By Steve Luvender
March 14, 2018
at 11:41 am
Do you think Kevin Harvick ever gets tired of winning so often? It’s only March and he’s hoisted three trophies this season — and he’s now tied with Mark Martin for 18th place on the all-time wins list. Here’s what earned our thumbs-up and thumbs-down in Phoenix.
Thumbs Up: A strategy gamble
Ryan Newman snapped a winless streak at ISM Raceway in 2017 after a gutsy strategy call near the end of the race helped him earn the checkered flag (and a trip to the playoffs, of course).
It almost happened again Sunday, one year later. Almost.
As the laps counted down, most lead-lap cars ducked to pit road for fresh tires to finish out the rest of the race. Ryan Newman, Brad Keselowski, Kasey Kahne, and a few others (including underdog Ross Chastain) stayed out on track for as long as possible, hoping to luck out on a caution and bank some track position.
While the caution never happened, Newman and the No. 31 team deserve a thumbs-up for giving it another shot. If you can’t win on raw speed alone, why not try something off-the-wall?
Thumbs Up: Battling for the lead
In the final stage, the ever-speedy Kevin Harvick battled hard against teammates Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin — for nearly 30 laps. The three swapped positions and put on an impressive show of clean racing. Harvick prevailed, as he tends to do as of late, and claimed his third victory of the season in four races.
Even armchair-driver fans at home enjoyed the battle.
Hell of a race here
— Ralph Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) March 11, 2018
But imagine your job success is measured on winning races — while also racing your teammates cleanly? Joe Gibbs Racing’s Busch and Hamlin were forced to face that balance in the closing laps. Must be tough to know any mistake that results in damage to your teammate’s car could cause trouble in the team’s post-race competition meeting Monday.
Thumbs up for a thrilling battle for the lead. It’s always nice to see three cars on the TV screen racing for one spot.
Thumbs Down: Jimmie Johnson, ruiner of fantasy teams
Yes, last week, Hendrick Motorsports earned the dreaded thumbs-down following a struggle at Las Vegas.
Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson, you’ve made the list again.
Since we know Johnson tends to suddenly end his winless streaks in spectacular fashion, I’ve started him in my Fantasy Live lineups, hoping competitors in the league would avoid picking him because of his lack of success. However, starting the No. 48 the past two races has netted precisely zero top-10 finishes.
For the record, Jimmie Johnson won’t be part of my Fantasy Live lineup at Auto Club Speedway (which, of course, probably means he’ll win the race).
Thumbs down for Jimmie Johnson’s shut-out so far in 2018.
Biggest Thumbs Up of the Week: Kevin Harvick, duh
Of course Kevin Harvick will claim racing’s highest honor: the biggest thumbs-up of the week.
“The Happy Cactus Closer” (yes, I’m combining his nicknames) only led 38 laps en route to his ninth win at ISM Raceway, the first time this year he’s won a race without leading the most laps.
But, here’s a trend even more interesting:
Brad Keselowski’s No. 2 won the Advance Auto Parts Clash in Daytona.
Austin Dillon’s No. 3 won the Daytona 500.
Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 won at Atlanta.
Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 won at Las Vegas.
Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 won at ISM Raceway.
Given the trend, you’d think car No. 5 would have won a race by now — but, for the first time in NASCAR history, there isn’t a No. 5 car expected to start a race since Hendrick Motorsports shuffled some numbers around.
Does this mean we’re stuck on the No. 4 car winning the rest of the races in 2018?
The Clash: #2 car wins
Daytona 500: #3 car wins
Atlanta: #4 car wins
Las Vegas: #4 car wins
Phoenix: #4 car wins
— Elijah Burke (@ElijahWhosoever) March 13, 2018
A Sonoran Desert-sized thumbs up for Kevin Harvick’s trend of butt-whooping.