Harvick: Rookies struggle now because Nationwide, Trucks are “too slow”

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Rookies haven’t had a particularly easy time of breaking into the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in recent years. However, series debutantes are in the spotlight for this weekend’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway as three drivers will be making their Cup debuts.

Chip Ganassi’s top prodigy Kyle Larson and Richard Childress Racing development driver Brian Scott have been previously announced as entrants for Charlotte this Saturday night. Blake Koch is a late add to those two, in the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Ford.

Kevin Harvick, who won in only his third ever Sprint Cup start (Atlanta, 2001, in a memorable photo finish over Jeff Gordon), said it’s harder for younger drivers to come in because the cars in the Nationwide Series and trucks in the Camping World Truck Series simply don’t measure up to Cup cars.

“There’s not as good of a training ground as there used to be,” Harvick said Thursday at Charlotte. “The Nationwide cars and Trucks are so slow. The Cup car and the driving style is so drastically different, so it makes the experience of Cup drivers more valuable. When I started, the cars were more similar. We raced on same tire pretty much every week and cars were faster. It would be good for our sport for the guys coming in – Larson I hope will be successful – and do what he needs to do. The chances aren’t there as much to take chances on the younger guys. The training ground not as good as it used to be.”

Five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson added the comparative lack of testing is also an issue.

“For me it’s more the limited testing,” he said. “I got 24 test days to sort stuff out. We didn’t race at Martinsville yet, or Pocono, so we could test there and get me up to speed.”

Johnson’s first full season was in 2002; this weekend marks 12 years since his Cup debut in the fall race at Charlotte in 2001. Johnson’s team could test at Martinsville and Pocono because the No. 48 team was not yet a full-time entrant. When teams reach that full-time status, they can only test at tracks that do not hold Sprint Cup races, as Martinsville and Pocono do.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

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Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

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Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.