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Harvick shows talk is cheap in title Chase
While Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin’s teams practice one-upmanship as they battle for the Sprint Cup, Kevin Harvick is patiently waiting to be the last man standing.
Whether it was the pit selection of the four-time championship crew chief Chad Knaus at Kansas, Mike Ford’s choice of pits for the No. 11 team at Texas, or the subsequent barbs that were exchanged during the past week between those aforementioned teams, the teams in first and second place in the standings are bloodying each other in battle. Meanwhile, Harvick and the No. 29 Richard Childress Racing team have minded their business.
Harvick sits 59 points behind championship leader Denny Hamlin and 26 behind second-place Jimmie Johnson. He can’t afford to engage in the mind games being played by the point leaders.
“When things are going good, it’s one thing to be cocky around your team,” Harvick said. “But when you want to be cocky publicly, you have one place to go and that’s to back it up and you’re not going to back it up in this sport forever. You might back it up this year, but you’re probably not going to back it up week-in and week-out forever.
“There’s just nothing to be gained from it as far as the team standpoint.”
In Hamlin’s case, the team’s performance has indeed backed up their bravado. Hamlin has won two of the first eight races in the postseason and hasn’t finished worse than 12th. With four consecutive titles to his credit, Johnson can afford to be proud, too, having won the Chase race at Dover from the pole and he led the most laps.
While his Chase performances have been just as impressive, Harvick says the No. 29 team’s strategy is to go on the offense the rest of the way.
“When you get in these positions and you’re racing like the three of us are racing right now, you just exceed the expectations that everybody sets for you a lot of the times, which is what we’ve done,” Harvick said. “You just get in this incredible zone and the team’s incredibly focused on making the cars good and everybody is just performing at the top of their game in these situations.
“It’s hard to make up ground, but when you have three guys in the middle of it then you can’t – there’s no defense. I think when you get ahead then you can play a little bit of defense to be competitive or use strategy. With everything so close, it’s all offense. The tone has kind of been set that anything less than probably winning a race or two in the next two weeks – you’re going to have to go take it.”
Hamlin says that all three drivers have different driving styles but he considers Harvick the “most aggressive” of the three. Perhaps that’s why Hamlin has never discounted Harvick’s ability to be a contender in the Chase.
“I’ve never — not one time — thought this was a two-horse race,” Hamlin said. “I constantly bring up the No. 29 as a factor. They probably, if anything, feel slighted because in the media they don’t get that much recognition, but for me, I don’t treat either one differently.”
Harvick does consider his team “different” or “unique” from his competitors outside of Richard Childress Racing. For years, members of the organization up in Welcome, N.C., were outlaws that fought perhaps unconventionally at times to win races and titles.
Harvick still considers his own group “as a little rough or hardcore type of racers that has come up through the ranks.” And while his team may not receive all the accolades that Hamlin and Johnson have had in the Chase, Harvick is content to operate under the radar.
“We have two great racetracks for us and we have nothing to lose and everything to gain,” Harvick said. “Whatever it takes to gain is what you do on the racetrack and what you do off the racetrack. There’s really nothing else that matters at this point. Just throw it all out there and if it gets rough, it gets rough – if it doesn’t then we just go race and see where it all falls in the end.
“It’s still a no-pressure, no-lose situation for us and I like it. I like coming from behind. I like when people write us off — it’s kind of like or how everybody’s been my whole career. You just go out there and it’s fun to come up and see everybody after that.”
Petty teams ready for last two races
While the four Richard Petty Motorsports teams were prepping cars for the first NASCAR Sprint Cup practice at Phoenix International Raceway on Friday morning, the regular chain of command was nowhere to be found.
Robbie Loomis, executive director of racing operations, was scheduled in before qualifying. Sammy Johns, director of operations was preparing to run a half-Ironman in the Beach to Battleship Triathalon in Wilmington, N.C.
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Nestled in the lounge of the No. 43 transporter was Dr. Eric Warren, former technical director of Evernham Motorsports who revised his role at RPM specializing in simulation projects, who jokingly deferred responsibility to Mike Shiplett, crew chief of the No. 43 team.
“We’re here to sit on the pole and win the race,” Shiplett said, sounding like Loomis.
Shiplett is encouraged about this weekend’s activities after his driver, AJ Allmendinger, won the pole at Phoenix in April and finished 15th. And since Allmendinger participated in the Goodyear tire test at Homestead in September, Shiplett feels the team will be strong in the season finale next weekend.
“I think he’ll be good there,” Shiplett said. “He really liked the new tires — thought they had more grip and were able to fall off. When you have speed and fall off that makes for great racing. That puts the racing back in the driver’s hands.”
As far as whether RPM will have cars for next week, Shilplett says everything is right on schedule.
“We have our Homestead cars ready and are expecting delivery on the engines today,“ Shiplett said. “We’ll put the engines in on Monday, chassis dyno the cars on Tuesday, Wednesday we’ll do the final scales and the cars will be ready to go to Homestead.
Prior to Friday’s Sprint Cup practice, Roush Fenway Racing crew chief Greg Erwin placed an 18-inch strip of neon orange tape on the pit road wall just past the start-finish line.
The location? A timing line.
The reason? Greg Biffle is running a new tachometer on the No. 16 Ford this weekend.
NASCAR uses the timing lines on pit road to determine whether drivers are running at the given pit road speed. Drivers use their “tachs,” which display RPMs the same way street cars use speedometers.
NASCAR hasn’t been shy about handing out speeding penalties this year. If drivers are caught speeding during green-flag conditions, the sanctioning body levies a pass-through penalty. If they get busted under caution, drivers must line up at the end of the longest line. Either way, drivers lose valuable track position which is difficult to recover during the race.
In addition, If a driver is busted for speeding in an effort to beat the pace car and avoid going a lap down, like Kyle Busch last weekend at Texas, NASCAR will penalize drivers a lap.
“I wanted to test the tach out between the two lines,” Erwin said. “I don’t want to take a chance. It’s nothing more than I’m trying to cover my ass here.”
Dave Blaney hit a deer in Lexington, N.C., coming home from last week’s race at Texas Motor Speedway.
“I’m alive and the deer is dead, so I guess I won,” said Blaney. “I was driving a little Toyota Venza — which everyone tells me is a M.I.L.F.-mobile. It held up. It’s the first time I haven’t had a truck in like 12 years.”