Kevin Harvick wins at Charlotte while Keselowski, Johnson and Earnhardt on brink of elimination

1 Comment

CHARLOTTE – The law of averages caught up with Kevin Harvick in Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

After suffering several issues in recent weeks, from bad tires to parts failure to slow pit stops, Harvick’s bad luck of late finally turned good, dominating en route to his first win of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

“It feels great, to be honest with you,” Harvick said in an understatement to ESPN in Victory Lane. “Everybody on our team just continue to build better race cars. We know we’ve had the cars to run up front, lead laps and to do the things we need to do.

“But things just haven’t gone right. We made some mistakes and things hadn’t gone right more than not. … This is the night that we needed to win.

“We figured this was going to be the hardest round to get through because of Talladega, there’s so much you can’t control there.”

Harvick, who led 162 of the race’s 334 laps, is now guaranteed a berth in the upcoming Eliminator Round. As a result, he doesn’t have to worry about where he finishes in next Sunday’s race at Talladega, the final event in the current Contender Round.

“I won’t be anorexic and throwing up this week,” Harvick laughed in his post-race media session. “Talladega is going to be so crazy. If everyone is going to be in the same kind of offensive mind that they were tonight, they may have to move some of the seats back.”

Harvick’s crew chief Rodney Childers, made the call of the race when on the final caution with five laps remaining, told Harvick to stay out on the track and not pit for tires or fuel.

“It was definitely the right decision to stay out,” Harvick said. “I saw them fan out two or three wide there at the end. But you never know what’s right and what’s wrong. I’ve won this race on two tires, I’ve won this race on four tires and now no tires.

“It’s always interesting to see what that strategy is and where everybody’s head is, but those guys (crew chiefs) have a much better perception on what’s going to happen on the pit box because they hear the radio chatter and they hear everything that’s going on. You just believe in what those guys are doing, and you listen to them on the restart and pick your best lane and hope it all works out, and it did tonight.”

Jeff Gordon finished second, followed by Jamie McMurray, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch.

“Kevin was tough,” Gordon said. “I knew when he got out in front, he was going to be tough to beat.”

Sixth through 10th were Kyle Larson, Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Kasey Kahne.

Chase standings after Charlotte:
1. Joey Logano
2. Kyle Busch -6
3. Kevin Harvick -7
4. Ryan Newman -11
5. Carl Edwards -12
6. Jeff Gordon -14
7. Denny Hamlin -15
8. Kasey Kahne -31
9. Matt Kenseth -32
10. Brad Keselowski -50
11. Jimmie Johnson -57
12. Dale Earnhardt Jr. -57 

As good as Harvick’s luck was, it was the exact opposite for Brad Keselowski (finished 16th), Jimmie Johnson (17th) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (20th).

Keselowski remains 10th in the Chase standings, unofficially 50 points out of first and 19 points out of eighth, while Johnson and Earnhardt are tied for 11th, both 57 points out of first and 26 points out of eighth place.

All three drivers are in a must-win situation heading to Talladega.

Earnhardt’s championship hopes are now on life support after the shifter lever in his Chevrolet snapped off about one-third of the way through the race.

Earnhardt had to work with an improvised shifter for much of the race, but the damage was done.

“We had a bad vibration,” Earnhardt said. “The vibration broke the shifter in half. It just wasn’t a good night. The car wasn’t handling well and the vibration was giving us a lot of problems.”

Tempers flared after the race, with two drivers wanting a piece of Keselowski. And Tony Stewart got his pound of flesh by backing up and slamming into the front end of Keselowski’s car on pit road after Keselowski appeared to inadvertently hit Stewart’s car.

Then came the temper issues.

First, Keselowski appeared to intentionally run into Denny Hamlin’s car on the final lap. Then, Keselowski ran into the rear of Matt Kenseth’s car on pit road.

“He just plowed into us,” Hamlin said. “(Keselowski’s) just out of control. He’s desperate, obviously, and ie’ts either four or five us are wrong or he’s wrong because he’s pissed off everyone. … He was just acting like a dumbass instead of a champion.”

When asked what he expects from Keselowski next week at Talladega, Hamlin again did not mince words.

“My guess is that he will probably try to wreck everyone, that’s his only shot,” Hamlin said. “He’ll just be out of control like normal. … Luckily (when Keselowski hit him on the final lap) it didn’t cause us to wreck. If it would have caused us to wreck, I’d be waiting for him right now.”

Kenseth wasn’t waiting, he went hunting for Keselowski and both the No. 20 and No. 2 teams erupted into a brawl between team haulers in the garage area.

“When Matt Kenseth loses his temper,

Gordon remarked with a smile about the incident, saying, “How about this drama? I’m loving this new format.”

On Lap 246, Danica Patrick tangled with Joey Logano and almost collected Ryan Newman in the process. Patrick suffered moderate damage while Logano had only minor damage.

But Logano did not endear himself to Patrick, prompting the latter to say over her team radio, “I’d love to go out and take him out.”

She received a response from some unidentified team member, who replied, “Go ahead.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
Leave a comment

As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”