The Highs And Lows Of Stewart-Haas Racing
BY DAVE GRAYSON
WIN AND YOU’RE IN-WIN TWO GOOD FOR YOU!
It’s easily assumed that Kevin Harvick, and his Stewart-Haas team, are extremely happy and secure with their status regarding NASCAR’s 2015 Chase For The Sprint Cup Championship and their quest for a repeat title. That fact was clearly evident following the team’s completely dominant performance during the Camping World Dot Com 500 at the Phoenix International Raceway. Here’s the stats that made “Happy” Harvick very happy:
Harvick led 225 of the scheduled 312 laps resulting in his second win of the season, 30th career win and seventh win at Phoenix. He became the first driver to win four consecutive races at the same track since Richard Petty back in 1975. He also became the first driver to finish in the top 2 positions in seven consecutive races since, again, Richard Petty in 1975. Dating back to the 2014 season, Harvick now has five wins in the last ten races.
He credits their success to the outstanding level of communication among the members of his SHR team especially with Crew Chief Rodney Childers. It’s apparent that Harvick and Childers has become the new red hot dynamic duo in NASCAR racing.
Surprisingly, after the race, Childers admitted there were times when the team was somewhat struggling during the Phoenix weekend. Regarding pre race set ups, Childers said: “finally we had to wing it late model style.” The late model approach apparently worked very well. While Harvick didn’t appear on the speed charts for the first practice session, he topped the second practice and then won the pole position with a very convincing speed of 140.751 MPH. This was followed by the aforementioned race dominance that now has Harvick sitting on top of the championship standings 22 points ahead of apparent season rival Joey Logano.
All of this excellence was predicted early race day morning by Keelan Harvick, the driver’s young son. During a pre race television interview, Fox Sports pit reporter Matt Yocum asked Keelan where Dad was going to finish in the race. Without saying a word, the young man held up one baby finger in the air. A matter of a few hours later, it turned out he was absolutely right.
THE “OUTLAW” RETURNS
With his recent lifting of his indefinite suspension by NASCAR, Kurt Busch made his first appearance of the 2015 season at Phoenix. No matter what your opinion of recent allegations of domestic violence involving this driver, even his harshest critics had to admit that Busch looked good during the Phoenix weekend.
Off the track he thoroughly enjoyed his official reunion with his Stewart-Haas Racing team and was gratified by the positive sentiments he received from his colleagues in the Sprint Cup garage area. On the track his return was immediately noticed. He topped the speed charts during the Saturday morning practice session and later placed third in the happy hour practice session. After qualifying eighth Busch was a major player all day during the Phoenix race and finished fifth.
Again, say what you want to about this driver but it was apparent that he is focused on his driving career and it’s also apparent that he’s working hard to improve the status of his personal life.
I BELIEVE THE SMOKE WILL RISE AGAIN BUT I’M NOT SURE WHEN.
The Phoenix race was yet another source of sheer frustration for Tony Stewart. After qualifying 17th, Stewart employed the use of pit strategy and some noticeable aggressive driving that led him to tenth place. Unfortunately, the effort unraveled on lap 238 when Stewart, racing hard with Justin Allgaier, found himself sliding sideways into the turn four wall.
In the process of trying to overcome that set back, bad luck once again slapped Stewart in the face. On Lap 290 a blown right front tire sent his Chevrolet hard into the wall. This time the damage was too extensive. Stewart retired from the event with a disappointing 39th place finish.
The disappointment at Phoenix is part of a running theme this team has endured throughout the first four races of the season. At Daytona, Stewart qualified seventh only to get caught up in a crash early in the race that turned into a 42nd place finish. Atlanta produced a 30th place finish followed by a 33d at Las Vegas.
After four races, Stewart’s average finish ratio is a whopping 38. Adding to the frustration is the fact that he’s 36th in the championship points standings. There has been noticeable performance issues from the very beginning of the still young racing season. Stewart has made it clear that he’s not happy with the new rules package and the team seems to have trouble adapting to them.
There are a legion of fans, including yours truly, who truly believes that the “Smoke” will rise again. However, that process needs to start immediately as in next Sunday at the Auto Club Speedway in California.
By the way, Danica Patrick has been at least consistent. In four races she had no DNF’s, did not finish, along with an average finish ratio of 21. All things considered, that’s actually a sign of improvement.