Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch were headliners in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway
By Darrell Waltrip FoxSports
Congratulations to Kevin Harvick on his big win at Kansas on Sunday. That’s his third win of the year, which by the way, is also his last year at Richard Childress Racing. It’s been well-documented that he will be driving for Tony Stewart and Gene Haas next year. Sunday also saw Kevin move up to third in the points, and he now is 25 back of leader Matt Kenseth.
I hadn’t looked at Kevin’s career stats lately but when I did, I thought it interesting in what I found. I never realized in 460 starts that Kevin has only won six poles. That’s amazing because I surely thought he had won more poles than that. If I were Kevin, I’d work on winning more poles, because Sunday marked the third time of the six that he has won a race from the pole.
Kevin has been in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series since 2001 and Sunday marked his 22nd win. Sunday’s win sure was a dominating performance from Kevin and his No. 29 Budweiser team. He led more laps Sunday (138) than he has led the entire year.
It was a great performance from Kevin and the team. He and crew chief Gil Martin had brought a new car to Kansas. They were able to get that new car working really, really well on the multi-zone tire that Goodyear had brought for the weekend. As a whole, the drivers had only seen this tire in a race one previous time this season, and that was back on Labor Day weekend in Atlanta.
I have to be honest, I was concerned when I heard Goodyear was bringing this tire back. It wasn’t so much the tire as it was the timing. Even though they had run it at Atlanta, which is also a high-banked mile-and-a-half track, you can’t say Atlanta and Kansas are the same simply because of their length.
The two obvious differences between the two tracks is Kansas doesn’t have nearly the banking of Atlanta. The surface at Atlanta is worn out while the Kansas track surface is fairly new and still has a lot of grip. I just wasn’t comfortable with the timing of bringing this tire back for only its second race and doing it during the Chase when there is so much on the line.
Unfortunately, the tire was just too hard. The problem with a harder tire is you simply can’t race anybody. Time and time again on Sunday we saw the drivers try to get around each other, lose the car and spin out. Obviously, Kevin and Gil were able to hit on the combination that their car liked with this new tire and they ended up in Victory Circle.
Face it, there were 15 cautions Sunday in Kansas, which is a record. Seventy one of the 267 laps of the race were run under caution. That’s just way too many laps to be running under caution. The tire, the track and the cool temperatures simply weren’t suited for each other. So when you heard folks talking about track position, it probably was more critical last Sunday than I have seen it in a long time.
Kyle Busch just had a horrible weekend and the end result was it damaged his chances to win his first NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. He wrecked his primary car, he gets into Brad Keselowski’s quarterpanel and spun Brad out in the Nationwide race on Saturday and then Kyle gets wrecked out on Sunday.
In one race, Kyle went from third position only 12 out of the lead, to now fifth spot and 35 points behind Matt Kenseth. That is a lot of ground to make up with only six races to go in the season. I’m not saying he can’t do it, but Sunday in Kansas sure made his job a lot harder.
You know, the tone of the day is set when they throw the green flag and Danica wrecks in the first turn of the first lap. Like I mentioned earlier, 14 cautions later and there we are at a new track record for cautions.
Matt Kenseth didn’t have the greatest of days. I know he was looking for his third Kansas victory, but it wasn’t meant to be. He came home 11th, which was just good enough to keep the points lead. Don’t look now, though, but that lead has shrunk to only three points over Jimmie Johnson.
Jimmie has to be thanking his lucky stars because with only about a lap and a half to go in the race something happened to his engine, but he was able to still limp it around and finish sixth. Can you imagine if that had happened only a few laps earlier or happened a lot earlier in the race? If it had, Jimmie would probably have found himself buried down there in the running order with Kyle and we’d be talking about a whole new look to this year’s Chase.
We have some of those wild-card races coming up where just about anything can happen and usually does. In the six remaining races this year we have Talladega and Martinsville, where your fortunes can change in a blink of an eye. I also think you need to throw Phoenix in that mix. It’s our next-to-the-last race of the season and I can see that one-mile flat track possibly shaking the Chase up, as well.
I still am of the belief that once again by the time we get to Homestead for our final event, we will be down to a two-driver race with a third driver having a long shot at the title if all the stars line up correctly for him at Homestead. It has played out like this for years. This year the two drivers are Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson. They’ve been the most consistent. They run up front. They’ve won the most races this year, so it’s only natural that they are first and second in the points.
Both are past champions. Both are calm and cool. I think the quote, “You have to play with emotion but you can’t let emotion play with you,” fits both drivers like a glove. Both of those guys never let the highs get too high while at the same time never letting the lows get too low. That’s a great quality to have as a driver.
Definitely want to send get-well messages to my buddy Dario Franchitti. He was in a huge accident in the IndyCar Grand Prix of Houston. He’s in the hospital down there suffering from a concussion, broken ankle and broken vertebra. So we send our prayers to him and the two fans that were injured.
Also want to give best wishes to my buddy Tony Stewart. He had his third operation on his right leg following his August crash in Iowa at a sprint car race. Tony’s plans are to rehab the rest of this year, early next year and be ready for the Daytona 500. I know I, for one, miss him out there on Sundays mixing it up with the other drivers.
October is always a big month for Silly Season in our sport. One thing I find interesting about this year’s silly season is the inclusion of crew chiefs into the mix. We already know that Rodney Childers is not returning to Michael Waltrip Racing. Now crew chief of the No. 56 car, Chad Johnston has asked for his release at the end of the year. Nick Harrison has already left Phoenix Racing and has gone over to Richard Childress Racing to take over the crew chief role on their No. 33 Nationwide car. So a lot of drivers are looking for new homes and now a lot of crew chiefs are, too.
This is just a by-product of the pressure that exists in our sport. These guys have families to support. They want to be on a winning team and be part of a winning organization. So lots of moving and shaking going on in our sport right now, and as I call it – “As the Wheel Turns” continues with stop No. 5 in the Chase Saturday night under the lights at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
I am looking forward to being over there. Track president Marcus Smith and his crowd always put on a great show for the fans. The drivers and teams love it because it’s basically a “home” race and they get to sleep in their own beds for a weekend. I’m headed to Charlotte this week. I have some sponsor functions and am also going to be doing some work for FOX Sports 1.
This has always been my favorite time of year. Brisk mornings, beautiful days and I love coming over to Charlotte or going to Martinsville this time of year with all the fall leafs changing color. Then in a couple weeks a lot of the NASCAR folks will be coming over to Franklin, Tenn., for our Fourth Annual Waltrip Brothers Charity Championship. The proceeds this year are going to Feed the Children, Motor Racing Outreach and Charlie Daniels Scholarships for Heroes, so we’re sure looking forward to that. Sure hope you can join us Oct. 23 and Oct. 24 as we raise funds for three great charities.