By Rich Phillips
When NASCAR introduced this new Chase for the Sprint Cup format in 2014, they were hoping to produce some big game seven type moments. In the first elimination race of 2015 they got just that.
Going into the AAA 400 at Dover on Sunday most expected six-time champion Jimmie Johnson to sail on into the second round and for reigning champ Kevin Harvick to be knocked out. But 400 miles later we got just the opposite.
Big moments don’t strike any fear into Harvick. In three of the last five Chase races the driver of the number 4 car has faced elimination. In each of those five he’s answered the bell with the latest coming on the Monster Mile.
The run for Harvick began last November when he went to Phoenix last in points among the Eliminator 8 in the Chase. The good news for Harvick was that Phoenix is among his best tracks, and he earned his career best seventh win in the desert to advance to the Championship round the next week. Harvick also did it in dominating fashion, leading 264 of 312 laps.
The Sprint Cup Championship
The next week in 2014 was just as dramatic for Harvick and the series. For the first time ever four drivers were competing for the Sprint Cup title in the final race with nothing but their finishing order in that last race deciding things. Many thought it would take a win in the finale to claim the title, and that’s exactly what Harvick did. Once again, Homestead is a great track for Harvick with his best average finish. He held off Ryan Newman by one position to claim his first ever championship.
It’s Not Over in Dover
This past Sunday was a different story for Harvick. After poor decisions the previous two weeks, the reigning Sprint Cup Champion was facing the real possibility of being a shocking first round elimination victim. And unlike the previous two examples, this was not a favorable venue. Going into Sunday, Dover was one of five active tracks where Harvick had never won. The 4 team remedied that by whipping the field, leading 355 of 400 laps and claiming the win in the AAA 400. It turns out a win was the only way he could advance. Had Harvick finished second he would have been the first driver eliminated on points.
Six-Time has to wait for Number Seven
As surprising as it was for Harvick to come up big at Dover, it was even more surprising to see Jimmie Johnson fail. No track has been better to the 48 driver than Dover with a career high ten wins on the Monster Mile. He also entered Sunday with a 27 point cushion on elimination, giving no one any reason to think the six-time Sprint Cup Champion would be done. But done he is thanks to a mechanical failure. A broken rear axle seal sent Johnson to the garage for repairs and he wound up running 41st on the day, being knocked out by 12 points.
It was a close call for Dale Earnhardt Jr. at the Monster Mile. He ended the first round tied for the 12th and final spot with Jamie McMurray. The tie-breaker is the best finish in the first three races. Junior claimed that tie-breaker with his third place run on Sunday, just one spot ahead of McMurray who is eliminated.
The Contender 12 round of the Chase starts up Saturday night at Charlotte. After the next three races the field will be pared down to the Eliminator 8 and you can see them battle on Sunday, November 8 at Texas Motor Speedway. For tickets click here.
Rich Phillips is the host and producer of the weekly radio show Texas Motor Speedway’s Total Access. Click here to find a station near you.
The Loud and Proud Prerace Show with Sammy Hagar and the Circle almost feels like it was something Texas Motor Speedway did just for me. Like many of you I’m a longtime Hagar fan from Three Lock Box, Heavy Metal, and I Can’t Drive 55, to his Van Halen days with Best of Both Worlds and Why Can’t This Be Love. But it’s even more than a musical connection I have with Hagar, it’s the experience.
The Texxas Jam
Anyone who was around the DFW area in the 70’s and 80’s has certainly heard of the Texxas World Music Festival, known more commonly as The Texxas Jam. It was an annual rock festival held at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas every summer from 1978-to-88 with many huge acts performing each year. Sammy Hagar was on the bill time after time.
Hagar was at the annual show a total of six times, among them 1986 as the leader singer for Van Halen. That was also the first time I ever attended a rock concert, a young teenager dropped off by his dad at the Texas State Fairgrounds to find my way to the Cotton Bowl. There were numerous bands that performed that day, but I could barely believe my eyes or my ears when the lights went out for the headliner and Hagar took the stage. Even though I was hundreds of yards away in the opposite end of the stadium, it seemed to me as if I was right in front of Hagar, signing along to song after song.
Hagar and Van Halen would come back for the final Texxas Jam in 1988, and I like many was a bit let down as the lead singer was losing his voice. During the course of the night he promised all of us in attendance he would return to Dallas for a free show to make it up to us, and believe it or not he did.
The Free Show
It was a weekday afternoon in 1991 that Sammy Hagar led his band out on stage in downtown Dallas. Tens of thousands of people flooded the streets of the West End, myself included. I’ll never forget nearly falling down multiple times as the crowd swelled back and forth, having to go up and down the curb on the edge of the street. But it was more than worth it to see the Red Rocker once again, and finally this time up close.
Hagar to No Limits, Texas
Hagar has been through Texas and the DFW area many times before and since, and with many different bands. Whether it be with Montrose, as a solo act, with Van Halen, Chickenfoot, or the Circle, he’s the ultimate party ring-leader.
I’ve seen hundreds of shows over the years at various venues all over North Texas. But it’s that first show with that party ring-leader that I’ll never forget. I’m planning to relive that magic coming up on Sunday, November 8th, when Sammy Hagar and the Circle come to No Limits, Texas.
By Rich Phillips
Two weeks into NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup and we’ve seen both the expected and the unexpected. Two drivers are locked into the Contender 12 round with just one race to go Sunday before the field is trimmed from 16. And one notable driver is clinging to his Chase life.
Joe Gibbs Racing was red-hot going into the Chase and they haven’t let up. Denny Hamlin won the Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway, and teammate Matt Kenseth followed suit at Dover. Ten of the last 13 Sprint Cup races have been won by a JGR driver, and Kenseth now leads the series with five victories this season. In addition to Hamlin and Kenseth being locked into the next round, Carl Edwards is in great shape to advance, sitting third in points. But Kyle Busch has to be careful at Dover thanks to his wreck this past week. Busch is on the outside of the top 12 but by only one point.
Chances are most of you that filled out a Chase bracket had Kevin Harvick at the very least going into the final round. Many probably had him repeating as Sprint Cup champion. It’s hard to believe that Harvick may very well not even be around for round two, and it’s really because of poor decision-making by the #4 team.
It wasn’t Harvick’s fault that he was run into by Jimmie Johnson on a re-start at Chicago in week one. But either Harvick or crew chief Rodney Childers has to take the blame for not making the call to pit immediately after they had a tire rub. Instead, they elected to stay out and see if it would clear up. It didn’t, cutting the tire and putting the car into the wall, leading to a 42nd place finish.
This past Sunday at Dover the #4 team either had a bad plan going into the race or they got greedy. Either they believed the only way to make up a 22 point deficit on 12th place was to win, or after seeing they had the best car they decided to gamble for a victory. The one thing Harvick couldn’t afford was a bad point day and he got just that. With 87 laps to go Childers called for a fuel only stop under caution. Then on the ensuing yellow with 60 to go they opted to stay out. That was pushing it too far as Harvick ran out of gas with less than three laps remaining and ends up 21st on the day. Childers offered this explanation on Twitter after the race.
Harvick actually lost ground in the championship hunt, slipping to 23 points out heading to Dover. And the Monster Mile is not one of his best places. Dover is one of five current tracks where Harvick hasn’t won, and it’s in the bottom ten of average finishes for him.
Scrambling to Stay in
It would be quite the downer for Jeff Gordon’s last ride in the Sprint Cup Series to end in the first round of the Chase, and that could happen. Gordon was able to fight his way back to a seventh place run at New Hampshire, moving him up two spots to tenth in points. He only has a 12 point cushion over 13th place before the elimination this weekend. Sounds easy enough, but Gordon was still in the top four leaving Texas last year and looked on his way to advancing to the championship race. Finishing second the next week at Phoenix wasn’t good enough as Harvick won and knocked him out of the Chase. Gordon will be gunning to repeat his win at Dover in last year’s Chase to secure his spot in round two.
The field will be cut from 16 to 12 after it's over in Dover on Sunday. And by the time they reach Texas Motor Speedway only eight will still be alive. Come see them in the AAA Texas 500 on Sunday, November 8th, at Texas Motor Speedway.
Rich Phillips is the host and producer of the weekly radio show, Texas Motor Speedway’s Total Access. Click here to find a station near you.