Race Weekend Central

Sealing the Deal

Kevin Harvick slept soundly Sunday night.

So did Brian France.

Jimmie Johnson? Not so much….

Blame it on Delaware.

The events of Sunday’s race at Dover not only set the table for the remainder of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, but they also reflected an emerging menu for NASCAR Nation circa 2015.

If Brian France seeks “Game Seven” moments for NASCAR, Dover provided him with a “Game Three” smorgasbord.

The misfortune that befell Jimmie Johnson not only unsettled the hierarchy of the Chase, but it demonstrated the old adage that bad things can happen to good people. Johnson’s success at Dover is the stuff of NASCAR legend, but his afternoon proved that the Fickled Finger of Failure can push hard enough to derail even the most revered track record.

A problematic right rear axle seal is not what you’d consider a typical mechanical woe, but racing at Dover last weekend was not what you’d consider a typical chain of events. Heavy rains from Hurricane Joaquin washed out all but about forty minutes of Sprint Cup practice, and forecasts for additional precipitation on race day gave way to strong, trash-flinging winds.

Unfortunately, the plight of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet involved more than grille-plugging hot dog wrappers.

Brian Keselowski (Brad’s brother) shared some real life racing experience and tweeted about Johnson’s mechanical problem on Sunday afternoon, saying that repairing a rear axle seal was time-consuming because the rear end gear itself needed to be removed in order to access the failed seal.

Maybe Johnson’s speed at Dover was matched by that of his crew, who made repairs in 38 laps, enabling the No. 48 Chevy to finish the race.

Want a side order of tension to go with that anxiety? Maybe domination made a better side dish….

Going into Sunday’s race, the facts were crystal clear: Kevin Harvick had to win if he hoped to keep his championship hopes alive. Anything less would scuttle his chances for title number two.

So Harvick did exactly what everyone else in the Chase hoped he wouldn’t. When the No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet rolled into Victory Lane, not only did “Happy” drive into the Contender Round, but he did so by leading 355 of the scheduled 400 laps.

If you need a conversion to better understand Harvick’s recipe for Dover success, you can use “about 89%”, since that’s how much he ran out front during the AAA 400.

I will be the first to admit that I have long been suspicious of NASCAR’s penchant for “storybook” endings. Just when the state of NASCAR Nation looks bleak, we get a near-magical occurrence to remind us that the sport is all-powerful. Take the Pepsi 400 at Daytona back in July of 2001. The sport was still in mourning over the death of Dale Earnhardt in the 500 that February, then along comes Dale Jr. to win the 400 on NASCAR’s next visit.

I am NOT saying the race was fixed. What I AM saying is that NASCAR’s timing could not be any better. It was like NASCAR turned common fish eggs into caviar….

And here we are, once again, thrilling to the impossible and sliding Kevin Harvick’s name into the next round of our Chase brackets. There will likely be fallout from the fact that Jimmie Johnson is stuck with his “six-pack” moniker for another twelve months, but now there’s also renewed hope for Kevin Harvick’s title chances.

Anyone have room for seconds?

Maybe Dover was what the entire Stewart-Haas Racing operation needed, especially on the heels of Tony’s announcement of his impending “retirement” come 2017. The Sprint Cup table seems set for three more attention-grabbing courses. What a good time for SHR and Harvick to hit their late-season strides.

Good news, like a good meal, can work wonders for improving moods and attitudes. A little satisfaction can go a long way, especially if the dish is an old favorite you whip up on a regular basis. Given what happened at Dover, I’m guessing all eyes will be on Charlotte Motor Speedway this Saturday.

Brian France hopes fans are hungry for more….

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