Weekend wrap: Kevin Harvick, Enders-Stevens headline title weekends for NASCAR, NHRA

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Your 2014 NASCAR national series champions – Chase Elliott (left, Nationwide), Kevin Harvick (center, Sprint Cup), and Matt Crafton (right, Camping World Truck). Credit: Getty Images.

If this year’s NASCAR Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway was a movie, then it’s clear that the ending saved it.

All Matt Crafton had to do to secure the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title was finish 21st in their season finale on Friday. He came home a steady ninth to become that division’s first-ever back-to-back champion.

The next day’s finale for the NASCAR Nationwide/XFINITY Series ended with Matt Kenseth winning in green-white-checkered, but much of the buzz had already been sapped since super-rookie Chase Elliott had already clinched the series title at Phoenix the week before.

However, the third act – Sunday’s Ford Ecoboost 400 and the final battle for the Sprint Cup between Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin, and Joey Logano – was sensational.

Every member of that Championship 4 ran strong with all of them running in the Top 5 at one point during the race. But everything changed following a caution flag with 20 laps to go.

During the subsequent pit stop sequence, Hamlin stayed out to take the title lead, Newman took two tires to beat everyone out of the pits, Logano’s car fell off the jack and ruined his hopes, and Harvick took four tires and dropped to 12th.

But multiple late yellows doomed Hamlin and crew chief Darian Grubb’s gamble – and eventually allowed both Harvick and Newman to settle the issue among themselves in a three-lap sprint.

With the outside line having been the preferred one all night long, Harvick chose it for the last restart and was able to hold off Newman on the inside.

That was effectively the ball game as Harvick went on to win the race and his first Cup championship in style. It was also a just reward for his crew chief, Rodney Childers (who made the late four-tire call), and perhaps a balm for winning team owner Tony Stewart after what has been the most difficult year of his life.

But most importantly, it was a validation of Harvick’s faith in Stewart-Haas Racing that they would give him all the resources he’d need to win the title as well as the fate that brought him together with Childers and the 4 team, which basically built itself up on its own.

Meanwhile, Brian France and Co. can look back and smile at how their new Chase format fared in its first year. The opening Challenger Round basically played out as we thought it would, but from there, the drama and intensity continued to grow with each race.

And Sunday’s outcome was ideal for the sport. Harvick, who won five times and had been regarded as the fastest driver throughout the season, got the championship.

It’s also worth noting that if Newman – who, it must be noted, showed a remarkable amount of restraint at the finish and class in defeat – had beaten Harvick, he wouldn’t have been the dreaded “winless champion” that could have created a completely different memory of this Chase.

Some purists will continue to howl, no doubt. And a sense of purity is important to have. But we all knew that when the new Chase was rolled out, entertainment was the main goal.

Were you not entertained?

If so, then that’s all NASCAR needs to know.

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Erica Enders-Stevens (center) made history in the NHRA’s season finale. Credit: AP.

Also crowning its champions this weekend was the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series in Pomona, California. The quartet of eventual class victors was headlined by Erica Enders-Stevens, who became the first female to take the NHRA’s Pro Stock class title and just the third female overall (Shirley Muldowney – Top Fuel, Angelle Sampey – Pro Stock Motorcycle) to win an NHRA pro-level title.

In Funny Car, Matt Hagan denied John Force a 17th FC title in the elimination races before dispatching the legend in the final to take the Pomona race win. Tony Schumacher locked up the Top Fuel title on Saturday but was denied a race win by Morgan Lucas in Sunday’s TF final, and in PSM, Andrew Hines secured the crown over teammate Eddie Krawiec.

Check out Jerry Bonkowski’s full report on Sunday’s Pomona action here.

Attention NASCAR teams: IMSA drivers available for Daytona!

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NASCAR will be making its debut on the Daytona International Speedway road course next month, and there’s a big fan who’d like to join the historic weekend.

This fan actually has impressive credentials, too — a few thousand laps around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile layout that annually plays host to the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

In 2014, the winning GTLM team in the sports car endurance classic included IMSA Porsche driver Nick Tandy, who rabidly has followed NASCAR for more than 30 years since growing up in England.

So why not try racing NASCAR? Especially because Tandy has the weekend of Aug. 14-16 free.

He’s not picky, either — offering up his services on Twitter (as well as those of Porsche teammate Earl Bamber) for an ARCA, Xfinity, trucks or Cup ride.

Tandy’s affinity for American stock-car racing runs deep.

His first trip to the World Center of Racing was as a fan attending the 50th running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17, 2008. During Rolex testing in January, Tandy, 35, said he hadn’t missed a Cup race on TV in 15 years.

Among his favorite NASCAR drivers: the Earnhardts, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch. When IMSA ran the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in 2014, Tandy stayed a few extra days at the Brickyard and bought Kyle Busch gear for himself and his children.

He briefly took the stage during a NASCAR weekend last October. After IMSA’s season finale at Road Atlanta, Tandy made a few demonstration laps and a burnout in his No. 911 Porsche before the Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

He also has some experience in stock cars, having raced Modified-type grass-roots series on England’s quarter-mile short tracks.

Couple that with a Daytona road course record that includes two consecutive podium class finishes (including last Saturday) and a sports car resume with 13 IMSA victories and an overall win in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans … and maybe a NASCAR team should take a look.

And Tandy isn’t the only IMSA driver who likely would be available.

Corvette driver Jordan Taylor, who won the 2017 Rolex 24 overall title with Jeff Gordon as a teammate (and the inspiration for his Rodney Sandstrom persona), also tweeted his availability for the weekend on the high banks.

Sports car veteran Andy Lally, a GTD driver with multiple class wins in the Rolex 24 as well as 38 Cup starts (he was the 2011 rookie of the season in NASCAR’s premier series), also hung out his shingle.

There also is AIM Vasser Sullivan’s Jack Hawksworth (who just won at Daytona last Saturday), the Englishman who teamed with Kyle Busch at the Rolex 24 in January and made an Xfinity start at Mid-Ohio last year with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Many sports car drivers (such as Taylor) already live in Florida, and many are hunkering down in the Sunshine State with IMSA returning to action at Daytona last week and Sebring International Raceway next week. Because of COVID-19-related travel concerns and restrictions, several IMSA stars who live outside the country are riding out the pandemic within a few hours of Daytona with nothing to do.

Why not a weekend at the World Center of Racing?

Over the years, scads of “road-course ringers” (including some Formula One veterans) have tried their hands in stock cars at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International.

How about considering the many sports car drivers who already have reached victory lane at Daytona by making a few right-hand turns, too?