Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – JOLIET, IL – Kyle Larson doesn’t believe there’s a large chasm between the drivers who have dominated the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series this season and those who are trying to catch them.
But the difference in big enough to keep the chasers out of Victory Lane.
Four drivers have combined to win 14 of the first 16 events of the season. Kevin Harvick has five victories, Kyle Busch four, Martin Truex Jr. three and Clint Bowyer two. With Joey Logano added to the mix, Ford drivers have won eight times and Toyota drivers seven.
That leaves one triumph for Chevrolet, and that came in the season-opening Daytona 500, when Austin Dillon knocked Aric Almirola’s Ford out of the way to win the Great American Race.
On a consistent basis, Larson has had the fastest Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 this year. He’s ninth in the series standings, having finished second three times—at Fontana, Bristol and Pocono. But even though he says the gap to the prolific winners is small, he knows it’s there.
“The top three guys are fairly close,” Larson said. “Any of those three can win kind of every weekend. Then I feel like there is a step to myself, (Brad) Keselowski, Clint Bowyer—he might be a little better than we are—but I feel like we are right there. I have run second three times this year. I run second a lot, but, yeah, I’ve been close a couple of races.
“Their teams are just performing really well, and they don’t make mistakes, and when they do, they can recover from them easily because their cars are really fast. Our team is making our stuff better and better every week. It seems like every time we go to a 1.5-mile track they’re really excited about the car they are bringing because it’s better than the last one.
“That is all you can ask for is just to get your stuff running better and developed a little bit nicer, and hopefully that stuff pays off. I feel like we’re close. I think other teams probably view us as being pretty close. We’ve just got to get the job done.”
KEVIN HARVICK SAYS SONOMA FAKE-OUT DIDN’T DETERMINE OUTCOME
The big story in Martin Truex Jr.’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory at Sonoma Raceway was a pit stop bluff that convinced Kevin Harvick’s crew chief, Rodney Childers, to bring his driver to pit road earlier than planned during the final stage of the Toyota/Save Mart 300.
But in a post-mortem of the event on Friday at Chicagoland Speedway, Harvick said he didn’t believe the “fake-out” as Childers called it, was the determining factor in the race.
“I don’t really feel like Rodney’s call affected the race one way or another,” Harvick said. “I don’t feel like, if we had waited eight laps to pit, we would have beaten the 78 (Truex) anyway. I think Martin had the best car at that particular point, and we were fighting things that nobody really knew about at that particular time, not even Rodney.
“I try not to talk about our weaknesses on the radio. I can always tell him afterwards. There were things going on that, after the first two stages, I felt like we were in position to be competitive with the 78, but we got a little bit worse, and I felt like he got a little bit better at the end of the race—and eight laps of pitting wasn’t going to change the outcome.”
The winner of five of the first 16 races this season, Harvick wasn’t about to play the blame game.
“When you have something that is going as well as everything that we have going, there’s no reason to put a chink in the armor and start to tear it down,” Harvick said. “Those guys (Harvick’s team), when I smashed into the side of Kyle Larson and spun myself out in the middle of the straightaway at California, those guys were all there to support me.
“And that is what I was there to do last week when he thought he did something wrong. The support system is really one of the things that I feel like our team has built over the past five years amongst each other. The trust and the support that each (of us gets) from each other when you feel like you did something wrong is really part of the strength of the team.”
JESSE IWUJI’S HEROISM GOES VIRAL AFTER GOOD SAMARITAN EFFORT
To Jesse Iwuji, the effort to help a family in distress was simply the natural response to a crisis.
An officer in the Naval Reserve, and a driver in both the NASCAR K&N Pro and ARCA Series, Iwuji was driving home from Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Sonoma when he noticed a disabled minivan sitting in the breakdown lane on Interstate 5.
“Underneath the van, I saw a lot of fluid leaking from the motor, and there was a small, little fire that began to ignite,” Iwuji said. “From my background in the military and in racing, (I knew) flammable fluids can ignite pretty quick and start a huge fire pretty quick.”
Iwuji stopped, and unable to move the van clear of the fire, he hustled the family of four to safety. When they were roughly 30 yards away from the vehicle, the engine exploded. Iwuji made sure the family was safe and continued on his journey. Realizing that he hadn’t offered the stranded family a ride, he spent 45 minutes returning to the scene to correct the oversight, but, by then, the family was gone with the assistance of first responders, and the vehicle was being hooked up to a tow truck.
“Everyone says it’s heroic,” Iwuji said. “For me, honestly, it’s just being a good person. At the end of the day, I think we can all do what happened that day. It’s nothing Superman, nothing like that.”
But Iwuji’s act of selflessness struck a chord when he posted a video of the car, engulfed in flames, on the internet. The video went viral and attracted intense interest from national news outlets.