Column By: JOHN DOUGLAS / RPW – AVONDALE, AZ – Another week and another Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race won by Kevin Harvick.
This team is on a roll both in the car and even out of the car, as was shown in the post race media conference. It seems Stewart-Haas Racing can do no wrong lately but to understand their successes and the things that grind their gears, we need to take a look at the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
Though we saw Kevin Harvick take home his third trophy in four races during the 2018 season to date, this week’s race wasn’t the pure trouncing Harvick and company have laid on the field the two weeks prior.
Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott all made Harvick’s life very difficult for most of the event. In fact, Harvick did not lead a single lap of the race until segment two.
The work he had to put in to get there was some of the best Cup Series side-by-side racing we’ve seen in quite a while. Four cars, under a blanket, racing their guts out with slide jobs and crossovers…all the while doing it cleanly with a lot of respect. That, folks, is what racing was always supposed to be.
If the NASCAR Cup Series garage area could harness that 30-40 laps in a bottle and sell it on every Sunday, this series would have a lot less worries when it comes to filling stands with rabid race fans.
This week’s bad segment is more a feeling than an issue. The other 35+ teams in the Cup Series should have a very bad feeling in their stomachs as they leave the Arizona desert. Clearly a broken roof brace at Las Vegas was not the secret to Harvick’s speed. That means a lot of people have a work to do, or else Harvick will be bringing his “Happy Hour” radio show to the main stage of the banquet in Las Vegas come November.
The teams need to reduce the clear gap between themselves and Stewart-Haas Racing’s powerhouse. All four Ford Fusions on the team finished in the top ten for the first time ever in Phoenix. While that certainly won’t happen every week, it’s a sign that we may very well be in for a Joe Gibbs Racing vs: Stewart- Haas four on four battle this season in the points standings.
That would be great for fans of those eight drivers, but 16 make the playoffs. Though it’s early in the season, I’m not convinced 16 teams will run well enough to deserve a shot at that Championship trophy if SHR and JGR dominate the regular season as they have so far.
We all know it’s coming, the reconfiguration of Phoenix round two is something a lot of people, including Tony Stewart and Harvick, just can’t seem to get behind.
Between moving the grandstands and placing the start/finish line on the backside of the track, racing in the desert is going to change forever.
In reference to the loss of the Copper World Classic some years ago, Stewart said during his post-race media availability, “I ran second to Mike Bliss here and that one race got me a huge opportunity to drive for some really big teams. Now you don’t have things like that, but we can afford to spend $170 million to move the start finish line from the frontstretch to the backstretch. I still don’t know what the hell the reason for that is.” He said this as he looked at Harvick confused.
Fans were in an uproar when the new dogleg configuration was revealed and though some exciting moments have been created by the runoff area in that area, most people just weren’t impressed.
The continued long-term changes at Phoenix, including its new name (ISM Raceway) have hurt the overall experience of NASCAR’s trip to the desert for a lot of long time race fans who remember the days of the Copper World Classic and Alan Kulwicki’s first “Polish Victory Lap” in NASCAR’s Cup Series.