By Toby Christie, Editor — Follow on Twitter @Toby_Christie
Man, I hate the final stretch of the NASCAR season. There doesn’t ever seem to be any big stories that break this time of year — oh, wait. That’s right. Kevin Harvick and his team were busted with one of the biggest most egregious examples of cheating we have seen in some time in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
After utterly dominating the field by winning all three stages of the AAA Texas 500 and leading 177 of the 337 laps on the day in Texas, Harvick’s car was found to have an illegal spoiler at the NASCAR R&D Center during post-race tear down. But the crazy thing wasn’t just that Harvick’s spoiler was illegal, it was that crew chief Rodney Childers and the No. 4 team attempted to completely circumvent the NASCAR rule book.
NASCAR requires teams to purchase rear spoilers from Richardson Racing Products. Teams must not alter the spoiler in any way and it must be bolted on in the parameters given from the manufacturer.
Harvick’s No. 4 car was equipped with a spoiler that not only did not come from Richardson Racing Products, but also appeared to be homemade (according to NASCAR’s Scott Miller). Not only that, but the spoiler was affixed somewhere between 0.2 and 0.3 of an inch to the right of where it is supposed to be installed, which undoubtedly added an aerodynamic advantage in Harvick’s stirring victory at Texas.
On Wednesday, NASCAR threw the book at the No. 4 team. The sanctioning body stripped the team of their automatic championship berth, docked them 40 points and suspended Childers and car chief Cheddar Smith for the final two races of the season.
Needless to say, Harvick and his team would not dare bring an altered spoiler to the track again. But the true question is, and our fan columnist, Robert Schloemer eluded to this in his Schloemer Zone column, how long has Harvick been running the illegal spoiler?
NASCAR had not — and had no plans to run the lasers in the laser inspection station over the rear spoiler as they saw no need considering everyone was required to use the same parts. What this means is that Harvick could have ran this modified spoiler for most of the season (as it wasn’t actively being checked), and nobody would have been the wiser.
Did he run the spoiler in races before Texas? We will never know for sure.
Harvick leads the series with four wins through 10 races on 1.5-mile tracks so far this season. But what if the thing that was pushing Harvick over the edge on the 1.5-mile tracks this season was that creative rear spoiler? If so, would losing that slight edge elevate another driver to be the new championship favorite at Homestead (a 1.5-mile speedway)?
I think so. And the person who should be considered the new favorite would be — drum roll please — Kyle Busch.
I know, this isn’t a fan favorite pick, but the numbers are all pointing to the Las Vegas-native being the guy to beat if Harvick suffers a downturn in performance.
Busch has three wins at 1.5-mile tracks so far this season and he also has the best average finish (5.2) at these types of tracks and he is the lone driver currently on the inside of the cut-line who comes into the penultimate race with absolutely no drama. It’s weird to say that, as Busch usually creates a list of enemies throughout the course of a season with his aggressive driving style, but it’s another pair inside the top-four who are ready to bang fenders.
Joey Logano — who is the only driver currently locked into the championship 4 — and Martin Truex Jr. — currently 25 points to the good — have had a very public rivalry that sparked up when Logano made contact with Truex for the win a couple of weeks ago at Martinsville.
Truex vowed that Logano will not win the Championship. For that reason, these two drivers are eliminated from being the favorite as there is a greater than not chance the two will wad their cars into the wall if they are battling for the win in Homestead.
If they can stay clean, the two have not been slouches on 1.5-mile tracks this year.
Truex won Kentucky and has a 7.2 average finish, while Logano has a 7.7 average finish on intermediate ovals this season. You would imagine that they will be a factor, it’s just a question if they can fight off the urge to ratchet up their spat.
Also, if Harvick does advance to the Championship 4 (he’s now just three points ahead of the cutoff line after his penalty), although he won’t have the advantage of the spoiler, he always seems to rise to the occasion in big races.
There are also long odds that someone currently outside the current top-four can break into the championship race by winning or out pointing Harvick, Busch or Truex, but for the sake of this article let’s stick with the guys who have the best current odds.
It very well could be a four-man slug-fest all day long in South Beach, but if I was forced to put my money on it, I would say that Busch takes home his second-career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship.
Photo: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
Toby is the Founder, Editor and go-to man for TobyChristie.com. He is also the co-host of The Final Lap Weekly Podcast. Additionally, Toby is a NMPA (National Motorsports Press Association) award winning writer, and has followed NASCAR as a fan since 1993.