Ryan: Meet him in Miami? Kevin Harvick makes big push to title berth

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Maybe nobody wants to talk about this amidst rear-window violations, drivers “racing too hard” and installing betting windows adjacent to the garage stalls.

But can we discuss how much clearer the playoff picture seems a third of the way through the season for at least one contender?

The chances of Kevin Harvick winning the 2018 Cup championship have become exponentially greater over the last two months. The odds still are probably less than 50-50, but it is creeping up quickly toward one in four.

Wait, you say, that would mean the Stewart-Haas Racing driver is on the verge of being a lock for the four-driver championship finale Nov. 18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway?

If Harvick stays on this pace, or just close to approximating it, the answer is yes.

Absolutely.

Just look at last year’s series champion.

When he scored his second win of the season at Kansas Speedway on May 13, 2017, Martin Truex Jr. had 15 playoff points.

After winning Saturday night at Kansas for his fifth victory this year, Harvick has 24 playoff points (and would have 31 if his Las Vegas Motor Speedway stage win sweep weren’t nullified by a rear-window penalty).

It took Truex until the 18th race to amass that many playoff points (he went from 21 to 28 points with his July 8, 2017 sweep of Kentucky Speedway). He entered the playoffs with a 53-point bulge (the maximum possible in a race is 60) and added 16 to the total over the six races before the Round of 8. It made for a virtual walkover to Miami.

That cushion mattered because it allowed Furniture Row Racing to spend several weeks preparing the No. 78 Toyota that carried Truex to a victory (and the championship) in the Nov. 19 finale.

After opening the Round of 12 with a victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Oct. 8, 2017, Truex’s team could turn the bulk of its attention to the championship race. It would have taken an epic collapse to blow a 69-point lead through Martinsville Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway.

At his current pace, there is a solid chance Harvick could have an even bigger playoff points total entering the Round of 8 this year.

Crew chief Rodney Childers is among the best in Cup (along with Cole Pearn for Truex) at using simulations to set up a car.

Give Childers that much time to build a supersonic No. 4 Ford for Harvick at Miami, where he won in 2014 and has finished second, third and fourth since. It’s abundantly obvious whom the heavy favorite would be in this year’s championship.

It might seem absurd to suggest that after 12 of 36 races, Harvick is a surefire bet for Miami in a playoff system with three elimination rounds and points resets.

But one of the nuances about the stage racing/playoff points structure (and an improvement because it rewards seasonlong performance) is that it neutralizes some of the randomness.

Harvick might be on the cusp of carving out some impressive immediate history by notching two three-race winning streaks in one season.

But in the long game, he is setting himself for an even greater slice of significance.

(Thanks for indulging us. We can now return to discussing myriad topics unconnected to the somehow undercovered story of this year’s championship battle.)


William Byron said he was “thankful to be walking” after the fiery wreck at Kansas Speedway, which had us thinking.

Does it seem as if there have been an inordinate amount of heavy wrecks at this 1.5-mile speedway?

–Dale Jarrett sustained the worst concussion of his career there (with effects that lasted several years afterward) in the Sept. 30, 2001 debut race.

Sterling Marlin broke his neck and missed the last seven races of the season after a vicious crash on Sept. 29, 2002.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. suffered a concussion in a wicked Turn 1 wreck during an August 2012 test session.

–The cars of Kyle Busch and Joey Logano got crumpled in an April 21, 2013 crash (damage that was similar to what Byron sustained last Saturday night).

–Last year, Aric Almirola missed seven races after suffering a compression fracture in a violent impact that left Danica Patrick shaken.

Most of this is likely just happenstance and not a byproduct of track design (though Kansas is among the last of the “real” triovals, lacking the dogleg of many 1.5-mile layouts).

But it is curious that Kansas has established a reputation as perhaps the most treacherous and unforgiving 1.5-mile track for wrecks (particularly when Texas and Charlotte often are mentioned most often when this category arises).


Based on his in-race radio chatter and brief comments afterward, Matt Kenseth surely had steeled himself for the possibility that his debut weekend would be as challenging as it was. His cautious outlook about his return to Roush Fenway Racing underscored that Kenseth understood the scale of the undertaking.

But the 2003 series champion already made his presence felt in his first competition meetings with the team last week, and he’s been given the full support of team owner Jack Roush to effect changes he feels are needed to return the No. 6 Ford to top-caliber results.

Kenseth probably won’t stomach running outside the top 25 on a consistent basis for more than a couple of races, but it’s reasonable to expect his patience for witnessing demonstrable improvements will last through at least the Coca-Cola 600.


Of the five rear-window penalties this season, the manufacturer breakdown is two Fords, two Chevrolets and one ToyotaDaniel Suarez at Dover.

The top three Toyotas in the standings haven’t been penalized, while two of the top three Fords (Harvick and Clint Bowyer) and the top Chevrolet (Larson) have been dinged.

This might provide context to why Denny Hamlin (seventh in the standings behind Joe Gibbs Racing teammate and points leader Kyle Busch and just ahead of fellow Camry driver Truex in eighth) grew animated on his team radio during the Kansas race, noting that “Larson’s roof is pushed in 2 feet! Two feet, his roof is pushed in!”

While the next rear-window penalty might draw harsher punishment from NASCAR … it also might draw a round of louder sniping from peers.


The loss of Larson’s playoff point from his second stage victory at Kansas raises the question of whether NASCAR should award playoff points to the next eligible contender after penalties.

In this instance, that would be Harvick. He also finished second in the first stage to Ryan Blaney, so his rivals are fortunate that Harvick doesn’t enter Charlotte Motor Speedway with an even bigger playoff points bulge.

Between the penalties to Harvick and Larson, that’s eight playoff points that have “disappeared” into the ether this season in Cup.


Remember the shove that Blaney delivered to Harvick last fall after the Martinsville Speedway race?

Maybe those embers still were smoldering when Blaney made this comment about falling from third to fifth on a restart with 25 laps remaining Saturday: “I got about spun out in (turns) 1 and 2 on the restart, getting sucked around.”

Without naming him, that was an obvious reference to Harvick using the outside to side-draft off Blaney and into the lead over Larson.

Six laps later, Blaney would crash with Larson and finish 37th after leading 54 laps and winning the first stage.

It wasn’t the first time the Team Penske driver has failed to close out a win with a strong car. He led a race-high 118 laps at the Daytona 500, 100 laps at Bristol Motor Speedway and 145 at Martinsville, and he also crashed at Talladega Superspeedway after contending for the victory. He’s led the most laps (418) among winless drivers in 2018.

Some of those were on the driver, some were just circumstantial. But even though he took full blame for the Kansas incident with Larson, it’s natural to wonder if Blaney holds Harvick partly responsible for putting him in that position.

NASCAR America at 6 p.m. ET: 1,000th Episode

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Today’s marks the 1,000th episode of NASCAR America and it airs from 6-7 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

In celebrating this milestone, we’ll re-live some of the show’s best moments from our first 999 episodes.

Also on today’s show:

  • Joining the program, will be 7-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, who will reflect on his 17-year partnership with Chad Knaus that will end following this season. He’ll also talk about his crew chief for 2019, Kevin Meendering.
  • Kansas native Clint Bowyer also joins the show to discuss racing in his home state, his passion for the Kansas City Chiefs and how he hopes to secure a spot in the Round of 8 this weekend.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online 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 6 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Xfinity practice report from Kansas

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Final Practice

Shane Lee posted the fastest lap in final practice for the Xfinity race with a speed of 179.480 mph.

He beat Ty Majeski (179.414 mph) by .011 seconds.

Playoff contender Christopher Bell (178.684), Austin Cindric (178.247, playoff contender) and Daniel Hemric (178.247, playoff contender) rounded out the top five.

Playoff contender Matt Tifft spun with three minutes remaining in final practice. He was 11th on the speed chart at the time with a speed of 177.206 mph.

Playoff contender Cole Custer (177.737) was ninth, Justin Allgaier (177.538) was 10th, Elliott Sadler (177.130) was 12th and Tyler Reddick (177.084) was the slowest 13th.

Click here for complete results

First Practice

Hemric posted  the fastest single lap in the first practice session for the Xfinity race at Kansas Speedway with a speed of 179.916 mph.

He beat Bell (179.659 mph) by .043 seconds.

Tyler Reddick (179.474, playoff contender), Shane Lee (179.462) and Austin Cindric (179.408) rounded out the top five.

Playoff contender Allgaier (178.832) was seventh fastest, Custer (178.725) was eighth, Tifft (178.660) was ninth and Sadler (177.585) was the slowest in 13th.

Click here for complete results

 

Ryan Blaney tops first Cup practice at Kansas, Kyle Larson wrecks

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Ryan Blaney posted the fastest single lap in the first practice session for the Kansas Cup race with a speed of 192.130 mph. Blaney enters the weekend 22 points below the cutoff line.

He beat Kyle Busch (191.768 mph) by .053 seconds.

Kevin Harvick (191.761), Joey Logano (191.632) and Chase Elliott (191.421) round out the top five

Kyle Larson‘s weekend continues to worsen. With 15 minutes remaining in Friday’s practice session, he got loose and made heavy contact with the wall. Larson will have to roll out a back up car and drop to the back of the field to start the race. Larson (189.288) was 20th on the speed chart at the time.

Regan Smith was the only driver who posted 10 consecutive laps. His average speed was 182.606 mph.

Click here for complete results

MORE: Kyle Larson loses 10 points, car chief suspended for Talladega penalty
MORE: Kyle Larson’s team loses appeal 

Kyle Larson’s weekend gets worse at Kansas Speedway: backup car

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A must-win situation for Kyle Larson got even tougher Friday afternoon at Kansas Speedway.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver slammed the Turn 2 wall during the opening Cup practice for Sunday’s cutoff race at the 1.5-mile oval, sustaining enough damage on the No. 42 Chevrolet to require a backup car. Larson said he was OK after a hard impact that he attributed to “really cold temperatures, really fast speeds and trying to get all you can.

“Yeah, I’m good,” Larson told NBCSN’s Dave Burns. “Just mad at myself for making a mistake. Got loose. I don’t know if I got on the splitter, but it didn’t turn and went straight.

“I hated we wrecked the primary car there. I’m sure the backup car will be fine. I’ve been in a backup car before here and went fast. Dig deep, work hard and see where we’ll be Sunday.”

Larson is 36 points below the cut line and 11th in the standings after a 10-point penalty at Talladega Superspeedway for an illegal repair to his damaged car. Only eight of the remaining 12 playoff drivers will advance after Kansas.

Chip Ganassi Racing lost its initial appeal of the penalty Friday morning at the track. Its final appeal will be heard Friday night.

During a media availability before practice, Larson said he viewed Kansas as a win-or-else proposition regardless of his points deficit. He led a race-high 101 laps and finished fourth in the May 12 race with what he believed was the best car

“In our position, we know what we have to do, I can be aggressive and run hard all race long,” he said. “At Chip Ganassi Racing, the mile-and-a-half tracks have been our best tracks. I know we’ll be fast and lead laps, and we just have to capitalize on that and win the race.”