Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – LONG POND, PA – Kyle Busch completed an unprecedented, monumental feat last Sunday in winning the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The victory gave the driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs racing Toyota a win at every Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series track at which he has competed.
Only one problem. Busch expects the accomplishment to be short-lived. With the addition of the road course at Charlotte this fall for the first elimination race in the Playoff, Busch expects the arbiters of the sport—whoever they may be—to demand that he take the checkered flag on the “new and different” track.
“Everybody wants to make my life more difficult,” quipped Busch, who was fastest in Saturday’s final practice for Sunday’s Pocono 400 (2 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). “So I’m sure that I won’t be credited for all the race tracks once the Roval gets here, so that would certainly be the next one that comes up.
“It’s in the same vicinity. Richard Petty has won 13 races at Richmond, right, but nobody characterizes the dirt track versus the pavement track being different.”
In fact, Petty won on three different iterations of Richmond Raceway, both on dirt and pavement, but never on the current .75-mile configuration. But a big item on Busch’s bucket list is a race Petty won seven times.
“It’s my life, so we’ll just keep going, keep trying to win in it, and the Roval is next,” Busch said. “And then after that, it’s about the Daytona 500 and trying to get that one.
“It took another guy that’s very, very popular (Dale Earnhardt Sr.) 20 years to get it done, so I’d like to think it won’t take me that long, although I’m creeping up on that number. So we’ll see how soon we can get that one accomplished.”
CHANGE IN TEAM AND EMPHASIS HAS IMPROVED KEVIN HARVICK’S QUALIFYING
In 13 years with Richard Childress racing, Kevin Harvick won six poles.
When he moved to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014, Harvick won eight poles in his first season with the team.
With SHR, Harvick is a threat to win the top starting spot wherever he races. He has five front-row starts this year, including two poles, and has qualified in the top 10 in all but two of 14 races. In those two events, Harvick never made a qualifying run—at Bristol after a wreck in practice forced him to a backup car, and at Charlotte when his No. 4 Ford failed to clear pre-qualifying Inspection.
To Harvick, the dramatic shift in results from time trials is primarily about priorities, both on his part and on the part of his organization.
“It is really just preparation,” Harvick said on Friday after qualifying second for Sunday’s Pocono 400 (2 p.m. ET Sunday on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). “For me, in my previous life, it was about not worrying about qualifying and just get what you can get and go from there. The emphasis was different when I came to SHR, and the difference was that there was a lot of preparation and time spent in the differences of the setups and things you needed to do.
“The expectations were much different. When the expectations are different, it makes you think about things differently. There are two different processes. For me, I feel like I can do what I need to do on the race track for the race, but I prepare more for qualifying on a weekend more than I do a race, if that tells you the emphasis they put on it.”
DAVID RAGAN TESTS “ALL-STAR PACKAGE,” FAVORS IT FOR CERTAIN TRACKS
Given the strong buzz about the higher-downforce, restrictor-plate competition package used for the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race in May, it was almost a foregone conclusion that the configuration would get additional test time—sooner rather than later.
That happened on Tuesday and Wednesday at Michigan International Speedway in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series manufacturers’ wheel-force test at the two-mile track. David Ragan drove a Ford, Justin Allgaier a Chevrolet and Drew Herring a Toyota.
“They’ve got a new tire for Michigan, so the manufacturers elected to use one of our wheel-force tests to go up, and we ran some laps with the current aero package, and we ran some laps with the new All-Star package,” Ragan said. “I felt like, with just three cars there, it’s really hard to get a really good read on what kind of draft you would have, what kind of ability you would have to pass cars.
“But I felt like it was similar to Charlotte. They cars drove really good. You could stay in the throttle. You felt like you were definitely going slower, but it did create a little bit of a draft, and it bunched everybody up. We only had three cars there, but we did run some together, and it was pretty easy to stay caught up with the person in front of you, and you could feel a pretty good draft going down the straightaway, and you could make up three or four car-lengths pretty easy.”
Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said in an interview on FS1 Saturday morning that the package could be used in as many as three Cup points races this year to evaluate its possible viability for certain tracks in 2019.
“For us, it’s making sure everybody has had enough time to look at it, has enough time to evaluate it,” O’Donnell said. “If you look back at it, we really only ran it last year at Indy (Xfinity) and the All-Star Race, and this weekend is the first-time in Xfinity at Pocono.
“Taking all that data and evaluating if this is right direction to go is the first step.”
Ragan believes certain minor changes to the All-Star package could facilitate the ability to pass.
“I feel like they’ve got to tweak the package to allow a car that does get a run the ability to get out of line and continue with that run,” Ragan said. “Sometimes, at the All-Star race, a car in front of us would lift, and we would get a run, and you would pull out to pass, and you would still get stalled out.
“I think there are probably some different variations of spoiler height, maybe the front ducts or maybe a gear to tweak. The thought process behind the package would be ideal at some race tracks, but I don’t think it would work at every race track—at some race tracks, we don’t need anything different from what we have now.”