Watch for Kevin Harvick, RCR in Vegas
I think we are off to another great season of racing on NASCAR on FOX. You have to tip your hat to Richard Childress Racing for making a huge rebound from 2009. Here they are after only two races leading the Sprint Cup points.
It makes you wonder if they will be like Roush Fenway Racing's Matt Kenseth, who came out firing in 2009, won the first two races of the year and then basically disappeared for the rest of the season. He also failed to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the first time ever last year. Will the RCR bunch flame out like that or will they be strong all season long and be a legitimate title contender?
After this weekend, teams across the board will have a better feel of how their prospects for this season look. This will be the third race in a row at a different style track in as many weeks. Las Vegas will be the shortest track of the three. It’s a 1.5-mile track with banking so that will present another challenge to the engineering folks on these teams.
On Sunday, the teams will get another look at whether they have built better cars. They will not only find out if they have better horsepower but more important, will that horsepower last. So that’s some new unknowns we need to follow this weekend at Las Vegas.
The other storyline is — what else? — Jimmie Johnson. It was a huge rebound from Daytona for him, winning last weekend in California. Naturally, at every track we go to for the rest of the season, it will be asked whether Jimmie’s march for a fifth straight Cup championship is possible.
If I have Toyota power under the hood, I would be a little nervous. They’ve had some engine issues, but no one has been able to put their finger on why yet. So could they have engine issues this weekend? Right now, you have to think it is quite possible.
The other trend we have seen in recent years is whoever comes out of the first five races of the season strong is a real contender come Chase time. It seems the one that gets that consistency and momentum going, it carries right on through the hardest part of the season, which I still consider the summer months. That’s the period, to me, that gets really intense and makes or breaks your season.
Another storyline worth following is Ryan Newman. He has had issues already this year. Can he be like Mark Martin was last season and bounce back? Stewart-Haas had a fairy-tale start as a race team last year, though Newman struggled in the opening races. Will it be just that — a fairy tale — or will they be solid? There are a lot of unanswered questions right now. We can speculate all we want, but the proof will play out on the race track.
It all comes back to the bottom-line question: Of all the teams out there, who made the most and the right changes to challenge Hendrick Motorsports? Who has done enough to put their team on the mark? Most don’t know yet. Some are still nervous. Some, like Roush Fenway Racing, wasted no time in making changes already.
This is a business that never stands still. I think car owners, now more than ever, realize there is something to be said about combinations and chemistry. They realize you don’t have to give it a long period of time anymore before you realize it isn’t working. Owners are less tolerant than ever of folks not getting along and not working as a team with a common goal.
It wasn’t like that in the past. Back then, you gave people time to adapt, gel, sort out their differences and come together as one. With the engineers in play today, they can get the car close. Then it falls to the crew chief to fine-tune it. If he can’t get it to come out the way the team needs it to, the owners today have no hesitation in making a change.
In today’s economy, when sponsorships are at a premium, these owners can’t wait. They can’t give the time to see if the chemistry develops. They need things to happen today.
Since we are in Las Vegas, my big money bet this weekend is Kevin Harvick. Kevin seems like he is hungry again. No matter what he crawls behind the wheel of, Kevin is making things happen. He ran good last week but just had a bad break. He showed me he was ready to race all day long and the guys did a great job on pit road.
So come Sunday in Las Vegas, my money is on Kevin Harvick.