Upon Further Review: What lies ahead for Kevin Harvick in Chase?

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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

Justin Allgaier’s daughter says her favorite driver is Blake Koch. Koch’s son says his favorite driver is Allgaier.

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.

PIT STOPS

— 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.’’

Power Rankings: Kevin Harvick reigns going into All-Star Race

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Kevin Harvick‘s dominance of his Cup competitors continues in this week’s NBC Sports power rankings, as the Stewart-Haas Racing driver is the unanimous No. 1 driver for the second week in a row.

That comes after Harvick placed fourth at Kentucky Speedway in a race won by rookie Cole Custer.

Fourteen drivers earned votes this week following a weekend of four NASCAR races, including two Xfinity Series events.

Here is this week’s top 10:

 1. Kevin Harvick (30 points): Fourth-place finish is his fourth consecutive top-five finish. Last week: First.

 2. Aric Almirola (22 points): While Almirola finished eighth, he led a career-best 128 laps, won Stage 1 and earned his sixth consecutive top-10 finish. Last Week: Second.

(Tie) 3. Cole Custer (19 points): Custer became the first rookie of the year candidate to win a Cup race since 2016 and the first 2020 rookie to score consecutive top fives with his win. Last week: Ninth.

(Tie) 3. Matt DiBenedetto (19 points): Earned his second top five of the year and his second top 10 in three races. DiBenedetto has earned points in the last eight stages. Last week: Unranked.

(Tie) 5. Brad Keselowski (16 points): His ninth-place finish was his 10th top 10 in the last 12 races, but he didn’t earn any applause from Jimmie Johnson after contact spun Johnson. Last week: Third.

(Tie) 5. Martin Truex Jr. (16 points): Runner-up finish marked his fifth top 10 in the last eight races. Last week: Unranked.

 7. Austin Cindric (12 points): The Xfinity driver dominated his series’ doubleheader in Kentucky and came away with his first oval track wins in NASCAR. Last Week: Unranked.

 8. Kurt Busch (8 points): Placed fifth for his first top five since the second Charlotte race in May. Last Week: Unranked.

 9. Denny Hamlin (7 points): Forgettable day at Kentucky. On to the All-Star race at Bristol. Last week: Fourth.

 10. Tyler Reddick (6 points): Placed 10th to earn his first consecutive top 10 of his Cup career. Last Week: Unranked

Others receiving votes: Chase Briscoe (3 points), Ryan Blaney (3 points), Christopher Bell (3 points), Sheldon Creed (1 point)

NASCAR video explains Choose Rule for All-Star Race at Bristol

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NASCAR detailed in its drivers meeting video how the Choose Rule will be used for restarts in Wednesday night’s NASCAR All-Star Race (8:30 p.m. ET on FS1).

The non-points race marks the first time Choose Rule — which allows drivers to determine what lane they restart — will be used in a NASCAR Cup event. Drivers have been vocal about trying the rule since May.

The Choose Rule will be used for restarts only. It will not be used for the start of the All-Star Race, which is being held for the first time at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The video states that drivers must be single file under caution when crossing the start/finish line at the time to choose their restart lane. The video states that a V shaped painted mark on the track will show where drivers must decide what lane they wish to restart.

To restart in the inside lane, drivers must have their right side tires on or below the painted line at the V shaped mark.

To restart in the outside lane, drivers must have their left side tires on or above the painted line at the V shaped mark on the track.

If in NASCAR’s discretion, a driver has not chosen a lane at the V shaped mark on the track, changes lanes, tires touch the painted box after the V shaped mark or impedes the process, that driver will have to restart at the tail end of the field in the longest line of cars.

Xfinity team owner fined for violating COVID-19 protocol at Kentucky

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NASCAR announced on Tuesday the first fine for a violation of its COVID-19 protocols.

Anthony Clements, owner of Jeremy Clements Racing, was fined $10,000 for violating section 12.8.1.b of the Member Conduct Guidelines and section 7.7.2.j Team Event Roster Guidelines in the rulebook.

Among the potential violations in Section 12.8.1.b is that a member can be fined $5,000-$25,000 for: “Failure to comply with NASCAR’s COVID-19 Event Protocol Guidelines and/or instructions from NASCAR including screenings, social distancing, compartmentalization, and use of required personal protective equipment, etc.”

Last week, NASCAR issued a memo to teams requesting them to address “complacency” regarding its COVID-19 mask policy.

Section 7.7.2.j says “If a team is not in compliance with the Team Event Roster Rules and guidelines, that team will be subject to a Penalty as outlined in Section 12 Violations and Disciplinary Action.”

NASCAR also issued a $5,000 fine to crew chief Dave Rogers for one unsecured lug nut on Riley Herbst‘s No. 18 Toyota.

NASCAR did not issue any penalties for Friday’s post-race fight between Noah Gragson and Harrison Burton.

Last Saturday, NASCAR announced L1 level penalties for three Truck Series teams that failed pre-race inspection.

Wednesday’s Bristol All-Star Race: Start time, lineup and more

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History will be made Wednesday night when NASCAR holds the All-Star Race at Bristol Motor Speedway for the first time.

The night will be filled with many other firsts. Cars will have unique paint schemes centered around their sponsors. Drivers who automatically qualified for the All-Star race will have underglow lights on their cars. This will be the first national NASCAR event with the choose rule.

Here’s all you need to know ahead of Wednesday night’s event.

(All times are Eastern)

START: All-Star Open: Command to start engines is at 7:02 p.m. Green flag is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. All-Star Race: Command to start engines is at 8:56 p.m. Green flag is at 9:01 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage access health screening begins at Noon (teams are assigned specific times). All-Star Open: Driver introductions at 6:43 p.m. Drivers report to cars at 6:45 p.m. Invocation at 6:54 p.m. All-Star Race: Driver introductions at 8:35 p.m. Invocation at 8:47 p.m. National anthem at 8:49 p.m.

DISTANCES: All-Star Open: 85 laps around the half-mile track. All-Star Race: 140 laps.

SEGMENTS: All-Star Open: 35 laps / 35 laps / 15 laps. All-Star Race: 55 laps / 35 laps / 35 laps / 15 laps (only green-flag laps count in final segment)

CHOOSE RULE FOR ALL-STAR RACE: Competitors can choose which lane to restart. Rule is detailed here.

ADVANCING: The winners of each stage in the Open will advance to the All-Star Race. A fourth driver will advance through a fan vote.

TV/RADIO: FS1 will televise the race. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. Motor Racing Network’s radio coverage will begin at 6:30 p.m. and also can be heard at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the broadcast.

FORECAST: For the All-Star Open, wunderground.com forecasts partly cloudy skies, a high of 87 degrees and chance of rain at the start. For the All-Star Race, it forecasts a high of 81 degrees and no chance of rain.

LAST ALL-STAR RACE: Kyle Larson beat Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch to claim his All-Star Race win.

ALL-STAR OPEN STARTING LINEUP: Click here for NASCAR Open starting lineup

ALL-STAR RACE STARTING LINEUP: Click here for All-Star Lineup

Catch up on NBC Sports’ coverage:

Bump and Run: All-Star Race picks, surprising wins, and more

Cash App to sponsor Bubba Wallace in multi-year deal

Xfinity team owner fined for violating COVID-19 protocol at Kentucky

Cup playoff grid after Kentucky Speedway

Cup rookies shine going into All-Star Race

NASCAR in ‘good place’ with Harrison Burton, Noah Gragson after fight