Corey LaJoie

A streak worth celebrating, but just don’t talk about it

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To know the information is one thing. To share it is another. But to reveal the fact to the driver it pertains to is to invite the potential for scorn even though that fact is quite an achievement.

“Oh thanks, I appreciate that,” Kevin Harvick says in jest after being told he has gone more than one year since his last speeding penalty in a Cup race.

Mind you, he was told that two days before last weekend’s Texas race, which he won to clinch a spot in the Nov. 17 championship race in Miami.

So it was understandable with all that was at stake, being informed about his perfect streak on pit road — where drivers toe the line on being too fast — might make a driver uneasy.

But Harvick’s run of 38 consecutive races without a pit road speeding penalty isn’t the longest streak in the series. Fellow playoff driver Joey Logano has gone 69 races, dating to last year’s Daytona 500 without speeding on pit road in a Cup race.

Told of his achievement, he jokingly looks to knock on wood and laughs. Logano often laughs, sometimes at himself, sometimes as a reflex and sometimes because it is just good to be him, the reigning series champion. 

“Maybe it means I’m not pushing hard enough,” Logano says, laughing.

What Logano and Harvick have done is remarkable in a series where a hundredth of a second matters and going too fast on pit road can prove costly. The only other full-time Cup driver without a pit road speeding penalty this season is Chris Buescher. He has gone 65 races since being penalized for speeding at Auto Club Speedway in March 2018.

A pit road speeding penalty this weekend at ISM Raceway could impact who makes the championship race in Miami. Six drivers are contending for the final two spots. One mistake could end a driver’s title hopes.

Last year’s Cup playoff race at ISM Raceway had 10 pit road speeding penalties — including one by Chase Elliott, whose infraction came while leading with about a quarter of the 312-lap race left. The penalty played a role in his playoff elimination.

“You can’t come down pit road leading the race and speed and expect to race for a championship the next week,” Elliott said after that race.

Elliott has been better at watching his speed. He last had a pit road speeding penalty in the Coca-Cola 600 in May, a stretch of 21 races. Or think it about it this way — it’s one race longer than Kyle Busch’s winless streak.

Busch has the most pit road speeding penalties among the eight remaining playoff drivers. He’s been caught six times, including the Dover playoff race.

“I’ll bet you all the money in the world that I can go a whole year without speeding on pit road if you want to make that bet,” Busch says.

No bet is taken.

“It’s all about where your tolerances are set,” Busch says of the series of lights on the car’s dash that is tied to RPMs, which is how teams measure their speed because their cars don’t have a speedometer as passenger vehicles do. “You have that tachometer that we all work off of and our lights and everything else … that we set our pit road speeds to. Some guys’ tolerances are way tighter and closer to that limit than others. It’s just a matter of it.

“There’s a sheet that we get every week that gives us a rundown of pit road speeds and guys on pit road and how fast they are and all of that sort of stuff. The 18 car, we’ve been No. 1 on that sheet for the past four years. We will keep doing what we do and continue to be No. 1 on that sheet. Sometimes, we will have to pay that price with a speeding penalty, and you just have to know when you have to back it down a little.”

All teams get that weekly report card on their time driving on pit road, giving competitors a sense of how fast or slow they are compared to the field.

Michael McDowell, who has been penalized seven times for speeding on pit road this year, says that data is meaningful.

“All of us analyze this on Monday, and you get a ranking,” he says. “I don’t want to be 30th on pit road. I want to be top 10 on pit road every week. I don’t want to leave anything on the table, and neither does anyone else.”

Still, a speeding penalty can set a driver back and ruin their day, so why risk it?

“I think that it is a challenge on pit road to not leave anything on the table,” McDowell says. “That is what everybody is doing. You’re pushing as hard as you can to not lose half a second on pit road. The reason I’ve had more penalties than most is I push it really hard. I try to get as much as I can, and sometimes you overstep it.”

The reverberations of even one pit road speeding penalty can be felt months later. Kyle Larson knows.

He was leading at Atlanta in February when he was caught speeding two-thirds of the way through the race. He never recovered and finished 12th.

Say he hadn’t had that penalty and gone to win, he would have collected five playoff points. He enters Sunday’s race at ISM Raceway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC) 23 points out of the final transfer spot. As Logano noted earlier in the playoffs, every point matters.

And every moment on pit road matters.

“If you lose focus for a second trying to launch out of your stall or you don’t get slowed down enough coming in, it’s very easy to step over and be a thousandth of a mile an hour over the speed limit or a hundredth and get popped for speeding,” says Larson, who has had only one other speeding penalty this year. “I try not to push it. I’d say I’m on the slower end.”

That Harvick, Logano and Buescher have gone all season without a speeding penalty is remarkable considering all that takes place on pit road.

Drivers watch their dashes, making sure they don’t go over the speed limit as cars pull in or pull out of pit stalls around them. Add to it that the easiest place to pass cars often can be pit road, and the pressure to not lose any time increases.

“As you look at it, I feel like it is one of the reasons our team is still in it,” Harvick says of not having a pit road speeding penalty this year. “I don’t feel like we have had that knockout speed that the (Joe Gibbs Racing) cars have had on a week-to-week basis. We have had it a few times and been able to capitalize on that, but I feel like we have done a good job minimizing the mistakes.

“Hopefully, you don’t jinx us.”

Logano credits his team for keeping him from speeding on pit road.

“When you look at pit road and drivers that get penalties more often than others, it’s not just the driver in this case,” he says. “In some cases, it is. In other cases, if the team doesn’t calculate the lights the right way, you’re going to get a pit road speeding penalty.

“As long as you’re in tune with what your team is doing, and they’re in tune with how you’re going to run down pit road, you can maximize it and not go over. You got to be cautious, but you got to push it.”

Sunday night, after Harvick had crossed the finish line first, celebrated in victory lane and came to the media center, he found the person who had asked him earlier that weekend about not having a pit road speeding penalty.

“Yes … we made it through the whole night without having a speeding penalty, so I don’t have to find you this next week to … we didn’t have a speeding penalty,” Harvick said with a smile, “so you’re off the hook.”

Of course, two races remain. Two more chances to make a mistake, and if it happens in Miami, it could cost a driver the championship.

 

Here is a list of the playoff drivers and their last speeding penalty:
Driver Date Track
Joey Logano 2/18/18 Daytona
Kevin Harvick 10/21/18 Kansas
Chase Elliott 5/26/19 Charlotte
Kyle Larson 8/11/19 Michigan
Kyle Busch 10/6/19 Dover
Denny Hamlin 10/13/19 Talladega
Martin Truex Jr. 10/13/19 Talladega
Ryan Blaney 10/13/19 Talladega

Racing Insights 

 

Drivers with the most pit road speeding penalties this season:
7 – Ty Dillon
7 – Michael McDowell
6 – Kyle Busch
4 – Denny Hamlin
4 – Martin Truex Jr.
4 – JJ Yeley
3 – Ryan Blaney
Racing Insights 

Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing roar to 1-2-3 finish at Texas

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There’s something about Texas Motor Speedway that has brought out the best in Kevin Harvick of late.

For the third consecutive fall playoff race at the 1.5-mile oval in Fort Worth, Harvick took the checkered flag in the middle playoff race of the Round of 8. He joins Martin Truex Jr. in advancing to the NASCAR Cup championship race two weeks from now in Miami.

Two other drivers will have to race their way either with a win or on points to round out Miami’s championship field of four in next week’s penultimate race at Phoenix.

MORE: Results, playoff standings after Cup playoff race at Texas

Harvick, who came into the day fifth in the points and below the cutline, started on the pole and led 119 laps to earn his fourth win of the season and assured he’ll race for the championship for the fifth time in the last six seasons. Harvick won the first championship under the current format in 2014.

“Texas has always been great for us and what a race track it has been for us the last few years,” Harvick told NBCSN. “There was a lot of work put into this race. We knew this was a good racetrack for us, felt like it fit that style of our cars and man, did it. It was a fast car.”

Harvick also led a huge Stewart-Haas Racing effort as teammates Aric Almirola and Daniel Suarez finished second and third, respectively. Harvick earned his 49th career Cup win, tying him with SHR co-owner Tony Stewart for 14th on NASCAR’s all-time Cup wins list.

It wasn’t exactly easy for Harvick, though. He suffered what was essentially a double penalty while pitting on Lap 190. According to a NASCAR official, “Harvick was penalized for a combination of two rules. Since the dual service crew member is the only one who can stage wheels in a pit box, he must perform dual service. If he doesn’t perform two roles (they didn’t change tires on that stop), he can’t be considered dual service and can’t stage tires in the pit box.”

Harvick was sent to the back of the lead lap but was able to mount a strong comeback that led to his win.

Joey Logano finished fourth while Alex Bowman rounded out the top five.

On the flip side, two drivers in particular suffered issues that will force them to potentially have to drive the race of their careers next week in the final championship qualifying race at Phoenix if they hope to keep their title hopes alive.

Chase Elliott (solo crash nine laps into the race, finished 32nd) and Denny Hamlin (incurred front end damage after spinning onto infield grass on Lap 81, finished 28th) suffered incidents in Sunday’s race, leaving them in peril heading to Phoenix. At 78 points below the cutline and ranked last of the eight remaining playoff drivers, Elliott is in a must-win situation to make it to the championship race at Miami.

Hamlin, meanwhile, went from 24 points above the cut line coming into Sunday’s race, only to suffer a 44-point swing, dropping  to fifth place, 20 points below the cutoff line afterward.

“I just lost control, that’s all there was to it,” Hamlin told NBCSN about what happened to his car. “We did the best we could and we’ll try to go to Phoenix and try to win. The car and the effort will be there. There’s no doubt in my mind we can go there and win.”

In addition to Logano, who earned his first top five of this year’s playoffs, as well as Harvick, Elliott and Hamlin, here’s how the other remaining playoff drivers finished: Martin Truex Jr. (6th), Kyle Busch (7th), Ryan Blaney (8th), Kyle Larson (12th).

As for the overall playoff picture, Truex and Harvick are locked into Miami, Kyle Busch is 22 points above the cutline and Logano is fourth, 20 points ahead of the cutline. Ironically, these are the same four drivers that were in the top four in the standings heading to Phoenix last year.

Below the cutline are Hamlin (-20), Ryan Blaney (-23), Kyle Larson (-23) and Elliott (-78).

Stage 1 winner: Kevin Harvick

Stage 2 winner: Aric Almirola

MORE: Denny Hamlin brings out caution late in Stage 1 at Texas

MORE: Chase Elliott wrecks on Lap 9 at Texas

WHO ELSE HAD A GOOD RACE: Joey Logano earned his first top five of this season’s playoffs. … Alex Bowman (fifth) and Kurt Busch (ninth) were the only Chevy drivers to earn top-10 showings.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Brad Keselowski and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. both spun coming out of Turn 4 on Lap 53. Keselowski hit the outer wall and then Stenhouse (finished 40th) piled hard into the rear of Keselowski (39th), ending both their days. … Corey LaJoie was involved in two incidents in Stage 1, including slamming into the wall late in the stage in a single-car incident. LaJoie finished 38th in the 40-car field.

NOTABLE: There were six cautions in Stage 1, the most cautions in an opening stage in a race this season. … John Hunter Nemechek finished 21st in his first career Cup start (filled in for Matt Tifft). In addition, father Joe Nemechek finished 29th. … Jimmie Johnson came into the race having led a total of just 91 laps all season (the most being 60 at Texas in the spring race). He led 40 laps Sunday (equaling the number of laps he led all of the 2018 season), but ended up with a 34th-place finish, retiring shortly after a solo wreck on Lap 186.

WHAT’S NEXT: Sunday, Nov. 10, Bluegreen Vacations 500 at ISM Raceway in suburban Phoenix (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Go Fas Racing will receive chassis, tech support from Stewart-Haas

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FORT WORTH, Texas — Go Fas Racing announced it’ll receive chassis, data and technical support from Stewart-Haas Racing next season.

The team also said its No. 32 Ford Mustang will maintain its relationships with Ford Performance and Roush Yates Engines.

Driver Corey LaJoie has said in recent months that the deal was in the works, and that it would make it more likely for him to stay with the team in order to showcase his talent.

LaJoie said two weeks ago at Kansas Speedway that he likely would return for a second season at Go Fas; the team said in the release that “2020 driver negotiations are still ongoing.”

In a news conference Friday at Texas, team owner Archie St. Hilaire ruled out Cole Custer, who has seven victories in the Xfinity Series this season for Stewart-Haas Racing, as a candidate for the No. 32.

Here’s the release from the team:

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Nov. 1, 2019) — Starting with the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season, Go Fas Racing (GFR) will enter into a technical alliance with Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), one of Ford’s most competitive organizations.

GFR team-owner Archie St. Hilaire has been preparing for the opportunity to take his organization to the next level since the team’s first full-time season in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2014.

“2020 will be an exciting year at GFR with the addition of SHR cars and their technical assistance,” St. Hilaire said. “I can’t thank all of the great people at SHR for the opportunity to align with them. All of this couldn’t happen without the help of our wonderful sponsors and marketing partners. GFR has improved every year in our six years in the NASCAR Cup Series and I believe that the best is yet to come for this little team and our great group of employees.”

Via this new alliance with SHR, GFR will be provided with chassis, data and technical support for the No. 32 Ford Mustang in addition to their present relationship with Ford Performance and Roush Yates Engines.

“This arrangement will allow Go Fas Racing to improve its performance in 2020 and position itself for future growth,” said Greg Zipadelli, Vice President of Competition for SHR.

To date, St. Hilaire has more than 200 NASCAR Cup Series starts under his leadership, giving a wide array of drivers the opportunity to compete at NASCAR’s level, including past champions.

2020 driver negotiations are still ongoing.

Today’s Cup race at Martinsville: Start time, lineup and more

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. — The last short track of the 2019 season will begin the final march to determining which four drivers will race for the championship.

Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway will begin the Round of 8 with Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson still vying for the title.

Last year, Logano earned a berth in the championship round by bumping Truex aside on the last corner of the last lap. Three weeks later, the Team Penske driver won his first Cup championship.

Here is the information for today’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 3:07 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:14 p.m.

PRERACE: The Cup garage will open at 9 a.m. The driver/crew chief meeting will be at 1 p.m. Driver introductions are at 2:20 p.m. The invocation will be given at 3 p.m. by track chaplain Mike Hatfield. The National Anthem will be performed at 3:01 p.m. by the 380th Army Band.

DISTANCE: The race is 500 laps (263 miles) around the 0.526-mile oval.

STAGES: Stage 1 will end on Lap 130. Stage 2 will end on Lap 260.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Coverage will begin with NASCAR America at 1:30 p.m. on NBCSN. Countdown to Green follows at 2:30 p.m. on NBCSN, leading into race coverage. The postrace show will be on NBCSN, followed by Victory Lap at 7:30 p.m.

Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast will begin at 2 p.m. and also can be heard on mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.

STREAMING ONLINE: Click here for NBC’s live stream of the race.

FORECAST: Wunderground.com forecasts sunny skies with a temperature of 78 degrees and a 0% chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME(S): Logano scored his first victory at Martinsville in an Oct. 28, 2018 win over Hamlin and Truex. In the March 24 race at the track, Brad Keselowski led 446 of 500 laps in the win. 

TO THE REAR: Chase Elliott (engine), Ryan Newman (failed inspection), Corey LaJoie (failed inspection), Timmy Hill (failed inspection), BJ McLeod (failed inspection).

STARTING LINEUP: Click here 

Martinsville Cup starting lineup: Pole-sitter Denny Hamlin seeks sixth win

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Denny Hamlin wrapped up the Round of 12 the best way possible — with a win last Sunday at Kansas.

He kicked off the Round of 8 Saturday with another big step, earning the pole for Sunday’s First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway. It was the Chesterfield, Virginia, native’s fourth career pole at the 0.526-mile bullring.

But he has bigger plans: His sixth win at the track would clinch a berth in the Nov. 17 championship finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Click here for Cup starting lineup

“I hope so,” Hamlin said when asked if it is shaping up to be his weekend. “All signs indicate yes if you were looking in a Magic 8-Ball right now. Our car was good in practice. It was good in qualifying obviously. That’s all we have to go by.”

Martin Truex Jr. will start alongside Hamlin on the front row for Sunday’s race. Chase Elliott qualified second, but he will start from the rear of the field due to an engine change earlier in the day.

Row 2 will have Aric Almirola alongside Michael McDowell, Row 3 will have Ryan Blaney and Clint Bowyer, Row 4 will have Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez and Row 5 will have last fall’s race winner Joey Logano and William Byron.

The cars of Ryan Newman, Corey LaJoie, Timmy Hill and BJ McLeod each failed inspection. Their qualifying time is disallowed and they will start at the rear.

The race will begin at 3 p.m. ET and be televised on NBCSN.

Follow @JerryBonkowski