Harvick may be in best position of all Chase drivers at PIR

1 Comment

Even though he’s last in the Chase standings, Kevin Harvick may very well be in the catbird’s seat heading into this weekend’s Quicken Loans For Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

Harvick is 18 points behind series leader Joey Logano. But with five career wins at what is arguably his favorite track on the Sprint Cup circuit, Harvick’s hopes to advance to the final round of the Chase may be in the right place at the right time at PIR.

Harvick certainly got a good start in the right direction, setting a new track record in Friday’s practice session, putting him at the top of the heap of the 44 drivers entered.

“We couldn’t pick a better race track for us to come to next and need to try and win a race,” Harvick said during Friday morning’s media availability at PIR. “We are really excited. The team is in good spirits, and we are looking forward to this weekend’s challenges.”

Harvick knows the easiest way for him to advance to the four-driver, winner-take-all battle for the championship next week at Homestead is by reaching victory lane this Sunday in Phoenix.

“I think you need to win this weekend,” Harvick said. ‘I think it would leave a lot less in everybody else’s hands. I think we are very capable of winning this race and we have been fortunate to have a lot of success here in the past from my driving side and the first race this year. That would be the easiest way to do it.”

When asked which drivers he envisions advancing to Homestead, Harvick quipped, “I never even thought about it.”

Not surprisingly, the majority of Friday’s session with the media wasn’t about Harvick’s championship hopes, but more his involvement – or lack thereof – in last Sunday’s brawl between Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski.

On the one hand, Harvick hopes the drama has ended and we can get back to serious racing Sunday.

“The competitor in me loves the controversy and loves the situations that it puts the competitors in,” Harvick said. “… But, live and learn, and you move on. That is the one thing about this sport is you have to get over things quickly.

“I think as you move forward you just have to do the best that you can to try to handle things different. All in all it was a good weekend for us (at Texas), but obviously afterwards it’s not the way you wanted it to end for us.”

Harvick was asked if he tried to incite Keselowski into fighting Gordon when he (Harvick) pushed Keselowski towards Gordon last Sunday on pit road after the race at Texas.

“Honestly, I was leaning on the back of the car just kind of taking it all in and seeing what was going on,” Harvick said. “I have been in that situation with him (Keselowski) before. For me it is like the week of two totally opposite situations.

“I have no problem with the way Brad races. I think he races hard. I think that is what we are all supposed to do and in those positions you would probably do the same thing yourself.

“But, I think that the problem that I have with it, I have been in that situation with him before and have him turn his back on me and just walk off. I don’t think that is the appropriate way to handle those types of situations.”

In other words, Harvick pushed Keselowski to man up and take care of business, rather than walk away from conflict.

“It just kind of rubbed me the wrong way and I reacted and obviously didn’t really realize that it was going to ignite that,” Harvick said. “All in all it just kind of rubs me the wrong way when you have to just turn your back on situations and walk off and mumble your way off into no man’s land and not just handle the situation.

“I think in those situations you at least deserve, even if you are going to get yelled at or whatever the case may be, you at least need to handle it like it needs to be handled.”

Having had several days to reflect upon his decision to push Keselowski, does Harvick regret essentially sparking the Texas brawl?

“I never look back on something as a regret,” Harvick said. “I think you look back on them as lessons. Things happen and you have to react.

“I think as you look at the situation you probably could have handled it differently. But all in all, you just take it as a life lesson and move on.”

Surprisingly, Harvick may be the only driver on the racetrack who stood up for the way Keselowski raced Gordon at Texas.

“I have no problem with the move,” Harvick said of the moment when Keselowski hit Gordon’s car, leading to a flat tire that knocked Gordon from having a chance at victory. ” I have no problem with the way that he raced.

“I just have a problem with the way that you know in those situations that there is going to be controversy when all that stuff happens.  In the end you can’t just turn your back and walk away and just act like it didn’t happen and blame it on somebody else.  It’s just not how it works.”

Will Harvick feel that way if the only thing between him and advancing to the championship-deciding finale at Homestead winds up being Keselowski?

Now that could be a whole different story.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

NHRA: Top 10 storylines of the 2019 season

NHRA
Leave a comment

The 2019 NHRA season wound up being one where there was almost as much news and highlights made off the drag strip as on it.

That was the case in two of the top four storylines for the recently completed season, with the top story occurring even before the first pass down a drag strip in competition took place.

We’ve also included a poll for you to vote and see if you agree with our picks or not.

Here’s how our top 10 looks:

1. A Force-ful departure: Just two weeks before the 2019 season was due to open, Funny Car driver Courtney Force, daughter of 16-time champion John Force, stunned the drag racing world by announcing she was taking a hiatus from the sport – although she insisted she was not retiring. The wife of IndyCar driver Graham Rahal, Force turned over her high dollar Advance Auto Parts sponsorship to sister and Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, who had previously been sponsored by Monster Energy. Courtney Force became the second high-profile female drag racer to step away from the sport in just over a year, joining fellow Funny Car driver Alexis DeJoria, who went on hiatus after the 2017 season. This past October, DeJoria announced she would return to full-time NHRA competition in 2020. But as for Courtney, she remains on hiatus for at least the time being.

2. Torrence’s Texas two-step: Proud Texas native Steve Torrence won his second consecutive Top Fuel championship in 2019, winning nine races (including eight in a nine-race stretch). While Torrence enjoyed an outstanding season in 2018, winning 11 races and becoming the first driver in NHRA history to win all six races in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs, he won just one playoff race in 2019. But he still managed to earn just enough points to hold off his closest rival, Doug Kalitta, by a mere three points for the second championship. Also of note: Steve’s father Billy finished a career-best fifth in the final standings, even though he competed in just 16 of the season’s 24 national events.

3. What happened to ‘The Sarge’? Tony Schumacher is the winningest Top Fuel driver in NHRA history, with eight championships and 84 national event wins. But he was essentially AWOL in 2019, failing to compete in even one race. The reason: sponsorship. Or more precisely, lack thereof. The U.S. Army, which had sponsored Schumacher for nearly 20 years – which prompted him to adopt the colorful nickname of “The Sarge” pulled its funding after the 2018 season, leaving Schumacher without a fully-funded ride for 2019. Rather than try to race piecemeal from race to race with limited sponsorship, the son of team owner Don Schumacher decided to watch the season from the sidelines. How Schumacher could not attract a new big dollar sponsor, given his domination and success in the Top Fuel class, is almost unfathomable. Unfortunately, it’s looking like Schumacher – who turns 50 on Christmas Day – may remain sidelined in 2020.

John Force

4. A Force to be reckoned with once again: Even though he fell short of adding to his record 16 NHRA Funny Car championships, the 2019 season was definitely one of resurgence for John Force, the sport’s winningest and most popular driver ever. Force, who turned 70 years old in May, isn’t letting age slow him down, earning two wins during the season – including a milestone 150th Funny Car victory of his career – and finished fourth in the standings (up from ninth in 2018, seventh in 2017, and his best finish since he ended up fourth in 2016).

Robert Hight

5. At the Hight of his success: Robert Hight isn’t flashy or verbose as his boss, John Force. But when he’s not working as president of John Force Racing, the soft-spoken Hight has become one of the premier drivers in Funny Car history. In 2019, he earned his third Funny Car championship – his second in the last three seasons and third since 2009. Along the way, he captured six wins, was runner-up three other times, reached the semifinals five times and led all drivers as the No. 1 qualifier for eight races (a full one-third of the season). This was perhaps the most dominant championship of all for Hight, including leading the Funny Car standings for 23 of the 24-race season.

Erica Enders

6. Erica’s baaaaccckkkk: Erica Enders is back on top of her game, and on top of the Pro Stock category, earning her third championship in the last six seasons (and first since 2015). Admittedly, her championship came in the first year of a shortened Pro Stock schedule, having been cut from a full 24 races to just 18. Still, the Texas native won two races, finished runner-up three other times and reached the semifinals four other times. Also of note, Enders’ Elite Motorsports teammate, five-time Pro Stoc champ Jeg Coughlin Jr., came oh, so close to winning his sixth title, finishing just 21 points behind Enders in the final standings.

Doug Kalitta

7. What does he have to do to win first championship? Doug Kalitta came the closest he ever has to earning the first Top Fuel championship of his 20-year drag racing career, finishing just three points behind Steve Torrence in the Top Fuel rankings. It was almost heartbreaking as Kalitta seemingly did everything he needed to do to win the championship, including winning the season-ending race in Pomona, California, one of three wins he earned (as well as two runner-up finishes and six semifinal showings). Kalitta began the season with a win at Pomona, as well. But Torrence came into the season-ending event at Pomona with just enough of a lead (and reached the semifinals) to hold off Kalitta’s challenge. How close was Kalitta from winning the championship? If he had advanced one more round in any of the six playoff races, he would have bested Torrence. Unfortunately, in a sense, Kalitta – nephew of legendary NHRA team owner and racer Connie Kalitta – has become the Mark Martin of NHRA Top Fuel: always a bridesmaid but never a bride when it comes to winning a championship. But there’s still hope, Kalitta fans: he’s going to give it another try in 2020. Maybe that will be his year – finally.

Andrew Hines

8. He’s one heck of an easy rider: Andrew Hines made it look easy in 2019 – although it was far from it – when he earned his sixth career NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle championship (and first since 2015). Son of past PSM champion Byron Hines, Andrew Hines enjoyed one of the most dominating seasons ever of his career — not to mention one of the most dominating seasons in the Pro Stock Motorcycle category — winning eight of the 16 PSM events contested, along with earning two runner-up and three semifinal finishes. Hines held off 2016 PSM champ Jerry Savoie by 26 points and 2018 champ Matt Smith by 46 points.

JR Todd

9. What a difference a year makes: JR Todd had an exceptional season in 2018, with six wins, two runner-up finishes and six semifinal showings. Not surprisingly, the Indiana native went on to win the Funny Car championship that season for Kalitta Motorsports. But one year later, Todd was seemingly an afterthought when it came to challenging for the Funny Car crown once again. For as good as he was in 2018, Todd struggled through much of the 2019 season with just one win, three runner-up and two other semifinal finishes, ultimately finishing seventh in the standings, a distant 246 points behind series champ Robert Hight, who was second to Todd in 2018.

Austin Prock

10. Strong start for sport’s top rookie: When your father is renowned crew chief Jimmy Prock, it’s clear that the apple hasn’t fallen too far from the tree. Such is the case of Austin Prock, who finished his first season in Top Fuel by earning NHRA’s rookie of the year honors. The younger Prock finished eighth in the Top Fuel season standings, including one win and five semifinal finishes driving for John Force Racing. Ironically, he finished one spot higher than three-time Top Fuel champ Antron Brown, who had a rough season, finishing ninth in the standings, with no wins, two runner-up showings and reached the semifinals just five times.

Follow @JerryBonkowski