Monster Energy Cup Series News (14571)
Kevin Harvick is heading into the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway as a member of the Championship 4 for the third time in the last four years. And 2017 has similarities to 2014, when Harvick won the title in his first season with Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR).
Just as Harvick started from scratch in 2014 with a brand new race team at SHR after spending his 13 previous seasons with Richard Childress Racing, he started from scratch in 2017 after SHR switched to Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford Motor Company.
Instead of assembling team members, pit boxes and equipment the way it did in 2014, SHR had to start building its own chassis while learning new tools and programs to familiarize itself with a different racecar and the Ford FR9 EFI powerplant built by Roush Yates Engines.
The No. 4 Jimmy John’s team got off to a fast start in just the second race of the season at Atlanta Motor Speedway, where it displayed a dominant performance that made the transition to Ford look easy. Harvick led four times for a race-high 292 of 325 laps, but a late-race miscue resulted in a ninth-place finish. Juxtapose that run with the one Harvick put forth in the second race of 2014 at Phoenix Raceway, where he led four times a race-high 224 of 312 laps and scored his first victory as a member of SHR.
In 2017, the team experienced teething issues through most of the month of March before recording its first top-five finish of the season April 9 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. In 2014, the No. 4 team also overcame an early season struggle during which it finished 36th or worse in four of five races from Las Vegas Motor Speedway to Texas before hitting its stride in April with a win in the prestigious Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.
As the NASCAR playoffs got underway in 2017, Harvick and the No. 4 team kicked off the effort with a third-place finish at the 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois. The result at Chicagoland inspired confidence in the No. 4 team that it could indeed compete for the 2017 title.
Since the start of the 2017 playoffs, Harvick has scored a series-best 212 points at 1.5-mile racetracks with one win and an average finish of 3.8. He beat Martin Truex Jr. in the most recent 1.5-mile race Nov. 5 at Texas to secure his position in the Championship 4.
In 2014, the No. 4 Jimmy John’s team also had the ability to peak when it mattered most. In the final three races of the 2014 season, Harvick scored a second-place finish at Texas before winning the final two races of the season at Phoenix and Homestead.
While Harvick and the No. 4 team are unable to match the number of wins and laps led from their 2014 effort, their 13 top-five finishes is one short of their 2014 total, and their 22 top-five finishes is two better than what they earned in 2014.
Augmenting those numbers are the ones Harvick has put up at Homestead since joining SHR. He has one win, one pole and three top-three finishes with series bests of 124 points earned, 179 laps led and an average finish of 2.0.
If Harvick and the No. 4 team can claim the top prize Sunday night in the Ford EcoBoost 400, they would be the first to do so with a new manufacturer since Cale Yarborough did it driving the No. 11 Busch Beer machine in 1978. Harvick is also attempting to claim Ford’s first NASCAR Cup Series championship since SHR teammate Kurt Busch hoisted the Cup in 2004 while a member of Roush Fenway Racing.
What makes Harvick’s history in the playoffs even more impressive is his series-best seven wins in NASCAR Cup Series playoff races since 2014. No team and driver have performed better in must-win situations since 2014, and this Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 is the ultimate must-win situation with the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title on the line.
The current elimination format of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs is down to the final weekend of its fourth season, and one thing has been clear during the format’s first three seasons of finales – you must win if you want to bring home the season championship.
And the good news for Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), is he did just that two years ago as the winner of the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, taking home the 2015 Sprint Cup title.
While the rules state that the highest-finisher Sunday among the four championship-eligible drivers at Homestead will win this year’s championship, it’s been proven thus far that it’s about more than simply being the highest finisher, it’s a must-win situation. Jimmie Johnson was the latest to win the finale at Homestead, bringing home his record-tying seventh career title last November. In 2015, winning was also a necessity for Busch to bring home his first title as another Championship 4 driver, Kevin Harvick, finished in the runner-up spot. In 2014, the winner-take-all scenario also rang true as Harvick won the race and the title while Championship 4 contender Ryan Newman finished second.
The road to Homestead for Busch and the M&M’S Caramel team has been anything but easy. While this is the third consecutive year that Busch has made it to the Championship 4, his path in 2017 proved to be much different than the two previous seasons. In 2015, Busch’s path paved with six top-five finishes, and seven top-10s in the 10 playoff races – his lone win coming in the championship race at Homestead. During last season’s 10-race playoffs, Busch was even more consistent with six top-fives and nine top-10s, but he was without a playoff win.
But in 2017, Busch has made it through to Homestead with three victories – at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, Dover (Del.) International Speedway and Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. In all, Busch has three top-fives and five top-10s in this year’s nine playoff races, and he knows he’ll likely need to find one more victory in order to become the 2017 Cup Series champion and bring home his second championship.
There have been 15 NASCAR Cup Series drivers who have won two or more championships since the sport was founded in 1959. Busch is hoping to become the 16th this season to go with his first title in 2015.
Busch also knows the task of winning at Homestead is a big one as he’ll compete against former champions Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski, along with fellow Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr., who has seven wins this season and has shown the most speed over the entire year. Thus, it is a strong Championship 4 field that will vie for the title in the one-race shootout for the Cup Series championship trophy Sunday afternoon in South Florida.
While Busch’s statistics at Homestead may not look strong with an average finish of 19.8, it certainly isn’t indicative of how he can run at the 1.5-mile South Florida oval. Busch dominated the 267-lap season finale in 2012, leading six times for a race-high 191 laps. But while he had the dominant car, the Las Vegas native had to settle for a fourth-place finish after a long, green-flag run to the checkered flag saw the M&M’S team come up short on fuel and foiled a seemingly certain win in the closing laps. He backed up his strong run from 2012 with an eighth-place finish in 2013, and had a strong run going in 2014 before a driveline issue put him in the garage for several laps, foiling another chance at the win. His most impressive race at Homestead came in 2015, when he was the top championship-eligible car for much of the 400-mile race, leading six times for a total of 41 laps and bringing home the win and the championship. In 2016, Busch led 41 laps but fell short of the championship with a sixth-place finish.
So, as Busch heads to South Florida with everything on the line Sunday, the M&M’S Caramel driver has the mindset that it’s a must-win situation in order to guarantee a second Cup Series championship.
The racing world already knows the top two headlines coming out of Sunday night’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The sport will crown a champion among four drivers as well as say good bye to its most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.
While he certainly has thoughts on those top stories, Clint Bowyer would like to leave South Florida as the third headline of the evening by taking home the race winner’s trophy from the 1.5-mile high-banked track.
“Whenever you race, you want to win, whether it’s the season-ending Cup race or racing your brothers on dirt bikes in the backyard,” said Bowyer, who’ll drive the No. 14 Haas Automation Ford in the 36th and final points race of the 2017 season. “Homestead is no different. There’s going to be a lot on the line with those guys racing for a championship, but the rest of us are going to race for a trophy, as well.”
The champion’s celebration and Earnhardt’s retirement might overshadow the race winner, but they wouldn’t diminish the accomplishment, according to Bowyer.
“It’s tough to win these races, so anyone who takes the checkered flag Sunday is going to be more than happy,” he said. “But, think of the momentum it builds. You spend the entire offseason knowing you are the most current winner. You’ll still be happy when you get to Daytona in February.”
Bowyer has a rooting interest Sunday night as his Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) teammate Kevin Harvick attempts to bring the nine-year-old team its third title and first for new team manufacturer Ford since 2012. Bowyer, who was also a teammate to Harvick at Richard Childress Racing from 2006 to 2011, said he has no doubt Harvick and the No. 4 team can win the championship again for SHR.
“Those guys are good,” said Bowyer, who tested at Homestead for SHR in late October. “You saw what Kevin did at Texas in the closing laps, and he was up there at Phoenix. I expect that same Kevin Harvick on Sunday night. He has a good team, crew and organization behind him.”
As for Earnhardt’s retirement, Bowyer is a bit more reserved.
“Most of my good stories that I enjoy and that I’ll always remember about Dale Jr. are – hell no, I can’t say it,” Bowyer said with a laugh before pausing and offering a tribute.
“You know, the neat thing about our sport is the media, our broadcast partners – everybody does such a good job of covering the sport and really lets fans see what people are like,” he said. “You can’t hide your personality or the true you because you’re just seen so much in our sport, so Dale is just a ‘what you see is what you get’ kind of guy. He’s always been a great spokesperson for the sport. He’s always been a huge fan of the sport. And it’s going to be a huge void. But the stories and things that I’ll remember, they’re off the track and stuff we had a good time doing.”
Bowyer, who is in his first season with SHR after replacing three-time-champion Tony Stewart in the No. 14 Ford led by crew chief Mike Bugarewicz, has posted three second-place finishes and two third-place finishes. The team narrowly missed earning one of 16 berths in NASCAR’s playoffs despite Bowyer’s average finish of 15.6 that is 12th-best of all full-time drivers this season.
He arrives in Homestead hoping to turn around his recent string of bad fortune during which accidents by other drivers ruined consecutive races at Charlotte, Talladega and Kansas, followed by a third-place finish Oct. 29 at Martinsville. Mechanical issues dropped Bowyer to a 36th-place finish at Texas and, at Phoenix last weekend, he finished 13th, overcoming a speeding penalty and late damage on a restart.
All of Bowyer’s recent bad luck would wash away Sunday night with a victory, which he’ll gladly celebrate – even if he has to play third fiddle to a new champion and his buddy Earnhardt.
Michael McDowell and Leavine Family Racing (LFR) earned a hard-fought 22nd place finish at McDowell’s home track of Phoenix Raceway.
The team struggled early in the weekend, as they had difficulty finding grip and qualified 28th. Although they were not satisfied with Friday’s results, Saturday brought some gains for the team, as they prepared the No. 95 Rohto® Jolt™ Chevrolet SS for the race on Sunday.
McDowell started the Can-Am 500 with a free-handling Rohto® Jolt™ Chevy. The balance began to tighten at the end of the stage, and McDowell was able to move up to 24th where he would finish the first stage. He reported that he felt the team made major gains from where they started the weekend.
McDowell began the second stage one lap down, as the leaders caught him at the end of the first stage. He took the green flag in 23rd and was racing for the Lucky Dog spot. As the caution flag came out with one lap remaining in the stage, McDowell had fallen back to 26th and another lap down, as he reported his brakes had already started to fade.
The team took the wave around during the caution, which turned into the stage ending break, putting them down one lap to start the final stage in 23rd.
McDowell made his first green flag stop of the day on lap 173 for right side tires only. He then raced until the team’s next fuel window on lap 221. As another caution came out just a few laps later, spotter, Doug Campbell, reminded McDowell to save fuel during the cautions in the likelihood of an overtime race.
McDowell made another tires-only pit stop during the next caution on lap 240, putting him a third lap down and in 29th. Less than ten laps after the restart, yet another caution flag fell red-flagging the field. McDowell had made it back to the 23rd position in under eight laps.
The team continued to stay out of trouble during multiple cautions, pitting for tires, as they played a key role in the 312-mile race. Though McDowell felt that one set of tires may have been defective, he was able to pit for tires one final time after a caution came out on lap 264 and quickly improved. During the final laps of the Can-Am 500, McDowell began racing the best he had all day and went on to finish 22nd, his best at his home track.
“Not quite the day we hoped for,” said McDowell. “We ended up having a great car at the end of the race. Unfortunately about half way through the race we got a little off-sequence. We tried to wave around, but it didn't work out so we put ourselves a few laps down. The cautions never really fell our way. Everyone fought hard and we were able to salvage a 22nd place finish. I’m really proud of my guys — everyone did a good job, and we had a fast car there at the end.”
Next week, the team will return to Homestead-Miami Speedway for the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season finale where McDowell earned a 10th place finish last year.
I can't think of a race where all of the main storylines and things that were being hyped up to get people to tune in, actually happened. Let's just go through and show how this statement is true. Let's start with the winner, Matt Kenseth. It broke during final practice last week at Texas that Matt Kenseth would not be returning to the cup series in 2018, likely ending his career. This talk continued throughout the week, even Kenseth himself saying these next two races were likely his last behind the wheel. Well, Kenseth scored an emotional win on Sunday, passing must win driver Chase Elliott with under ten laps to go in Sunday's race. Likely Kenseth's final career win, Sunday was everything a Kenseth fan would want, and quite a way for the driver himself to wrap up his illustrious career.
Now, the story that everyone was talking about was the retribution for Chase Elliott versus Denny Hamlin yesterday. Elliott, in a must win position, spared no room or patience when it came to passing the 11 car late in yesterday's race. Elliott used the bumper to move Hamlin up the hill in turn 3-4, riding Hamlin all the way to the outside wall, which caused Hamlin to blow a tire late in the race. This eliminated Hamlin, who had led the majority of the race Sunday, and had held the final spot in the championship four for the majority of the day as well. This prompted a clearly agitated Hamlin to drop the soundbite of the day.
In his NBC interview, Hamlin said this. "It just proves to the people who thought I was a bad guy that he would do the exact same thing under the same circumstances." I have a serious concern with this quote. Hamlin said "exact same thing" referring to Hamlin's contact that sent Chase Elliott spinning into the wall in Martinsville. That just is not true. Hamlin spun Chase Elliott with two laps to go for the lead, likely the win, in Martinsville. What Elliott did to Hamlin yesterday was just hard racing with a tad more extra curricular activity. Obviously Martinsville was on Elliott's mind when he got to the rear bumper of the 11 car, but for this instance to be the exact same as Martinsville, Hamlin would have had to have been turned into the wall by the 24. Minimal contact and a cut tire ten laps later with under fifty to go for a top five spot is not the same as blatantly wrecking somebody for the lead with two to go. It's just that simple.
We head to Homestead to wrap up the season with four drivers that you cannot really pick a favorite. The cop-out answer to me is to pick Martin Truex Jr, but in recent years, they have not shown me that they have the speed at Homestead, which is not your average cookie-cutter 1.5 miler that Truex has dominated on this year. Brad Keselowski surprisingly is making his debut appearance in the championship four, and is in the best shape to get his second title since his first in 2012. I cannot get a solid read on the 2 team, who had a lackluster appearance at Phoenix. He has Chase Elliott to thank for his berth in my opinion, because he knocked Denny Hamlin out of contention, allowing Keselowski to coast home to finish 15th. Kevin Harvick or Kyle Busch are toss-up's in my mind. Both of these drivers can win the race in my opinion. Harvick has the best average finish of the championship four drivers at Homestead with 6.94 in 17 starts. Kyle Busch has been in this position three times now, and came home with the trophy once in 2015. Harvick won the inaugural championship four race in 2014 to win his first title. Both are my favorites to bring it home on Sunday, with the edge going to Harvick in my eyes going back to his average performance at this track. Clearly, this championship race has the possibility of being the best in the fourth year of this format being used. There is no clear favorite, what else could you want? No more stage points, playoff points, just go out there and win, or at the very least, beat the other three eligible drivers.
Erik Jones continued his rock solid performance at Phoenix Raceway by taking Furniture Row’s No. 77 5-hour ENERGY Extra Strength Toyota to a fourth-place finish in the NASCAR Cup Series Can-Am 500.
The 21-year-old series rookie kept alive a streak of now 12 consecutive top-10 finishes in as many starts on the one-mile oval, including two victories in the Camping World Truck Series. He finished eighth in the Cup race in March.
Jones also moved up on spot, to 18th, in the NASCAR Cup Series point standings after 35 races. His 847 points is 47 points behind Joey Logano for 17th, two ahead of Clint Bowyer for 19th and 73 points ahead of Daniel Suarez in 20th.
“Today was a good day for us,” said Jones. “The 5-hour ENERGY Camry was good. Definitely had the speed to run up front and contend for the win – so thanks to TRD for that – but I just didn’t really execute 100 percent on the last restart to really give myself the shot I needed. Kind of a bummer, but overall really strong day for us – another day we needed. It had been a minute since we had really ran in the top-five competitively and had a shot and that is what we did today. Nice to get back on track. Nice momentum for next week and hopefully being able to close the season out with a win.”
Jones was a mainstay in the top 10 throughout the 312-lap race. After starting 11th, he finished seventh in Stage 1 and third in Stage 2 despite chasing the handling of the No. 77 5-hour ENERGY Toyota from tight to loose and back again.
Crew chief Chris Gayle called for a 2-tire stop under caution on Lap 256 while running fifth. Most of the leaders stayed out so Jones restarted 11th with just more than 50 laps remaining. He was back to fifth by Lap 273 and into fourth on Lap 275. He crossed the finish line just behind Furniture Row Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr.
Matt Kenseth won the race. The balance of the top-10 finishers were: Chase Elliott, Truex, Jones, Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray, Kyle Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Aric Almirola and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The race had seven cautions for 41 laps and one red flag for five minutes. There were nine lead changes among five drivers.
The final race of the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series is Nov. 19 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
After having to start at the rear of the field due to a tire issue in qualifying, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. overcame adversity and drove his Robert Yates Tribute Ford to an eighth-place finish in Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at Phoenix Raceway.
“I’m really happy with that after starting last from my mistake in qualifying,” Stenhouse said. “We kept working on our Ford throughout the race. It was really good on the long runs and then we got it decent on the short runs as well. It was a good day for our guys, and I look forward to trying to carry this momentum into Homestead and hopefully finish 11th in points.”
After flat-spotting his tire in round one of qualifying, Stenhouse Jr. had to forfeit his qualifying position and start at the tail end of the field. With a caution free stage one, the Olive Branch, Miss. patiently maneuvered his Ford through the field gaining 17 positions in the first 75 laps but lost a lap to the leaders just three laps shy of the green checkered.
Stenhouse Jr. restarted stage two in the 24th position and battled with numerous cars to earn the lucky dog position. With another caution free stage, the Roush Fenway Racing driver worked his way into the free pass position when the green checkered waved on lap 150.
Back on the lead lap, the two-time XFINITY champion steadily worked his way forward and with a flurry of late-race cautions found himself in the top-10 with 40 laps to go. When the final green flag waved on lap 281, Stenhouse was scored in the ninth position but newer tires prevailed forcing Stenhouse to settle with an eighth-place finish.
Next up for Stenhouse and the No. 17 team is the Ford Ecoboost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday, Nov. 19. Race coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. (EST) on NBC. Coverage can also be heard on MRN and NASCAR SIRIUS/XM radio channel 90.
Stage 1 Recap (Laps 1-75):
● Danica Patrick started 24th and finished 33rd.
● The No. 10 Code 3 Associates Ford Fusion team struggled from the drop of the green flag, and Patrick was scored 33rd at lap 50.
● Crew chief Billy Scott called for wholesale changes when the team pitted between stages at lap 80. The crew changed four tires, added fuel and made wedge, air pressure and packer adjustments.
Stage 2 Recap (Laps 76-150):
● Started 33rd and finished 30th.
● The Code 3 Associates Ford fired off better in Stage 2, and Patrick was able to gain several positions.
● The team pitted between stages at lap 154 for tires, fuel and adjustments.
Final Stage Recap (Laps 151-312):
● Started 28th and finished 25th.
● Patrick ran as high as 26th before making contact with the outside retaining wall just after lap 200. The team pitted under green-flag conditions at lap 223 for tires, fuel, adjustments and repairs, which put the No. 10 Code 3 Associates Ford back to the 31st position. Scott called for Patrick to wave around when the caution flag came out at lap 228.
● The team pitted under caution at laps 240, 256 and 277 for tires, fuel and adjustments. In the closing laps, Patrick was able to gain several positions and took the checkered flag in 25th.
● This was Patrick’s 11th Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start at Phoenix Raceway and her 189th career NASCAR Cup Series start.
● Patrick earned 12 points in Sunday’s race at Phoenix Raceway, which puts her at 510 total points for the season thus far. She is ranked 27th in the driver point standings.
● There were seven caution periods for a total of 41 laps.
● A total of 18 of the 40 drivers in the Can-Am 500k finished on the lead lap.
● Matt Kenseth won the Can-Am 500k to score his 39th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory, his first of the season and his second at Phoenix Raceway. His margin of victory over second-place Chase Elliott was 1.207 seconds.
● The Championship 4 contenders, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr., enter the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway with 5,000 points each.
The next event on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule is the Nov. 19 Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The event starts at 2:30 p.m. EST with live coverage provided by NBC.