Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – FORT WORTH, TX – With the current emphasis on staying connected through social media, it’s hard to find a cell phone-free zone, but that’s what Kevin Harvick encountered during a Thursday visit to the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club.
Cell phones aren’t allowed on the course during tournament rounds.
“We were talking about the trip this morning,” Harvick told the NASCAR Wire Service after qualifying second for Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway (2 p.m. ET, FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). “Everything around here is about trying to figure out who’s better on social media and connect on social media. And (there) they take your phone away.
“You can’t get on the property with your phone, and nobody’s worried about taking pictures. Everybody is engaged in the event and it’s sold out every day. That’s intriguing, just because of the fact of how everybody else is thinking in every other sport. It’s one of those niche situations. It’s outside of reality. It’s refreshing. You don’t even think about it because you don’t have it – that being your phone.”
With three professional golfers under his management umbrella – Jason Gore, James Hahn and Chesson Hadley – Harvick has a bested interest in the sport. In a global sense, he believes Chase Elliott could impact NASCAR racing the way Tiger Woods moves the needle in golf – provided Elliott can string together some victories.
“The guy that has the most potential is Chase Elliott with the traditional NASCAR fans,” Harvick said. “It’s just like when (we) talk; you have to win. There’s a difference between a superstar and a megastar. In the past, a superstar wasn’t a megastar because of the fact that he didn’t win enough. Chase Elliott is the next guy that can be a megastar – but you have to win.”
HOPING TO BREAK DROUGHT, JIMMIE JOHNSON FINDS SPEED AT TEXAS
If ever there were a track where Jimmie Johnson could be expected to break out of his current funk, Texas Motor Speedway would certainly be a likely candidate.
After all, the seven-time champion is a record seven-time winner at the 1.5-mile speedway. And even though Friday’s qualifying session was halted by the threat of lightning and limited to one round, Johnson was encouraged that he had found speed in his car.
That wasn’t the case when the team unloaded the No. 48 Chevrolet.
“We started off and struggled pretty bad,” Johnson said. “I think the track was just really far off from what we anticipated. At the very end of (opening) practice, things started going much better for us and popped off a decent lap there (in the first round of qualifying) and making good gains.”
Those gains were apparent in Saturday’s first practice, too. In cold conditions after a drastic overnight drop in temperature, Johnson was fourth fastest in the session at 198.639 mph.
In final practice, Johnson ran just three laps, but his third one was the fastest of the session at 198.143 mph.
That’s a welcome omen, given that Johnson hasn’t led a lap yet this year. In fact, the seven-time champ has led laps in only two of the last 25 races (five at Dover and 24 at Martinsville last year).
RICKY STENHOUSE JR. TO BACKUP CAR AFTER CRASH IN PRACTICE
For the third time this season and the second event in a row, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will start from the rear of the field in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race after crashing in practice and going to a backup car.
Early in Saturday’s first practice session, after running his fastest lap of the day, Stenhouse veered into the outside wall, damaging his No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford beyond repair. The accident mirrored incidents at ISM Raceway in Phoenix and two weeks ago at Martinsville.
Stenhouse said his spotter saw sparks from underneath the car before it shot into the wall at Texas.
He’ll be joined at the rear of the field by Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron, whose No. 24 Chevrolet needed an engine change after losing oil pressure during Friday’s opening practice.