John Haverlin from the New Mexico Motorsports Report joins me from ISM Raceway to help sort through everything we saw during Sunday’s Cup race.
By John Haverlin
If Kyle Larson’s final pit stop were a mere tenth of a second quicker, he probably would have beaten Brad Keselowski off pit road and won the Southern 500.
Larson’s No. 42 car had looked untouchable all night. He swept the first two stages and led 284 of the 367 laps at Darlington. But when it came down to the key moment of the race, it was Keselowski’s crew that turned a lightning-fast stop instead of Larson’s.
Once again, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver came away with a frustrating ending to what could have been a perfect night. For two consecutive races, he’s settled for something short of what he might’ve deserved. It’s not that his pit crew was bad during the race; it just didn’t have the extra bit of speed necessary to top Keselowski’s group.
“We didn’t get beat off pit road by much, but it was enough,” Larson said. “Being the control car at any racetrack is huge, and we just didn’t have that. … Just lost a little bit of our edge there for the restart and I was pretty loose on that last run and lost a lot of ground there.”
Although he didn’t dominate Bristol two weeks ago, he was the pole winner and finished second to Kurt Busch. For the final 13 laps of that race, he pushed as hard as he could to catch the Stewart-Haas Racing car.
The Bristol night race is an event Larson has said is the one he wants to win more than anything in NASCAR — other than maybe the Daytona 500. It was agonizing for him to not win after going to victory lane the day before in the Bristol Xfinity Series race.
Now to come up short again after dominating one of NASCAR’s most historic races is just another punch in the gut.
But Larson sees the silver lining: He gained two playoff points and earned 54 of a possible 60 points overall. That’s the type of performance that can help him in a few weeks when the competition intensifies during the postseason.
“We got some stage points, which is good for the playoffs,” he said. “Disappointed, but happy about the car we brought.”
So was there a difference for the No. 2 team during the race? Well, actually there was.
Winning crew chief Paul Wolfe admitted the pit crew did something new, but he wouldn’t reveal the secret.
“If you watch closely, you’ll probably see a difference, but I’m not going to talk about it a lot,” he said. “We’ve had an up-and-down year on pit road, and we continue to try and work on that and get better. We did some different things tonight, and we’re still learning — a good bit of confidence for those guys going into the playoffs.”
Keselowski’s Ford was a top-five car all night, and Team Penske finished 1-2, so you can’t take that away from Joey Logano and his race-winning teammate. Penske has been a ‘B’ team compared to the Big Three of Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. most of the year, but it found something in the setups this weekend that no one else could replicate.
“I’ve got to give a lot of credit to my pit crew,” Keselowski said. “We were running second and that last stop they nailed it and got us out in the lead. I thought Kyle was really good, and he was flat-out flying. … In 2015, we led a bunch of laps and lost it on the last pit stop, and today my team won it on the last pit stop.”
Does Keselowski know what his team did to help him beat Larson off pit lane?
“I’m not privy to that information, so I couldn’t tell you,” he said. “But I’ll take it, whatever it was.”
By John Haverlin
Ross Chastain wouldn’t say whether he spun Kevin Harvick on purpose after the two made contact while racing for the lead in Saturday’s Xfinity race at Darlington.
But it was pretty clear he did — and it was absolutely warranted.
Normally, Chastain competes with the lesser-funded JD Motorsports, and top-15 finishes are typically a good day for him. But Saturday was the first time he ran with a top-tier, Cup-affiliated organization — Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 car — so the expectations were raised.
He lived up to them in the first 75 percent of the race, winning the first two stages after winning the pole. This was turning into a dream day for Chastain and had the potential to be one that launched his career to the next level.
But the incident with Harvick ruined all of that. What could have been the greatest race of Chastain’s life — and the biggest story of the Xfinity Series season — ended up with the Ganassi car finishing 25th.
With Chastain on the outside of Harvick’s No. 98 in Turn 2, Harvick pinched him into the fence. Then, going down the backstretch, Chastain turned left into Harvick’s quarterpanel and Harvick’s car ended up going nose-first into the outside wall.
Obviously, Chastain wants to prove he belongs in top-tier equipment. When Harvick pushed him against the fence, it’s understandable that Chastain would want to retaliate. His reaction was likely just a result of anger and frustration, so it’s hard to blame him.
Harvick was the one who initiated the contact and cost Chastain a chance to win in his first race with Ganassi. Chastain simply returned the favor to Harvick, who’s already a multi-time NASCAR champion with nothing to lose going for the win.
In addition to being a resume builder, a win for Chastain would have meant five playoff points and a guaranteed place in the series’ seven-race championship hunt.
Now Chastain potentially has only two races left to showcase his talent with Ganassi. The next two times he drives the No. 42 are probably the most important of his racing career.
That’s why it makes sense he retaliated immediately instead of waiting for another Xfinity start — or even a Cup race.
If Chastain — who drives for Premium Motorsports in the Cup Series — wanted to make Harvick’s day difficult in the Southern 500, he certainly could.
But Chastain is mature enough to realize team owners want intelligent drivers who can see the bigger picture in their cars. So if he were to give Harvick a hard time on Sunday, it probably won’t do him any good.
By John Haverlin
Here are some of the highlights from Friday at Darlington Raceway:
Gossage rips F1 for scheduling 2019 U.S. date on day of Texas race
This news obviously didn’t break at the track, but it’s still worth mentioning.
Formula 1 revealed its draft of the 2019 schedule on Friday morning, and the series’ date at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin is the same as the fall Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway — a 3.5-hour drive away.
TMS president Eddie Gossage went off on F1, saying fans will now have to choose which race they want to attend on Nov. 3, 2019. He tweeted the decision “is bad for both F1 and NASCAR. That’s a situation that nobody wins and everybody loses because both are less than they could be as a result.”
Does Gossage have a point? Certainly. Having two of the best racing leagues in the world competing in the same state on the same day is definitely a conflict of interest.
“F1 scheduling on top of the NASCAR race at TX Motor Speedway just isn’t good for the fans and forces them to pick one instead of picking both,” he said in another tweet.
Gossage said he would have wanted to attend both races. He tweeted in agreement with SiriusXM’s Dave Moody, who said F1’s decision was an “example of the systemic arrogance fostered many years ago by Bernie Ecclestone.”
Austin Dillon unveils throwback scheme
Austin Dillon’s No. 3 car will don the “Quicksilver” paint scheme Dale Earnhardt Sr. drove in the 1995 Winston Select All-Star Race for Sunday night’s event.
His current team and former members of Richard Childress Racing’s No. 3 crew unveiled the car to the media in the garage on Friday morning. Some of the crew members — including Chocolate Myers, Earnhardt’s former gasman — had never seen the car.
“Dale Jr. and I kind of talked about this car and it kind of came together,” Dillon said. “This is the one that kind of started all the wild paint schemes. I talked to different guys about how special it was, and it was a secret. That’s why we unveiled it the way we did.
“The first person that (asked me about the scheme) was Chocolate, actually. I was on a radio show and he was talking about what we’re going to do for Darlington weekend, and I said, ‘Well, I guess you’ll just have to wait until we get to the track.’”
Dillon said the scheme gives him a little extra motivation this weekend. He has already clinched a playoff berth despite sitting 19th in the standings, but he’ll need momentum if he wants to advance beyond the first round.
“You want to go out there and run well anytime you put a Dale Sr. throwback on the car,” he said. “I’ve got to get my nerves in the right area and we will go out there and log some laps here in the Southern 500 and hopefully put ourselves in a really good position at the end of the night.”
Kenseth’s future with Roush Fenway uncertain
Matt Kenseth isn’t sure what his next career move will be. He hasn’t committed to Roush Fenway Racing for next year, but said 2019 doesn’t concern him right now.
“I’m just concentrated on the rest of this season and trying to get this done, so that’s probably something I’ll talk about at a later date,” he said. “The season has been up and down. I wish the results were better than they are, but on the other hand, I feel like we’ve made a lot of progress. It doesn’t necessarily show in the stat sheet or box score all the time … really just trying to keep moving forward and get more competitive by the end of the season.”
Kenseth wouldn’t budge when asked if he would take an offer from a more competitive team. He was questioned about taking over the No. 41 car of Stewart-Haas Racing, but wouldn’t say if he’d be interested if the seat were to open.
“I still have seven races left this season,” he said. “I have not made the impact at Roush Fenway Racing that — at least in the finishes, the performances — as big as I hoped.
“All I’m thinking about right is trying to get the performance better and try to do a better job for those guys. … I’m not really looking forward right now.”
Bell and Allgaier are cool as the playoffs approach
Christopher Bell and Justin Allgaier have been the class of the Xfinity Series field this season, but they don’t see each other as fierce rivals — yet, at least. Both drivers have four wins and are 1-2 in the standings. Allgaier leads the overall standings by five points, but Bell has a five-point advantage in playoff points.
“I do think Christopher has definitely shown that he’s the guy that we’re all going to have to beat to go for this championship when we get to Homestead,” Allgaier said. “Christopher and I have had our battles on the race track these last five or six races.
“If he and I battle it out for a win, that means we’re doing our jobs and putting ourselves in a good position. Yeah, he is a direct competitor and somebody that I’ll have to beat; we’ve known each other for a long time and we definitely push each other hard.”
Said Bell: “The biggest thing is whenever you get to Homestead, the guy that excels there in practice, that’s going to be your biggest rival and your biggest competitor. We go through these races during the playoffs and whenever it all comes down to it there’s going to be four guys that have no advantage over the other one whenever you get to Homestead. It’s whoever beats who. Those practice sessions at Homestead will decide who your main competitor is going to be.”
Long Island native John Haverlin, who does some work for ESPN Albuquerque, joins me from the Formula E finale in Brooklyn to talk about both NASCAR at Kentucky and the electric racing experience in New York.