Kevin Harvick’s bid to win his fourth straight race of the young 2018 cup season came to an abrupt end last week at California Speedway and it was all his fault.
Let’s not call him stupid, but there’s not a more appropriate description of a driver trying to bully another 20 laps into a race. Harvick got upset with the way he thought Kyle Larson was racing him, and when he tried to send a message by driving down onto Larson’s car, it was Harvick who ended up hitting the way. He’d finish 35th, nine laps down.
The thing that makes Harvick’s poor decision even more stupid is he had a car that was passing several good cars in front of him after starting 10th. His battle with Larson, who had won the past four races on two-mile tracks, was for fourth-place. The chassis he was using was the one that led 292 laps at Atlanta last season before getting penalized late while leading. It might have been the best car on the track once again. It might have put Harvick in elite company in NASCAR, but we’ll have to just speculate on might have been had Harvick made better choices.
The NASCAR west coast swing is over and now the series moves onto Martinsville Speedway for the sixth race of the season and first on a short track. Martinsville has a flat-half-mile layout and it is a track that, other than the two road courses, has the driver being almost an equal component to the car. The car is everything at most tracks with the driver being maybe 30 percent of the equation, but Martinsville is tough.
Think about 500 laps with four left turns pulling the driver’s shoulder on the steering wheel as he attempts to maximize full speed without using too much brake. It’s like a 1/8-mile drag strip on the short straight-away where drivers mash the pedal and just as they max RPM it, they have to slow down and make the tight turn and then do it all over again on the other side.
That comes out to 1,000 little drag races throughout the race, that is if a driver makes it through the race. Because it’s the slowest oval on the circuit – pole speed was 96 mph last fall, drivers feel safer and have no problem settling issues or moving drivers over by force because risk of injury is minimal compared to other tracks. There is lots of punting going on at Martinsville and because of the attitude involved and tone it sets for the race, I do believe it’s my favorite track on the circuit.
And I certainly need some excitement in NASCAR. All has been good so far betting-wise. I’ve shown a profit the past four weeks, but something is missing in the sport. There are no storylines and the rivalries are kind of weak. I saw the stands at California on a beautiful Sunday afternoon and it was apparent the beach was more popular. What is happening? Where are all the fans?
Could it be the torch carried by Dale Earnhardt fans that passed onto Dale Earnhardt Jr. has left many of them with no one to root for on Sundays? That’s a huge portion. Junior’s retired now, and Chase Elliott doesn’t just immediately pick up the slack. Who is that guy to take over? Is it Harvick, is it one of the young guns?
I think NASCAR leadership has dropped the ball in many areas and jsut figured things will work out, and the effect now is because of not having a long term plan. They came into the season not knowing if Monster Energy would continue sponsoring the Cup Series. They didn’t get a pole sponsorship until last week. That’s a lack of organization by NASCAR. That’s stuff that happens to minor league ballparks.
For some reason Yahoo! dumped its NASCAR fantasy leagues, which I played the past 20 years. Lowe’s Home Improvement will not sponsor Jimmie Johnson’s car after this season and they’ve been with him since he was a rookie in 2002. There used to be 43 drivers, but last week there were only 37. And the ratings are down. Tiger Woods’ return to form two weeks ago gave golf a rating just as high as the Daytona 500.
Yes, NASCAR has a major problem on their hands and its current $8 billion network deal runs through 2024. Then what? Netflix or Amazon? Pay-per-view? Unless something changes, Fox and NBC won’t be dishing out $8 billion in the next deal. I’ll be hooked on NASCAR forever, so they don’t have to worry about me, but there’s an audience that is being lost with no attempt to get back.
And what about kids? I went into a Toys-R-Us before they shut down and tried to get a few Hot Wheels NASCAR cars for my nephew and there weren’t any. How could that be? How could they not have a contract with a toymaker to make NASCAR toys for kids?
Anyway, Martinsville is awesome and I’ll bet Harvick doesn’t win, either. His 2011 win is his only win there in 33 starts. Jimmie Johnson is the active leader with nine wins, 2,863 laps led and a 7.6 average finish. His team is struggling right now, but this is the place where his skills can make up for the deficiencies of their engine program. Native Virginian Denny Hamlin is a five-time winner in 24 starts and Las Vegans Kurt and Kyle Busch have both won twice each. Kyle has won two of the past four races there, including last fall. And that’s it for drivers with multiple wins at Martinsville.