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.’’

Will driver clashes carry beyond Coliseum race?

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LOS ANGELES — Tempers started the day before the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum when AJ Allmendinger, upset at an aggressive move Chase Briscoe made in practice, “sent (Briscoe) into the fence.”

The action gained notice in the garage. It was quite a change in attitude from last year’s inaugural Clash when drivers were more cautious because teams didn’t have as many spare parts for the new car at the time.

But seeing the aggression in practice made one wonder what the races would be like. Such actions carried over to Sunday night’s exhibition race, which featured 16 cautions and many reasons for drivers to be upset. 

Kyle Busch made it clear where he stood with Joey Logano running into his car and spinning him as Busch ran sixth with 65 laps to go.

“It’s really unfortunate to be raced by guys that are so two-faced,” Busch said of Logano to SiriusXM NASCAR Radio after the race. “We were in the TV booth earlier tonight together and when we were all done with that, just like ‘Hey man, good luck tonight.’ ‘OK, great, thanks, yea, whatever.’

“Then, lo and behold, there you go, he wrecks me. Don’t even talk to me if you’re going to be that kind of an (expletive deleted) on the racetrack.”

Logano said of the contact with Busch: “I just overdrove it. I screwed up. It was my mistake. It’s still kind of a mystery to me because I re-fired and I came off of (Turn) 2 with no grip and I went down into (Turn 3) and I still had no grip and I slid down into (Busch’s car). Thankfully, he was fast enough to get all the back up there. I felt pretty bad. I was glad he was able to get up there (finishing third).”

Austin Dillon, who finished second, got by Bubba Wallace by hitting him and sending Wallace into the wall in the final laps. Wallace showed his displeasure by driving down into Dillon’s car when the field came by under caution.

“I hate it for Bubba,” Dillon said. “He had a good car and a good run, but you can’t tell who’s either pushing him or getting pushed. I just know he sent me through the corner and I saved it three times through there … and then when I got down, I was going to give the game. Probably a little too hard.”

Said Wallace of the incident with Dillon: “(He) just never tried to make a corner. He just always ran into my left rear. It is what it is. I got run into the fence by him down the straightaway on that restart, so I gave him a shot and then we get dumped.”

Among the reasons for the beating and banging, Briscoe said, was just the level of competition.

“Everyone was so close time-wise, nobody was going to make a mistake because their car was so stuck,” he said. “The only way you could even pass them is hitting them and moving them out of the way. … It was definitely wild in that front to mid-pack area.”

Denny Hamlin, who spun after contact by Ross Chastain, aptly summed up the night by saying: “I could be mad at Ross, I could be mad at five other guys and about seven other could be mad at me. It’s hard to really point fingers. Certainly I’m not happy but what can you do? We’re all just jammed up there.”

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After going winless last year for the first time in eight seasons, Martin Truex Jr. was different this offseason. Asked how, he simply said: “Mad.

“Just determined. Just have a lot of fire in my belly to go out and change what we did last year.”

Sunday was a start. After a season where Truex was in position to win multiple races but didn’t, he won the Clash at the Coliseum, giving him his first Cup victory since Sept. 2021 at Richmond. 

The 42-year-old driver pondered if he wanted to continue racing last season. He had never examined the question before.

“I’m not really good at big decisions,” Truex told NBC Sports in the offseason. “I didn’t really have to do that last year. This sport … to do this job, it takes a lot of commitment, takes a lot of drive, it takes everything that you have to be as good as I want to be and to be a champion.

“I guess it was time for me to just ask myself, ‘Do I want to keep doing this? Am I committed? Am I doing the right things? Can I get this done still? I guess I really didn’t have to do that. I just felt like it was kind of time and it was the way I wanted to do it.”

As he examined things, Truex found no reason to leave the sport.

“I came up with basically I’m too good, I’ve got to keep going,” he said. “That’s how I felt about it honestly. I feel like I can win every race and win a championship again.”

Things went his way Sunday. He took the lead from Ryan Preece with 25 laps to go. Truex led the rest of the way. 

“Hopefully we can do a lot more of that,” Truex said, the gold medal given to the event’s race winner draped around his neck Sunday night. 

“We’ve got a lot going on good in our camp, at Toyota. I’ve got a great team, and I knew they were great last year, and we’ll just see how far we can go, but I feel really good about things. Fired up and excited, and it’s just a good feeling to be able to win a race, and even though it’s not points or anything, it’s just good momentum.”

Asked if this was a statement victory, Truex demurred.

“I just think for us it reminds us that we’re doing the right stuff and we can still go out and win any given weekend,” he said. “We felt that way last year, but it never happened.

“You always get those questions, right, like are we fooling ourselves or whatever, but it’s just always nice when you finish the deal.

“And racing is funny. We didn’t really change anything, the way we do stuff. We just tried to focus and buckle down and say, okay, these are things we’ve got to look at and work on, and that’s what we did, and we had a little fortune tonight.”

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While the tire marks, dented fenders and bruised bumpers showed how much beating and banging took place in Sunday night’s Clash at the Coliseum, it wasn’t until after the race one could understand how much drivers were jostled.

Kyle Larson, who finished fifth, said the restarts were where he felt the impacts the most. 

I only had like one moment last year that I remember where it was like, ‘Wow, like that was a hard hit,’” Larson said. “I think we stacked up on a restart at like Sonoma or something, and (Sunday’s Clash) was like every restart you would check up with the guy in front of you and just get clobbered from behind and your head whipping around and slamming off the back of the seat.

“I don’t have a headache, but I could see how if others do. It’s no surprise because it was very violent for the majority of the race. We had so many restarts, and like I said, every restart you’re getting just clobbered and then you’re clobbering the guy in front of you. You feel it a lot.”

After the race, Bubba Wallace said: “Back still hurts. Head still hurts.”

Kyle Busch apologizes for violating Mexican firearm law

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Kyle Busch issued a statement Monday apologizing “for my mistake” of carrying a firearm without a license in Mexico.

The incident happened Jan. 27 at a terminal for private flights at Airport Cancun International as Busch returned with his wife from vacation to the U.S.

The Public Ministry of the Attorney General of the Republic in Quintana Roo obtained a conviction of three years and six months in prison and a fine of 20,748 pesos ($1,082 U.S. dollars) against Busch for the charge. Busch had a .380-caliber gun in his bag, along with six hollow point cartridges, according to Mexican authorities.

Busch’s case was presented in court Jan. 29.

Busch issued a statement Monday on social media. He stated he has “a valid concealed carry permit from my local authority and adhere to all handgun laws, but I made a mistake by forgetting it was in my bag.

“Discovery of the handgun led to my detainment while the situation was resolved. I was not aware of Mexican law and had no intention of bringing a handgun into Mexico.

“When it was discovered, I fully cooperated with the authorities, accepted the penalties, and returned to North Carolina.

“I apologize for my mistake and appreciate the respect shown by all parties as we resolved the matter. My family and I consider this issue closed.”

A NASCAR spokesperson told NBC Sports on Monday that Busch does not face any NASCAR penalty for last month’s incident.

 

 

Winners and losers from the Clash at the Coliseum

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A look at the winners and losers from Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum, the non-points race that opened the NASCAR season:

WINNERS

Martin Truex Jr. — Truex limped through a frustrating 2022 season, going winless and contemplating writing “finish” to his driving career. But he decided late in the year to make another run, and that choice paid big dividends Sunday as he put Joe Gibbs Racing in victory lane.

Richard Childress Racing — RCR opened the season with power, putting Austin Dillon in second and newcomer Kyle Busch in third. The new teammates even enjoyed some late-race collaboration, Busch backing off a second-place battle to give Dillon a chance to make a run at eventual winner Truex.

Ryan Preece — Preece, given a shot in the offseason at a full-time ride in Cup with Stewart-Haas Racing, showed strength in his first outing, leading 43 laps before electrical issues dropped him to seventh.

Bubba Wallace — Wallace held the lead at the halfway point and totaled 40 laps in first but was drop-kicked by Austin Dillon late in the race and finished 22nd.

LOSERS

Chase Elliott — It was a lost weekend for the former Cup champion. Elliott was lapped during the race, failed to lead a lap and finished 21st.

Ty Gibbs — Suspension problems parked Gibbs after 81 laps, and he finished next-to-last a day after his car caught fire in practice.

Michael McDowell — McDowell was involved in several on-track incidents during the evening and finished 24th after running out of fuel, along with teammate Todd Gilliland.

Long: Drivers make their point clear on Clash at the Coliseum

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LOS ANGELES — So what to do with the Clash at the Coliseum?

The second edition of this exhibition race at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum showcased beating, banging and 16 cautions in a 150-lap race won by Martin Truex Jr. on Sunday night.

A year remains on NASCAR’s three-year contract with the Coliseum — NASCAR holds the option for next year — and it seems all but certain Cup cars will be back next year.

With Auto Club Speedway President Dave Allen saying Saturday that his track will not host a NASCAR event in 2024 while being converted from a 2-mile speedway to a half-mile track, the Los Angeles area would be without a NASCAR race if the Clash did not return.

NASCAR is not likely to leave the nation’s No. 2 TV market without a race. 

A question this weekend was if the Clash would become a points race next year to replace the Auto Club Speedway date and allow NASCAR to have a new venue for the Clash.

“I think they should put (the Coliseum race) in the playoffs, personally. That would be perfect,” Denny Hamlin said straight faced after Sunday’s race before breaking into a smile to show he was speaking sarcastically.

Two-time Cup champion Joey Logano was emphatic in his response.

“No,” Logano said, shaking his head Sunday night. “We can’t do that.”

Why?

“You’re going to fit 40 cars out there? We can’t even make a caution lap without the pace car bumping the last-place car.”

Logano smiled as he spoke — then again he often smiles as he talks. He was not speaking sarcastically as Hamlin showed with his smile. Logano’s grin was part of a passionate defense.

“No. You can’t do that,” Logano continued of why a points race at the Coliseum is a bad idea. “That’d be dumb.”

Even in a celebratory mood after his first victory in NASCAR in more than a year, Truex was clear about his feelings of making the Clash a points race.

“Why would you screw it up,” he said, “and make it a points race?”

Just because drivers don’t like something doesn’t mean it won’t happen. 

But much would have to happen to make this event a points race.

Those familiar with the charter agreement between teams and NASCAR told NBC Sports that they weren’t sure that the language in the agreement would permit a points race at such a venue. With the charter system guaranteeing all 36 teams a spot in a race, it’s not feasible to run so many cars on this small track. Only 27 cars ran in Sunday’s Clash. That almost seemed too many.

Should there be a way to make this event a points race without all 36 running in the main event, there are other issues. 

The purse would have to significantly increase. NASCAR stated that the purse for Sunday’s Clash was $2.085 million. Last year’s championship race at Phoenix had a purse of $10.5 million. The purse for last year’s Cup race at Watkins Glen was $6.6 million. The purse for last year’s race at Nashville Superspeedway was $8.065 million.

If NASCAR made the Clash a points race, then the purse would be expected to fall in line with other points races. Of course, there still would be the logistics. 

But is it worth it to try to make an event something it doesn’t need to be?

While the attendance appeared to be a little less than the estimated 50,000 for last year’s race, it wasn’t enough of a drop to warrant abandoning this event. Is a points race at the Coliseum going to increase the attendance significantly? No.

Just bring this event back next year as is.

“I think it’s good for what it is,” Logano said. “It’s a non-points race. I think we need to go back to maybe only four cars (instead of five) transferring from the heat (races) … there’s just too many cars (on the track). I think that’s part of the issue as well.”

Then, to make sure he got his point across about if next year’s Coliseum race should be a points race, Logano said: “A points-paying race. No. I’ll be the first to raise my hand that’s a very bad idea.” 

But it’s possible 2024 could be the final year for this event at the Coliseum. 

If Auto Club Speedway’s conversion to a short track can be done in time to be on the 2025 schedule, then the Los Angeles region would have a short track and NASCAR could move the Clash to a new area to reach more fans.

That’s part of the goal this new dynamic NASCAR, which has moved Cup races to different venues in the last couple of years and will run its first street course race in July in Chicago. 

While NASCAR has made such changes, making the race at the Coliseum a points race serves no purpose. Just listen to the drivers.