. As exhibited in five seasons at Team Penske, Logano has all-world talent, but there were mitigating factors that spoiled his initial jump to Cup with Gibbs.

Asking an 18-year-old to supplant Tony Stewart, a Hall of Famer who wears his blue-collar roots on his sleeve, as the spokesman for a national home improvement chain was fraught with downsides from the outset. It didn’t help that Stewart remained in NASCAR as the driver-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, adding an unfair measuring stick.

The expectations wouldn’t be as crushing on Byron, who will have the full support from the retiring Earnhardt and automatically will be a better fit with whatever big-ticket sponsor is chosen.

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Also overshadowed in Harvick’s victory was that the addition of a third road-course race next season (at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the playoffs) already is having an impact.

Childers and Harvick decided to add the K&N race at Sonoma to the driver’s schedule just to shore up his skill set for turning left and right. Harvick’s twin victories last weekend might prompt an influx of Cup entrants in the K&N race next year.

“It all started when they talked about putting a road race in the (playoffs),” Harvick said. “You’ve got to have it right.”

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Adding stages (that were shorter than a fuel run) to a road-course race added another twist – namely, that it allowed some slower teams to gamble on amassing more stage points (or a stage win in the case of 13th-place finisher Jimmie Johnson) while stronger cars such as Harvick’s sacrificed stage results to be well-position for an overall victory.

Of the 110 available stage points, 63 were awarded to drivers who finished the race outside the top 10. Harvick and fourth-place finisher Kyle Busch compiled no stage points.

“I think some stage points here and there are great, but we felt like today we had a car that was capable of winning the race and we needed to put ourselves in position to try to win,” Harvick said.

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What was happening on Martin Truex Jr.’s pit stops that caused such trouble in removing the front wheel? It didn’t seem to be the result of a damaged fender, prompting speculation that it might have been the result of the way the shocks and springs were set up on a road course.

NASCAR on NBC analyst Parker Kligerman also posited some interesting theories about indexing on this week’s Monday Morning Donuts podcast (around the 21:30 mark), as well as something interesting he recently noticed with how Team Penske is aligning wheels on pit stops.

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It wasn’t the first time AJ Allmendinger has been hampered by a mechanical problem on a road course, but Sunday’s 35th at Sonoma Raceway marked the No. 47 Chevrolet’s 10th consecutive finish outside the top 15 – continuing a plunge in its first season with a second car.

Allmendinger is ranked nine spots behind his ranking (18th) in the 2016 points standings through 16 races, and teammate Chris Buescher’s best finish is 11th. While the drivers are getting along well, the team hasn’t realized the short-term benefits of expansion yet. The struggles might be coincidental (as Allmendinger has said), but it’s been a reminder that going faster isn’t correlated with merely adding staff.

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After another star-crossed race marred by multiple crashes (which, again, weren’t entirely her fault), Danica Patrick appeared in AdWeek, penning a column about how her personal passions will drive her post-racing career.

The timing was incidental – magazine pieces such as these are planned months in advance – but given the many hits Patrick has taken this year and the uncertainty of her NASCAR future, it was a firm reminder of what could lie ahead as early as next year.

NASCAR America at 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN: Sonoma recap, Max Papis

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs for 90 minutes beginning at 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Leigh Diffey hosts with Dale Jarrett in Stamford, Connecticut. Max Papis and Jeff Burton join them from NBC Charlotte.

The show recaps the race weekend action at Sonoma Raceway and Iowa Speedway and begins to look ahead at this weekend’s racing at Daytona International Speedway.

NBC begins its coverage of the Cup and Xfinity Series this weekend. The Coke Zero 400 is set for 7:30 p.m. on Saturday on NBC.

Here’s what to expect from today’s show:

  • With his first win of the season, Kevin Harvick virtually guaranteed himself a spot in the playoffs this September. Veteran racer and road-course specialist Max Papis will help break down the twists and turns of yesterday’s race at Sonoma Raceway.
  • Kyle Busch’s No. 18 team is facing another penalty this week for having loose lug nuts following Sunday’s race. It is expected that interim crew chief Ben Beshore will be suspended for Saturday’s race at Daytona. As Adam Stevens prepares to return to the pit box at Kentucky, what will Joe Gibbs Racing do to fill the void for this weekend?
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. recovered from a pair of early race incidents to finish sixth at Sonoma. We’ll get his take on Sunday’s performance as he begins to shift his attention to his last ride at Daytona.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, you also can watch it via the online stream at http://nascarstream.nbcsports.com

If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5:30 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

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Cup Series playoff grid following Sonoma

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With the Coke Zero 400 set for 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC, the race will mark the start of a 10-race sprint to the playoffs in September.

Only 16 Cup drivers can make the playoffs and following Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway, Kevin Harvick made it 10 drivers locked in based on wins. It could have been 11 if not for Joey Logano‘s encumbered finish for his win at Richmond in April.

Kyle Larson leads the way with his two wins – Auto Club, Michigan – and 13 payoff points. Martin Truex Jr. is second and leads all drivers with 11 stage wins and 21 playoff points.

With 10 races left until the playoffs begin at Richmond, all 10 qualified drivers are in the top 20 in points. But six of the top 12 on the playoff grid don’t have wins. That group is led by Kyle Busch, who is fourth in points but has not won since last July’s Brickyard 400.

Jamie McMurray is in eighth and is the highest driver on the grid who has not earned any playoff points through 16 races.

Below is the full playoff grid.

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