Keelan Harvick

Long: Kyle Busch’s ride of a lifetime makes him forget past losses, if only briefly

4 Comments

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — The 25-foot blue-and-white fishing boat is awarded annually to the race winner at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Every year since NASCAR debuted its playoff format in 2014, the Cup champion also has won the season finale to receive the $125,000 boat.

But with a boat comes the need to name it.

A couple of hours after becoming only the second active driver with more than one Cup championship, Kyle Busch was asked what he might call his new boat.

After pondering it briefly, he suggested “Should Have Been 18” — as in he should have also won the 2018 championship.

For a driver who thought he would have had three, four or five series titles by age 34, it is the defeats like he suffered in this race last year that sting the most.

Busch admitted earlier this week that even if he won Sunday night, he might not be able to enjoy it because his goals are so much higher.

“Trust me, there ain’t going to be anybody happier than me if we cross the finish line first on Sunday, for at least the first 10 minutes,” he said Thursday.

Busch was happy for longer than that but his celebration seemed muted. This polarizing driver who sang on his radio “All I do is win, win, win, no matter what” in March at Auto Club Speedway when he won his 200th career NASCAR national series race, simply said “Awesome work. Awesome year. Thank you boys” after capturing his 56th career Cup race and second championship.

“The thing with Kyle,” wife Samantha said, “sometimes he’ll listen to motivational speakers and all that. They say, ‘This is your job and you’re here to win and you’re here to perform and you’re here to be the best, so like congrats when you do it, but know that there’s always another goal.’

“I think that is it with Kyle, “Awesome I did one, now I want two.’ It’s not that he’s not proud of it … he just knows that he always has to keep setting that bar higher to push him and his team. I don’t think (the celebration) was sedate. I think it was confidence. ‘We came here to do what we were supposed to do.’ ”

While he smiled after winning, there wasn’t the unbridled exuberance. Admittedly, Busch was crowded almost immediately after exiting his car on the frontstretch and didn’t get to do his customary bow to the crowd. He also didn’t get to throw son Brexton in the air, which was the first thing the 4-year-old asked him to do when he got to his dad, until about four hours after the race.

Busch had suggested that Brexton get into the bowl of the championship trophy but his son demurred, saying he was too big for that (A few hours later, Busch coaxed Brexton to sit in the bowl for photos). Had Busch won last year’s championship, he could have had matching photos.

Seeds of Sunday’s triumph go back to last year’s disappointment when Busch fought an ill-handling car and wasn’t a factor as Joey Logano passed Martin Truex Jr. late to win the championship.

“I felt like not necessarily the car we brought but some of the approach that we had coming into it wasn’t right for my team, wasn’t right for Kyle, and I wanted to remedy that situation in the best way possible, and that’s to get here, number one and number two, perform at a high level,” crew chief Adam Stevens said.

When Busch experienced a similar loose condition with his car in his opening laps of Saturday’s practice, he had a flashback to last year’s Miami race.

“Oh, hell, here we go,” Busch said he thought.

“And then we worked on it. Adam did some really good adjustments to it early on in practice to get us to the tight side where I was really, really good at being able to rip it off the wall and had good rear security. I was like, OK, now we’re tight but we found both sides of it, so at least we’re not stuck with what we had like we did last year.”

But even if he felt good going into the race, few outside his team did.

The driver considered one of the most naturally talented in the sport, was viewed by many as an underdog. After opening the season with 11 consecutive top-10 finishes, including three wins, and later capturing the regular-season championship, he was inconsistent in the playoffs.

That he also hadn’t won in his last 21 races, while his teammates won nine of those events, gave many reason to question if Busch could challenge Kevin Harvick or Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Truex for the crown.

Busch was good Sunday but the race fell his way as the title contenders faltered one by one.

“That whole race went according to plan for a change,” Stevens said.

Truex saw his title hopes fade when his team made an egregious error, mixing a left- and right-side tire team before putting them on the car. Truex had to return to pit road on Lap 122 of the 267-lap race to fix the problem.

“I’ve never had that happen,” he said after finishing as the championship runner-up for a second year in a row. “I don’t even know what to say.”

Truex fell a lap down, later got back on the lead lap and while he would lead for five laps, it was only during a green-flag pit cycle.

“Ultimately it was the loss of track position that bit us,” he said.

Hamlin’s race soured after crew chief Chris Gabehart made an aggressive call for a piece tape the length of a forearm be put on the front grille to change the handling. What it did was prevent enough air from getting to the engine to cool it. The oil temperature pegged. So did the water temperature.

Hamlin feared the engine would blow. His team called him to pit road on Lap 221 while he ran third. Water and steam shot out of the hood like Yellowstone’s Old Faithful. Hamlin was never a factor after that, finishing 10th.

“We beat ourselves right here just trying to get too much because that’s what you do in the championship race of the playoffs,” said Hamlin’s crew chief, Chris Gabehart.

Kevin Harvick’s team game planned for a late-race caution, something that has happened all but one previous year in the playoff format. This time, though, there was no caution over the last 101 laps. And Harvick had no shot, placing fourth.

That left Busch, who had been so frustrated with his winless drought that when reminded last weekend at ISM Raceway that the champion also won the season finale — and he hadn’t won in five months — he responded by saying: “Thanks for the reminder.”

While Busch downplayed the doubt of others  — “I try to tune a lot of things out,” he noted. — Samantha said such things fueled him.

“You know Kyle likes to prove people wrong,” she said.

He did Sunday. While he seemed subdued, Busch admits there was a moment he was emotional as he joined seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson as the only current drivers with more than one series crown.

“I do remember taking the white flag and crossing underneath that and I had some tears rolling down my eyes for the last lap and was just like, ‘Come on, man, we’ve still got to finish this thing, don’t be such a sis.’ ” 

The best moment for Busch, though, came later. After his wife hugged him, his son hugged him and his brother Kurt hugged him, Busch got back into his car to drive it to Victory Lane with Brexton.

“Brexton actually came to me,” Busch said. “I don’t know if he got the idea from somebody else or if he just remembered it from Keelan (Harvick) doing it with Kevin, and said, ‘Dad, can I go for the ride with you?”

NASCAR approved the request.

“That was really, really special for Brexton, for me and Brexton to be able to take in that moment and go for a ride around the track,” Busch said. “At first he was sitting down on the floorboard, and I was like, You can’t see anything, man. I was like, ‘Stand up a little bit.’

“So he then was kneeling and holding on to the roll bar and stuff, and that was really, really cool. And I was smiling the whole damn time and looking over at him and making sure that he was having fun, enjoying that moment. We were waving at the camera that was in there and stuff. It was a lot of fun. I’m thankful for that.”

And in that moment, there was no thought of chasing five, six or seven championships, no thought about losing the title in 2018, no thought of anything else.

In that moment, it was just a father and a son going on a ride together.

It’s just that this trip ended in Victory Lane.

Long: Playoff drought could be coming to an end for one team

Leave a comment

BROOKLYN, Mich. — As cars ran out of fuel Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, Ryan Newman gained positions.

Then his engine sputtered, and he ran out of fuel in Turn 4.

On the final lap.

Newman made it to the finish line without losing any spots. He went from 18th to 12th in the last three laps as others coasted or had to pit for fuel.

Those six spots gained — and six points collected — helped stretch Newman’s lead for one of the final Cup playoff spots. He can help end a significant playoff drought. Newman enters Saturday night’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) 15th in the standings. Clint Bowyer, who holds the final playoff spot, is 10 points behind Newman.

MORE: Click here for the point standings.

Not since 2006 has the No. 6 team made the Cup playoffs. That car number was the first number Roush Fenway Racing used when it entered NASCAR’s premier series in 1988 with Mark Martin. And it was Martin in the car when it last made the Cup playoffs. Now it’s Newman’s ride and he is three races away from making the playoffs.

“To get into the (playoffs), race our way in throughout the whole season, it would show a huge step for the program,” said crew chief Scott Graves.

The team struggled last year with Trevor Bayne and Matt Kenseth sharing the ride. Graves, who had been Daniel Suarez’s crew chief for the majority of the past two years at Joe Gibbs Racing, joined Newman with the No. 6 team this year.

Topping off for fuel played a key role in Newman’s finish at Michigan. Twenty-seven cars pitted on Lap 150 under caution but Newman returned to pit road the following lap to top off on fuel. Only Newman and teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. came back to pit road to top off for fuel on Lap 151

Without that extra fuel, Newman would have run out sooner and lost positions — and points.

Ryan Newman is in a playoff spot with three races left in the regular season. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Newman looks to lead the No. 6 back in the playoffs with a grinding style that has not been pretty but has been productive.

The team has struggled to find speed. Newman has not started better than 16th in the last 15 races. It’s a key reason why Newman has scored 19 stage points in that span.

Newman is ahead of Bowyer, Suarez and Jimmie Johnson in the race for the final two playoff spots. Bowyer (54 stage points), Suarez (23) and Johnson (37) each has more stage points than Newman.

With the deficit on stage points, Newman and his team have had to score solid finishes. That made Graves’ decision to top off for fuel on Lap 151 at Michigan critical.

“We know the guys we’re racing against here, they’ve got the potential on any given weekend to go up there and bust off stage points and potentially win,” Graves said. “Obviously we are working really hard. We are grinding it out and getting the finishes we can to stay in this.

“That’s how we have to race right now. We know that to get in and even get anywhere in the (playoffs) if we do get in, we’ve got to really work on speed to get points.”

—————————————————-—————————————————-———————————

Kevin Harvick revealed after his victory Sunday that he’s been racing with a right shoulder injury this summer.

The shoulder, he said, was not injured in an accident on the track. No, he injured the shoulder throwing a Nerf ball to son Keelan.

“It’s cut into my golf game,” Harvick quipped Sunday on NBCSN’s post-race show.

He later added that the shoulder is “probably 80 percent now. I mean, there was a point when I went to Sonoma that I couldn’t even lift it up. It feels better in the race car than it does  — the worst thing I had to do in the race car was shift.

“My main concern was Watkins Glen, but we got through it. It’s getting close to being back where it needs to be. But it was definitely uncomfortable. The load that these cars put on it is right next to the … it’s right in the spot where it’s not feeling well. So all the load from the shoulder is where it’s been injured. … But it’s fine.”

—————————————————-—————————————————-———————————

Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch, William Byron and Bubba Wallace were among the drivers who had conflicts after Watkins Glen and had to address it at Michigan.

Johnson and Blaney traded barbs through the media before eventually meeting in Johnson’s motorhome last Friday night. Busch had meetings with Byron and Wallace.

With the rules package intended to keep cars closer together and blocking more prevalent, additional conflicts are likely to occur toward the end of the regular season and into the playoffs. How one handles those situations could play a role in the final weeks of the season.

Such situations can be challenging, says Brad Keselowski, who had feuds with Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards early in his career. There remains friction with Busch even after Keselowski sought to smooth things between them.

“It wears on you as much as you let it wear on you,” Keselowski said of conflicts with other drivers. “Second, I would say that there are some drivers that handle conflict incredibly well and there are some that don’t. I have never considered myself to be the best at it.

“I will be honest, I do look at videos of guys like Dale Earnhardt. He was in so many situations of conflict and they were easier to deal with in his time and age because of the lack of social media and lack of a 24-hour news cycle and things of that nature. But then on the flip side, he was a master at dealing with it. So I think you look at those guys and you think that probably parlayed into some of the success of his career, so you would be a fool not to study and try to learn from it. In today’s landscape it is harder than ever to handle for sure.”

—————————————————-—————————————————-———————————

Ben Rhodes collected a dubious honor Saturday at Michigan International Speedway.

He ranked fifth in the points — before the standings were reset for the playoff competitors — and failed to make the playoffs. That makes him the driver who has been the highest in points before the standings were reset to miss the postseason in Cup, Xfinity or the Gander Outdoors Truck Series in this current format. 

Rhodes scored more points than playoff drivers Ross Chastain, Austin Hill, Johnny Sauter and Tyler Ankrum. The difference is that in NASCAR’s win-and-you’re-in system, Chastain, Hill, Sauter and Ankrum won this year. Rhodes did not.

Also what makes Rhodes standing unique is that not all the playoff competitors ran all the races or scored points in all the races.

Ankrum was not old enough to compete in the season’s first three races. Sauter was suspended one race when NASCAR penalized him for wrecking Hill at Iowa in June. Chastain started the season running for points in the Xfinity Series and switched to Truck points before the season’s ninth race, which was at Texas in June. That’s why they were behind Rhodes in points.

The Truck playoffs begin Thursday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Kevin Harvick gets assist from son Keelan for Michigan win

1 Comment

Sunday wasn’t just another win for Kevin Harvick.

He got to share in a special victory celebration with 7-year-old son Keelan. First off, Keelan met his father on pit road and rode in the car as Harvick did a burnout. Keelan then went to the flag stand to retrieve the checkered flag.

That led to the elder Harvick telling how Keelan brought Harvick’s checkered flag from winning at Michigan last August for the weekend trip to the Wolverine State.

“I had to go to an appearance, so he met me in Dearborn and we went to the Tigers game on Thursday night, and we got back to the bus and the flag was in there, and I’m like, ‘Why in the world did you bring the flag?’ And he’s like, ‘It’s got to be good luck. We need to take two flags home.”

Keelan Harvick, son of winning driver Kevin Harvick, shared in his dad’s celebration. (Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

And that’s just what father and son did Sunday, knowing just how special the day beyond yet another race win.

“For me as a dad, it’s probably the coolest thing that you could ever do,” Kevin Harvick said. “This is my job, and a lot of people don’t realize how family oriented NASCAR racing really is. He comes with me all summer, same thing we’ve done for the past few years, and this year we didn’t wreck any golf carts or tear anything up at the golf course, so we just played golf. He still drove, but we didn’t crash.

“For me it’s making those memories, and to be able to do that with him. Heck, he may never get to do a donut in his life or hear 40,000, 50,000 people screaming and yelling, and that enthusiasm of the excitement from the crowd. Those are neat experiences that most kids don’t get to experience, but most kids’ dads don’t race cars, and for me to be able to share that with him is pretty neat, and for NASCAR to let us do that and make those memories is also pretty awesome.”

As Kevin Harvick prepared to walk out of his motor coach to stroll to his car prior to Sunday’s race, Keelan said, “Hey, if we win today, I get to ride in the car again.’ I said, ‘Absolutely. You just make your way to pit road and we’ll figure it out.’ We stepped it up a little today. We were able to do a straight-line burnout and a donut. And I made him put my helmet on in case he flew out the side there and into the roll bars. That was pretty cool. … Those are proud cool dad moments, so it’s pretty awesome.”

But there was one line that dear old dad drew in the sand. Keelan wanted to spray his father with Gatorade in the post-race victory celebration.

No way was that happening, the elder Harvick said.

“He (Keelan) loves Gatorade, so we were standing in Victory Lane, and I saw the Gatorade,” Harvick said. “I said, look, you can have some Gatorade, but if you spray one drop of that on me, you’re going to be in trouble because it’s sticky.”

To which Keelan replied, “You’re already sticky.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Busy schedule, family time keep Kevin Harvick’s mind off success

Getty Images
Leave a comment

CONCORD, N.C. — Kevin Harvick is having a moment.

Harvick has won six times this season, including last week’s All-Star Race. In tonight’s Coca-Cola 600, Harvick  to win three consecutive points races for the second time this season.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver, who starts last tonight after failing qualifying inspection three times, describes the impact of his hot streak on his life away from the track as “very strange.”

“I think when you look at everything that’s going on, every week feels like a normal week,” Harvick said Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I understand that things are going exceptionally well here at the race track and every race track that we’ve been to so far, but there’s that way of getting grounded when you’re at home because, honestly, my kids could care less about what happens here.  My son (Keelan) is more excited that I show up to his baseball game and stand on first base and tell him whether to run to second or not, and those type of things. He’s more concerned about me dropping him off in the car pool line.”

Last Saturday, Harvick took part in a one hour morning practice session for the All-Star Race. He then booked it to his son’s baseball game before driving back to the track for the drivers meeting and multiple appearances. After a one-hour nap, he watched the Monster Open and took part in the All-Star Race, where he won three of four stages.

“If your ass wouldn’t be tired by now, I don’t know who you are.  But I’m beat,” Harvick said in his winner’s press conference.

On Thursday, Harvick said his busy schedule allows him to “hide in my hole during the week.”

“I went to five meetings this week and participated in a lot of conversations about this sport,” Harvick. “I participated in a lot of conversations about the team and did interviews, but all of that happens in between when Keelan goes to school.  It’s all scheduled around his baseball games.  Those are all things that are first priorities, so that, to me, helps keep this in its position of number two.  It helps keep me from realizing everything that’s actually happening.”

The 2014 Cup champion compared his mental compartmentalization to what he experienced in 2001, when he took the place of Earnhardt at Richard Childress Racing after his death on the last lap of the Daytona 500.

Harvick did double duty and raced full-time in both Cup and the Xfinity Series.

After his Atlanta win earlier this season, Harvick called that period in his life “very confusing.”

“It’s different,” Harvick said Thursday. “But it’s kind of the same because it kind of guards you from being able to really pay attention to all the things that are happening and going on and the actual attention and things that are being given to the situation.”

Winning becoming same old, same old for Kevin Harvick

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Winning is never mundane for a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver, but it’s starting to look that way for Kevin Harvick.

After winning Saturday night’s All-Star Race, Harvick walked into the media center at Charlotte Motor Speedway notably subdued, which prompted a question regarding his seeming lack of enthusiasm.

“I got a 4-month old baby at home,” he said. “I showed up this morning. I held my little girl at, I don’t know, 7:30, 8 a.m. I drove to the race track. I practiced. I went back, watched my son’s baseball game. I drove back for the drivers meeting. I had four appearances. I sat and laid on the couch for an hour, watched the race. Then I came back out and did driver intros, ran the race.

“If your ass wouldn’t be tired by now, I don’t know who you are. But I’m beat. I felt like I gave it a full effort today. If I’m subdued, I’m sorry. I’m really happy that we won the race. I’m really excited for my team and organization and sponsors and everybody. But I’m tired. Got to remember, I’m old. When I leave here, I’m going to go home, I drink too many more of these Busch beers, I might be asleep in the car.”

Before he hauled his tired butt into the media center, Harvick did something no one thought possible in 2018. He drove away from the field in the All-Star Race with a new rules package that was supposed to keep that from happening.

In a race marked by a substantial amount of passing throughout the field, Harvick took the lead from Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on Lap 6 and built a sizable lead in the first of four stages.

After losing positions during the pit stop at the end of the first stage, Harvick had to fight his way through traffic and did not regain the lead until near the end of the third stage.

“Hey, everything’s going our way,” Harvick said. “We have really fast cars. Everybody is executing. The pit crew didn’t have a great first stop with the tire getting hung in the fender, but they rebounded with a great pit stop on the next stop and gained a spot or two there. That’s what you want out of an experienced team, whether it’s the pit crew, the crew chief, the driver. When something goes wrong, you got to be able to overcome it, refocus, move forward.”

It was Harvick’s sixth win of the year, and although it was a non-points event, it marks the second time this season that he has won three consecutive races – putting another stamp on his claim to be the most dominant driver on a weekly basis.

The trick to success is not to allow winning to become mundane – no matter how it looks to the competition or the fans.

“It’s racing like you’re losing,” Harvick said after winning his second career All-Star Race. “If you can trick yourself into doing that every week, not get too high during the highs, really feel like you need to keep pushing to make things better, that’s really the mindset that everybody has right now.”

It might be easy to dismiss his current string of success in the belief that Harvick, crew chief Rodney Childers and the No. 4 team have found something through the first 12 races of 2018 that everyone else is missing. And while that may be partially true in terms of his success in points paying races, that element was missing from his All-Star victory.

The commonality between Harvick’s win Saturday night and the five points victories so far this year is the dedication and experience of the team – something that predates 2018.

“I don’t feel like that’s really a different position than we’ve been in four out of the five last years,” Harvick said. “Last year was obviously a building year for us. I think that’s the one thing that is the great part about this team, is we’ve been in a position to obviously win the championship in 2014. ’15 had a great year, won a bunch of races. We’ve been in position to have been successful before. I think that the experience of the team and the organization and all the racers that come into that shop day after day kind of sets the tone of the expectations, but also having been in a lot of these situations before with each other.

“I’m proud of them all. That to me is more important than the money and everything that comes with it because everybody puts so much time with it. There’s nothing better than seeing them all high-five in Victory Lane.”

Two weeks after taking home one of NASCAR’s most distinctive trophies – a concrete Miles the Monster holding a diecast replica of the No. 4 car for is AAA 400 win – Harvick was excited to give his son Keelan another piece of art for his playroom.

“Man, I like the trophy, to tell you the truth. I’ll take the money, for sure. All the kids think it’s Lightning McQueen’s Piston Cup. I’m sure that’s (what) mine will think about it when he wakes up and sees it in the morning.”

Harvick’s son was impressed, but he is beginning to reassess his priorities. After waking up the morning after Kevin’s $1 million win, Keelan said “cool trophy where’s the money?”