|Kyle Larson led the most at Kansas, the last race on a 1.5-mile track.|
“The All-Star Race was fun, but this weekend is a different package, so that race didn’t do much to help us prepare for this weekend," said Jimmie Johnson who has eight Charlotte wins. "The 600 is a long race, it’s a test of endurance and patience, and you have to accommodate for track conditions changing from the day to the night.”
Last week we had somewhat of a preview into what the future of the NASCAR Cup Series might have in store for us with races on the 1.5-mile tracks Kevin Harvick has dominated this season. NASCAR wouldn't have used the restrictor-plate and new aero-package in last week's All-Star Race if they didn't have plans for it somewhere in the future. Because the All-Star Race offered no points, it was a perfect place to check out how the racing would be.
And before we get into Sunday's race, let's talk about Saturday race a bit. I'm not sure if I liked it or not. I liked how drivers eventually learned how to manipulate the side drafts with their cars and get huge runs off the top line into the turns. I liked how they were able to mash the pedals all the way around the track with minimal breaking. But I didn't like the speeds so slow in the 170 mph range. There was no giddy-up on the restarts, and most of all I didn't like the final results. No matter how many restrictions placed on the cars, Harvick still managed to win. The next test race to slow Harvick should be tying one hand behind his back. Yep, that should work.
This week in NASCAR's longest race of the year we go back to the regular rules-package that Harvick has been dominating with. He's won five of the 12 races this season and three of four on 1.5-mile tracks. Kyle Busch has three wins this season, including the one race on a 1.5-mile track (Texas) Harvick didn't win. Harvick finished second in that race.
Busch is still a notch below Harvick on these tracks and the next wave of top competitors are two notches below Harvick. Among those drivers are last years Cup champion Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson. Team Penske with Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, and Ryan Blaney are all right there. So are Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, and Erik Jones.
So just where is the huge Harvick edge coming from?
“I would just point at the experience of the race team because of the fact this is our fifth year together," Harvick said. "We’ve been through a lot of very high-pressure situations, low-pressure situations, good moments, bad moments. And everybody just gets along so well on our race team and, when you look at that as a group, it’s something that’s pretty special. I think the second thing is the fact that Ford has brought a lot to the table for our race team. It’s allowed us to expand our engineering staff over the first winter and really just brought resources to our team. So, when you add all those pieces to the puzzle up and look at the experience of the race team and you look at the partnerships we have with Ford and Mobil 1 and all the support we have from our ownership group to let us go out and explore and do the things and take the chance of switching to a different manufacturer and take the chance of bringing things into our own house and controlling more of our own parts and pieces, those things all added up.”
That's a nice answer, but I think their huge edge comes from Stewart Haas money and a set-up secret they're keeping to themselves. I wouldn't share, either. This week he's using a chassis that has won its past two starts, both which came on 1.5-mile tracks. It won last fall at Texas and in February at Atlanta. So he's got that going for him as well.