NASCAR America: Kevin Harvick’s team failed to keep up with Miami

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Under NASCAR’s current playoff format winning the most races means a lot. It doesn’t win the championship, however, unless one of those victories comes in the season finale.

After the race in Miami, Kevin Harvick was not ready to call his season a failure. He won eight times during the year, tying him for the lead with Kyle Busch. But he was noticeably disappointed by coming up two positions short of claiming his second Cup. Harvick finished behind the 2018 champion Joey Logano and last year’s champion Martin Truex Jr.

“When I look at the 4 team through the whole weekend, they just seemed a little bit off,” Parker Kligerman said on Monday’s edition of NASCAR America. “You look at qualifying, it didn’t go well. And then Saturday practice, they had a short run to start off the first practice because he wasn’t happy with the car. He wasn’t able to find the feel in the car. It just seemed like they were searching a little bit.”

MORE: What went wrong for Kyle Busch in Miami?

Harvick started the race strong, moving up to the lead on Lap 43 after starting 12th. He won the first stage. When the field pitted, the team did not make any significant changes to the car and Harvick was never quite the same.

Jeff Burton said that indicates the team failed to adjust to the changing characteristics of the track.

“In this kind of race when it all comes down to one race and you just get off that little bit at the wrong time, there’s no time to recover,” Burton said.

For more, watch the video above.

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NASCAR America: What went wrong for Kyle Busch in Miami?

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Kyle Busch was one of the dominant drivers of the season with eight wins during the season to his credit and an incredible number of bonus points as the playoffs began. Two of his wins came during the playoffs, which led many to consider him one of the co-favorites to win the championship along with Kevin Harvick.

Instead, Busch finished a distant fourth in the race and the championship.

“There was nothing in the 18 car that was magical,” Steve Letarte said on Monday’s edition of NASCAR America. “The 4 (of Harvick) when they dropped the green drove right to the front. … The 22 (of Joey Logano) at times, you said ‘he’s got great short run speed; if it comes down to a short run, he should be good.’ The 78 (of Martin Truex Jr.) had great long run speed. The 18 had none of the above.”

Busch was forced to gamble in the championship race to simply have a shot at winning. Staying out longer than most of the competition, he entered the pits on Lap 248 as the leader and rolled off pit road as the leader. When the green flag waved on Lap 253, he fell back quickly.

“(Busch) wasn’t better in any category,” Letarte added. “And that’s what really surprised me: A team that didn’t have a lot of weaknesses coming into the race really raced with nothing but weaknesses. Average pit crew, average speed, I think decent pit calls by Adam Stevens was the only thing that kept them in the picture for that last restart.”

Letarte went on to describe what he was watching in the final laps. While Logano drove to the front, Busch fell four seconds off the pace.

For more, watch the video above.

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Martin Truex Jr. on the end: ‘It sucks. It hurts. It’s terrible. I hate it’

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. – There were no tears shed as Martin Truex Jr. climbed from his No. 78 Toyota after the final ride of Furniture Row Racing.

About a half-dozen team members in orange and black firesuits stood wearily nearby with mostly sullen faces and exchanged some handshakes, hugs and shoulder pats. Crew chief Cole Pearn clapped Truex on the left shoulder and had a measured conversation with his driver about everything that transpired over the past three hours. Team owner Barney Visser wasn’t at the car but was described by Pearn as “just his normal solemn self; not much emotion.”

But the feelings still were raw for the team that nearly left NASCAR on top.

“It sucks,” said Truex, whose voice did quaver a few times in a NBC interview after finishing second Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway in his bid for consecutive championships in the last start for his Denver-based team. “Yeah, it sucks.

“It sucks. It hurts. It’s terrible. I hate it. I wish we could go on and race 10 more years together, but we can’t.”

After a late-night flight to the Rocky Mountains, life would begin anew for the 62 members of Furniture Row Racing (and perhaps with harsh realities for at least a third of the team). There are cars and equipment to be liquidated, houses to be sold and families to be moved (which is why so many tears were shed last week after its hauler was packed a final time and dispatched to the season finale).

The little team that could from Colorado then will disperse to all corners of the country with many of its plucky employees probably still wondering what could have been if not for a fateful late caution in South Florida.

“No question, we had the car to beat, but if you don’t lead the last lap, it doesn’t matter what you got,” said Truex, who actually led only 20 laps (the fewest of the four championship contenders) but whose car clearly was strongest over full green-flag runs of 30 laps or more. “We fought hard. We played the right strategy. We kept getting it better and better and on the long runs, that thing was nasty. We’d kill them. That was cool. But it didn’t come down to that tonight.”

Like it does so often at the 1.5-mile oval with massive tire wear, the Ford Ecoboost 400 came down to a late caution flag. Until the yellow flew with 20 laps remaining for contact involving the No. 2 Ford of Brad Keselowski (Logano’s teammate) and Daniel Suarez’s No. 19 Toyota (the car that Truex and Pearn will helm next season along with a few select FRR crew members), it seemed the race would be decided between Kevin Harvick and Truex,

With fourth title contender Kyle Busch in first (and hoping for a caution) on much older tires and needing to stop again, the lead was cycling toward Harvick and Truex, who seemed in the catbird seat for his fifth victory of the season.

“I thought we were slaying (Harvick) pretty hard and would have got him pretty quick, and there was no way what (Busch’s team) was doing was going to work out,” Pearn said.

Until the final caution.

After pit stops, Busch emerged in first ahead of Truex, Logano and Harvick. Truex quickly dusted Busch on the Lap 253 restart, but Logano swept past him four laps later with Truex barely able to put up a fight.

“He was so much faster than me at that point, if I would have hit him, he would have just hit me back and went on,” Truex said when asked if he could have been more aggressive “It was a moot point. I needed to be faster. It wasn’t even close at that point in the race. He passed me so fast, I didn’t even have a chance to do anything. So, yeah.”

Logano led a race-high 80 laps primarily because he was unbeatable during the first 15 to 20 laps after a restart. Sunday’s last restart was with 15 to go.

“Just needed more time,” Truex said.

And more than a little luck, as it turned out. Sunday’s race was the inverse of Truex’s path to the 2017 championship, which he won with a better short-run car than Busch … because of a late yellow flag that was triggered because of debris from a flat tire on Suarez’s No. 19.

“(Suarez) brought the caution out last year which won us the championship,” Pearn said. “This year it cost us the championship. You’ve got to be good, but you’ve got to have a bit of luck. At the end of the day, it just didn’t quite shake out.”

Was there extra sting from losing to Logano, whom Truex vowed wouldn’t win the championship after the Team Penske driver advanced to the Championship 4 by bumping him aside for a last-lap win Oct. 28 at Martinsville Speedway?

“Yeah, a little bit, but what are you going to do? They did a good job,” Truex said. “They beat us. Fair and square. It’s the way it goes. That’s racing. That’s why we race.”

Pearn, who got into a shouting match post-Martinsville with Logano’s crew chief, Todd Gordon, also shrugged it off.

“I don’t think that matters to me,” Pearn said. “(Logano’s team) did a great job. They haven’t quite had the speed they displayed (Sunday) all year. Credit to them. They went out and earned it. So they did a great job.”

So did Furniture Row Racing, which managed to soldier through the playoffs under the specter of the impending shutdown that was announced the week of the regular-season finale. Though Truex was winless over the final 10 races, he still managed five top-five finishes and came up just one position short of becoming the 16th driver with multiple championships (and first in eight years to win consecutive titles).

“I don’t know what else we could’ve done,” Truex said. “Honestly, we worked our guts out all weekend and just to get here. We shut a lot of people up and made them eat crow, and that felt good. To come here and almost upset the field and almost win it back to back was really awesome. I just wish that last caution hadn’t come out. Other than that, I don’t know what we could’ve done.”

Said Pearn: “I’m just super proud of our effort. Everybody and their brother wanted to write us off and say we couldn’t do it. And we just proved them all the hell wrong like we have all along. If that’s the way the 78’s got to go out on a style and performance like that, I’m good with it.”

It was a fitting end to a five-season run for Truex with the underdog team that he once described as a “bunch of misfits” that became one of stock-car racing’s most unlikely success stories while resurrecting a driver’s career.

“Best time of my life,” Truex said. “I don’t know what else to say. Those guys have been amazing. They’ve made me a superstar in NASCAR. I’m just very thankful for them all.”

What drivers said after Cup playoff race at Miami

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Joey Logano — Winner: “No, I told you we weren’t and showed you why were not (the underdog). We were the favorite like I told you before the race started. I am so proud of everybody for rising to the occasion. We executed down the stretch like nobody’s business. … I can’t wait to break that Mustang out.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 2nd: “I just needed time. That’s all I needed. They were faster than us for 15 or 20 laps all day long. It was like a reverse scenario from last year. Last year we took advantage of the short run car at the end – the 18 (Kyle Busch) car should’ve won the race and tonight we should’ve won the race and they (Joey Logano) took advantage of the short-run car. I don’t know what else we could’ve done. Honestly, we worked our guts out all weekend and just to get here, I told you earlier we shut a lot of people up and made them eat crow and that felt good. To come here and almost upset the field and almost win it back to back was really awesome. I just wish that last caution hadn’t come out. Other than that, I don’t know what we could’ve done.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 3rd: “Obviously, we got loose as the night went on. Really, it was a great pit call there in position to win the race if the caution doesn’t come out and we came down to a pit stop and a restart and we didn’t do either good. I just hate it for all our guys on our Jimmy John’s Ford.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 4th: “Just not at all what we wanted obviously and not what we expected either. We knew the 22 (Joey Logano) was fast, but man, I thought we were way closer than that. We kind of held up the first half of the race, but after that we were just never close. I don’t know what happened, just didn’t have the feel in the race car that I needed tonight. Just all night long, as soon as we got out of the gas and into the corner we were just sideways, just turning to the right and trying to save it. You do that for 50 or 60 laps, whatever it is on tires and you just can’t hang on. I couldn’t hang after eight laps, let alone the 50. Bummed for all of our guys, Adam Stevens (crew chief) and my guys did a phenomenal job. This M&M’s Camry team was really, really good – just not good enough on the night we wanted the most. We finished fourth, last of the Playoff guys. That’s not what it takes these days.

Chase Elliott — Finished 7th: “Man, if we make this (Championship) 4 one day, we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 8th: “I want to congratulate everyone at Ford Performance. I wish it were Kevin (Harvick) winning the championship, but I’m glad we kept it in the Ford family. That was a decent way to end the season tonight for us. We didn’t qualify like we wanted Friday, but we had a good car tonight. We’ve had a good year. My guys have worked hard and had a lot of fun and a lot of success. We’re ready for a break, but it won’t be long, and we’ll be ready to go to Daytona and start the new season.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 9th: “It was a great year for us, our first year working together. That was quite an accomplishment for us to battle the way we battled and to come out of here with a top five in points, I’m just really proud of everybody on this Smithfield team. Ford had an amazing year. We won 19 races, so just an incredible year and I’m really excited about getting ready for 2019.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 11th: “Man, I really wanted a top-10 finish today to finish out the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season and we came so close. Our Dow UCON Camaro ZL1 had handling issues for most of the race, but I had confidence in crew chief Justin Alexander and the Dow Racing team that they would be able to work on our Camaro ZL1 during pit stops. They’ve been great at that all season long. We knew half the battle was gaining track position and we worked hard to do that both on the track and on pit road. By the final stage, the handling improved a lot. I was digging at the end but came up just short of a 10th-place finish. That was fun. I want to thank everyone at RCR and ECR and all of our partners for a great 2018 season. We were able to accomplish a lot together and I’m looking forward to next year.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 13th: “I didn’t push it too early because I ran up there every lap, but I don’t know… I guess lost focus or whatever and hit the wall. I’m pretty mad at myself about that because I felt like we had a really good shot to win there and I just gave it away.”

Jimmie Johnson — Finished 14th: “It’s tough. When you think of the relationship with Lowe’s, I hate to see that come to an end. Seventeen, 18 years really when you look at my first three races that I ran for them, everything we accomplished together, their belief in me and the company’s support of me and this team over the years. So that is one piece and then the other piece obviously with Chad (Knaus), you know it’s time for us to move on and have a new project and have new people to work with. But he is my brother, there is just no way around it. So, not an easy situation it sure has not been easy, especially the second half of the year. We knew this was coming prior to the release or the announcement, I should say, but the season is behind us now and I look forward to a good off season and get geared up for 2019.”

Ryan Newman — Finished 15th: “Our E-Z-GO Camaro ZL1 was consistent all weekend. We turned in a great qualifying effort, made it to the final round and started eighth. No matter what changes we threw at it tonight, our Camaro ZL1 was tight through the middle of the corner and crazy loose off. I want to thank Richard Childress for giving me this opportunity to drive for him these last five seasons. To my crew chief Luke (Lambert), my crew, my teammate Austin (Dillon), and all the RCR team members, I want to say thank you. It was an honor to work with so many incredible people and partners over the years. We did great things together and it sure was fun to run for championships and give Luke his first ever Cup win.”

Ty Dillon — Finished 22nd: “I appreciate all of the hard work that this Germain Racing team put in all year long to get our GEICO Camaro ZL1 to the track every week. Our road crew leaves their families behind each weekend, and all of our guys put in countless hours at the shop. We didn’t have the results this year that we wanted, but we had a lot of great racing moments and this team never gave up. That hard work mentality isn’t going to end just because the season is over. They will all be back in the shop tomorrow morning to start building our cars for the 2019 season. We’re in this together, and there’s nobody else that I wanted battling with me tonight in Homestead and come February for the Daytona 500.”

William Byron — Finished 24th: “It was a good effort today, but things didn’t go our way. Overall, we’ve had a lot of ups and downs this season, but it’s been a good learning experience. We’ll get back after it in 2019.”

 

Points after the Cup race at Miami

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images
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Joey Logano took the lead from Martin Truex Jr. with 12 laps remaining in the Ford EcoBoost 400 and led the rest of the way unchallenged. Logano is the 33rd different Cup champion in NASCAR’s 70th season.

Truex held on to finish second in the race and points.

Kevin Harvick started 12th and led 58 laps before finishing third.

Kyle Busch took the lead off pit road with 16 laps remaining after being given the first pit stall by his Joe Gibbs teammate Denny Hamlin. He fell to fourth in the race and championship at the end.

Aric Almirola, who finished ninth in the Miami race, finished fifth in the points.

Click here for the complete points report