Roger Diez: Harvick team doesn’t accommodate rule book
There are two major championships still on the line in the 2018 racing season, one in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and one in Formula One. Although Lewis Hamilton has clinched the F1 world drivers’ championship, the constructor’s title is still in play. With two more races to go, Ferrari still has a mathematical chance to overtake Mercedes for the constructor’s crown. Heading into the Brazilian Grand Prix this weekend, Ferrari trails by 55 points. If they score 1-2 finishes at both Brazil and the season finale at Abu Dhabi and Mercedes fails to score more than 11 points in those two rounds, Ferrari would win. In reality, the likelihood is Mercedes will score more than 12 points on Sunday, and that would clinch the deal. It will be the fifth championship in a row for the team and Mercedes’ seventh as an engine supplier.
Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup race at ISM Speedway in Arizona will decide the final three drivers to compete for the 2018 championship next week at Miami/Homestead. Yes, three, because an L1 penalty due to an illegal spoiler at Texas has resulted in Kevin Harvick’s win not counting toward advancement to the Final Four. The No. 4 Ford Stewart-Haas Racing Ford was also docked 40 owner and driver points, and crew chief Rodney Childers and car chief Robert Smith have been suspended for the remainder of the season. In addition, Childers was fined $75,000. Stewart-Haas Racing’s Vice President of Competition Greg Zipadelli said the team wouldn’t appeal the penalty, stating “NASCAR determined we ventured into an area not accommodated by its rule book.” That’s a politically correct way of saying “We got caught.” Added NASCAR Vice President of Competition Scott Miller, “Teams should be bringing legal cars to the race track, and we shouldn’t have to do those inspections all the time. … I think we’re getting in the borderline ridiculous territory.” Two other teams were docked 20 driver and owner points at Texas. The No. 12 Penske Ford of Ryan Blaney and the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Erik Jones also drew L1 penalties, but those don’t affect the championship as neither are in the round of eight.
So Joey Logano is the only driver locked into the final race by virtue of his Martinsville win. Harvick, rather than being locked in, is now only three points above the cut line and in danger of not making the Final Four. That leaves Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. in good shape, 28 and 25 points above the cut line respectively. They only need a decent finish on Sunday to advance to the championship round.
Fortunately for Harvick, he has pretty much owned Phoenix International Raceway in recent years, winning nine times there, and seven of the last 12 races. Now that it’s been re-named ISM Raceway, he put his stamp on the new name by winning this past May. The only other recent winners among active drivers are Matt Kenseth (back in the No. 6 Roush-Fenway Ford this weekend) and Ryan Newman, who split the 2017 races between them. The only other active driver to win at the one-mile oval is Jimmie Johnson, who scored four victories between 2007 and 2009.
Finally, the first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup silly season domino has fallen. The long-rumored new home of Martin Truex Jr. and crew chief Cole Pearn will be the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota for 2019. The team has confirmed Truex will replace Daniel Suarez for 2019. Rumors have Suarez moving to the No. 41 SHR Ford, but no confirmation as yet from that organization.