Published May 28, 2013
Oh yes, I went there.
Someone had to ask Kevin Harvick if he had any regrets about leaving Richard Childress Racing at the end of the NASCAR season.
And there was no better time than Sunday night after “Happy” scored the Coca-Cola 600 victory, his second Sprint Cup win in the past four races.
Harvick has agreed to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014. It’s easy to understand his frustration with RCR and why the prospect of driving for his buddy Tony Stewart would be appealing. How many times has Harvick been the runner-up in NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup?
In 13 seasons, Harvick has been in the hunt for the championship four times, most recently in 2011, when he entered the Chase at the top of the standings and remained there through the first of 10 races. That’s when the Stewart quest to a third championship began — and succeeded. Perhaps that was the catalyst for Harvick’s move after 12 Cup seasons with a team owner who rescued him from obscurity.
But based on Stewart-Haas Racing's progress with the Generation 6 car this year, Harvick has to wonder whether he has made the right decision to leave at the end of the season. Harvick has two victories and is seventh in the points standings. The best SHR team — the No. 39 with Ryan Newman — is 16th. Before Sunday night, when Newman and Stewart finished sixth and seventh, respectively, the company had not posted multiple top-10 finishes since the season opener at Daytona. And SHR has not celebrated a victory since July.
Still, Harvick elected to concentrate on the positive.
“You look at what we're doing, and we're focused on this year,” Harvick said. “We go out and race week to week, do the things that we do to try to win races, win a championship. Whatever happens in the future, we'll work on some other time. Right now, we're working on winning next week's race, no matter who is running like a bag of ass.”
The good news for Harvick? At least his future boss man has finally moved back into the top 20 in the point standings. Maybe Harvick can be the alpha driver at SHR next year.
Here are five other topics to ponder:
1. Under the radar?
Kurt Busch didn’t get the props he deserved after finishing third. While Kasey Kahne, who posted his third second-place finish on an intermediate track this year after having one of the fastest — if not the fastest — cars, mirrored Matt Kenseth’s earlier mistake of not pitting while having the race lead, Busch battled back from a loose battery cable while leading the race. Busch also overcame a pit stop that lost the No. 78 Chevrolet six positions on a restart.
Busch was brilliant on the restarts. He has excelled with the single-car operation. If the Furniture Row crew had not been plagued with engine issues earlier this season, Busch would be well ahead of 18th in the point standings right now.
2. Capitalizing on opportunities
While Richard Childress Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing made the most of the misfortunes of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and even Kenseth, Roush Fenway Racing was unable to profit from it. Carl Edwards acknowledged after the race that “we’re missing something here.” After running in the top 10 throughout the race, the No. 99 team, which remains firmly second in the points standings, couldn’t improve from 11th, where Edwards rolled off for the final restart. With Johnson finishing an uncharacteristic 22nd, Roush Fenway Racing missed an opportunity.
3. Slow and steady wins the race back to the Chase
Denny Hamlin was 31st in the points standings when he climbed back into the No. 11 Toyota at Talladega. But in the past two points races — two of the most grueling events on the circuit — Hamlin has gutted out a second-place finish at Darlington and a fourth in the Coca-Cola 600. He’s now 24th in the standings with 14 races to make his claim on a Chase berth.
What seemed improbable when Hamlin was first sidelined after fracturing his vertebra at Auto Club Speedway is certainly appearing to be in reach for the 32-year-old who has never missed a Chase. When it comes to heart and desire, look no further than Hamlin.
4. The boys are back
Who could be more excited about going to Dover this weekend than Brad Keselowski? Well, maybe his crew chief Paul Wolfe, who has been under a NASCAR-imposed sabbatical the past three weeks since he was suspended for the Penske Racing teams using unapproved suspension parts.
During the past two points races, Keselowski has dropped from sixth to 10th in the standings. Last week, pundits were asking the defending champ if he was worried about the season being 11 (now 12) races in without a win. Now, the No. 2 team is in the last Chase spot and only three points ahead of Kyle Busch, whose engine failed. The difference between the two, however, is Busch has two wins to his credit this season.
Yes, Keselowski was at the wrong place at the wrong time on Sunday, which started with his "random’"qualifying order of first. But Sunday marked the first time in 47 races that the No. 2 did not finish the race. The good news for Keselowski is that he has wins at four of the next 14 tracks before the Chase, including this weekend at the Monster Mile.
5. Speaking of Penske Racing
AJ Allmendinger put on a tremendous show in his Indianapolis 500 debut. Yes, Dinger’s nerves got the best of him, as he humbly acknowledged after finishing seventh.
"The first issue was I was sissy on the start,” Allmendinger said. “That might have been the worst Indy 500 start ever. I went from like fifth to 20th in one lap. I'll be ready next time. After that, it took me about 40 laps to settle down.”
But once he calmed down, he took the lead on Lap 98 to earn the halfway bonus, then overcame safety belts coming loose to battle back to the front of the pack, lead laps and posted a solid top-10 finish. His 23 laps led was the most among rookies and the most for Team Penske.
Although it would have been interesting to watch Dinger return to NASCAR action this weekend at Dover — one of his favorite tracks — he’ll drive the No. 2 Quicken Loans Dallara/Chevrolet at Belle Isle. Can’t wait to see what he's got for Sonoma.