1. Kevin Harvick has 10 more chances to win in his farewell season. What tracks provide the best opportunity?
Kevin Harvick clinched a playoff spot in his final full-time season in the NASCAR Cup Series, but there’s been one thing missing from his farewell tour: a win.
Harvick came oh-so-close to entering the win column at Phoenix Raceway in March, as he had an insurmountable five-second lead until a caution with under 10 laps remaining set the field up for a series of restarts.
He was just two laps away from doing the same at Daytona International Speedway last Saturday (Aug. 26), but he was unable to keep pace with the RFK Racing duo of Chris Buescher and Brad Keselowski after starting on the front row for an overtime restart.
Just 10 races are left in the season, and if Harvick is going to end the season with a win, it will come at one of these four tracks: Darlington Raceway, Bristol Motor Speedway, Martinsville Speedway or Phoenix.
In 14 races at Darlington with Stewart-Haas Racing, Harvick has scored three wins, 11 top fives and just one finish outside the top 10. The No. 4 team picked up a win at Bristol in 2020, and Harvick was just a handful of laps away from replicating the feat in 2021. In the 400-mile race at Martinsville in April, SHR combined to lead 264 laps while Harvick scored his first stage win since 2020. And of course, his record at Phoenix needs no introduction.
Short tracks and 1-mile ovals have been among the best tracks for SHR since 2021, and that will be the case once again in the 2023 playoffs.
2. Was the penalty handed out to Ty Majeski and the No. 98 team the correct call?
Ty Majeski led the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series field in practice speed at The Milwaukee Mile last weekend. But before the race began, NASCAR confiscated a tire from the No. 98 truck and hit it with an L2 penalty for a violation regarding tires, wheels and wheel assembly.
In the championship battle, Majeski was docked 75 points and five playoff points. With just one race remaining in the Round of 10, the penalty would’ve spelled disaster for Majeski if he wasn’t already locked in by virtue of his win at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park.
The points will reset for the Round of 8, and the 75-point penalty will not carry over; the only points penalty that will is the loss of five playoff points. And if Majeski makes the Championship 4, the 75-point deduction will be irrelevant in the final standings.
For such a major penalty, it was effectively a slap on the wrist with the upcoming reset.
Such a penalty would’ve done its job in the regular season, as it would’ve hurt the No. 98 team’s position in the regular-season standings. But in the playoffs, where there is a reset every three races, the 75 points had no effect in Majeski’s championship hopes due to his win at IRP.
For penalties that occur in the playoffs, it would be better to trim the points penalties but strip any prior wins of automatic advancement. Heading into the Round of 10 finale at Kansas Speedway with the current penalty, Majeski is 23 points below eighth in the standings but doesn’t have to worry about elimination with a win in the bank.
If the No. 98 team instead received a 50-point penalty but lost automatic advancement, Majeski would enter Kansas two points above the cut but would need to beat the two drivers behind him on points. What looked to be a stress-free first round of the playoffs instead turned into a down-to-the-wire nailbiter in this alternate reality.
There will never be an agreed-upon answer on what penalties meet the middle between too lenient and too severe. But if there’s anything that this development has shown, penalties for playoff teams can’t be structured as if they happened in the regular season.
3. Will superspeedway races with the Next Gen car improve now that three-wide racing is possible?
The whole demolition derby aspect of superspeedway racing aside, the Next Gen car hasn’t received glowing reviews for its performance on these tracks.
The races may have a surplus of lead changes (this year’s Daytona 500 had 52, for example), but the action was often the equivalent of watching one freight train outrun another. No one was able to jump out of line, and the drivers behind had to keep pushing the drivers ahead in order to make up any ground on the opposing line of cars.
That was far from the case at Daytona. In the middle of stage two, a few drivers pulled out of a double-file situation in order to make a third lane. And this time, it worked.
Before long, the entire field was three abreast as drivers up front jockeyed for position. The leader now had to watch the advancement of three lanes at once, and the drivers near the front had the opportunity to slot into different lanes in order to make something work. It didn’t last until the end of the stage, but for roughly 20 laps, it was a thrill to watch on TV.
Was superspeedway racing with the Next Gen car just a matter of drivers getting out of their comfort zone to run three lines? That might’ve been the case. The wild racing seen at Daytona followed a thrilling race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in July when drivers went all out with the threat of rain at any given moment.
Talladega Superspeedway is the next superspeedway on the list, and since the track has more width than Daytona, it would be the perfect opportunity to put the theory to test.
4. Why is NASCAR going head-to-head with itself on Sunday?
In an age where there are hundreds of programs to watch and so little time to do so, TV networks and the sanctioning bodies for various sports have to carefully craft their schedules in order to maximize viewership.
Given that, why is the ARCA Menards Series attempting to go head-to-head against the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on Sunday (Sept. 3)?
The Cup playoff opener at Darlington will be carried by USA Network at 6 p.m. ET. ARCA, which has been under the NASCAR umbrella since 2020, will compete at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds in a race that will be broadcast by FOX Sports 2 at 9 p.m. ET on the same night.
When factoring in pre-race, post-race and 500 miles of action, the Cup race will be far from over by the time the ARCA race starts at 9. The Southern 500 is one of the last remaining endurance tests in NASCAR, and every 500-mile running since 2014 has clocked in at over three hours and 40 minutes. In the 2021 and 2022 editions, the race lasted longer than four hours.
ARCA primarily competes on Fridays and Saturdays, and those nights would’ve been less of a conflict for this weekend.
About the author
Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.
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