Ruminations and observations looking back at last weekend’s action at Las Vegas and ahead to this weekend’s racing at Phoenix.
Fox had an interesting report during Sunday’s Sprint Cup race that Furniture Row Racing planned to withdraw its appeal of the penalties incurred at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and crew chief Cole Pearn would serve his one-race suspension this week at Phoenix International Raceway. Fox cited Pearn as stating what the team planned to do.
A team spokesman emailed NBC Sports on Sunday and stated there is “no official announcement” regarding its appeal. There was nothing new on the matter Monday morning.
It made sense for the team to appeal the penalty and request Pearn have his suspension deferred so he could be at Las Vegas. The penalty was issued Wednesday, a day before teams were on the track for a test day at the 1.5-mile speedway.
Having lost Pearn for that day and the full weekend — in just the second race with the low downforce package — would have been a major disruption for the team. Should the team withdraw its appeal and Pearn misses Phoenix, the penalty might not be so severe. The 1.5-mile tracks are the key in the Chase even with Phoenix the next-to-last race in the Chase.
When teams file an appeal with NASCAR, they must pay a $500 non-refundable filing fee. Section 14 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Rule Book addresses appeals but does not state anything in regards to a team withdrawing its appeal.
The rule to defer suspensions makes sense. If it wasn’t the case and a team later won the appeal, there would be no way to amend the race that team had to run without the suspended individual(s). In that sense, the rule needs to stay, but if teams break the spirit of this, NASCAR either has to let it go or figure out a way to keep teams from exploiting that portion of the process.
It’s easy to want to define which is the best team with the new package at this moment, but it’s still too early to declare a top team. Remember, Atlanta is a low-grip track where tire management is key. While that is a factor at Las Vegas, the track has more grip and is more forgiving on tires.
Something to note is that six drivers — Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski — placed in the top 10 at Atlanta and Las Vegas. Last year, eight drivers placed in the top 10 in both events.
In NASCAR’s search for parity, all three manufacturers have won in the first three races. Toyota (Denny Hamlin) won the Daytona 500, Chevrolet (Jimmie Johnson) won at Atlanta, and Ford (Brad Keselowski) won at Las Vegas.
The season’s first three winners combined to win only two of the last 23 races of last season — Johnson at Texas Motor Speedway in November and Hamlin at Chicagoland Speedway to open the Chase in September.
What else can go wrong for Matt Kenseth? His block backfired on the last lap of the Daytona 500, and he went from first to 14th. His team failed to inform him about a pit road penalty, which eventually cost him two laps and ruined any chances to win at Atlanta. He had a slow pit stop and saw his race later end with an incident at Las Vegas to ruin another good run. What will happen to him at Phoenix?
Kevin Harvick’s crew chief, Rodney Childers, had a telling comment after Sunday’s race, stating: “We have given them away the past two weeks and just have to do a better job.”
Childers noted how a “bad pit stop ... got us behind and then kind of turned our whole day around from there.’’ At Atlanta, Harvick led the most laps but endured a slow pit stop and his handling going away late, leaving him with a sixth-place finish — the 14th time in the previous 74 races Harvick had led the most laps and not won.
Maybe Phoenix will be the team’s tonic. Harvick has won five of the last seven races there. He finished 13th and second in the other races during that streak.