Harvick sweeps; the Big One is out there this week
Phoenix was an aggressive race, and typically I haven't seen that much crashing and banging in the past. I'm not going to say all the wrecks came from aggressive driving, but when they turned the lights on, all hell broke loose, and you never see that much aggressive driving during the day at Phoenix.
Night racing brings out the drama, and it seemed to bring the demons out of the drivers.
Ryan Newman and Team Penske seemed as though they had made a positive turn two weeks ago at Texas. It looked to me like they made a positive turn at Phoenix, running in the top 10 only to get taken out by a weird crash when Newman had to go to the outside to avoid some cars and got stuck on the wall.
Newman's teammate, Kurt Busch, had a bad handling car -- the window net fell down -- so it was a horrible day for Team Penske.
The race was a resurgence for Kevin Harvick. He has been hot and cold, but it looks as though he's going in the right direction at Phoenix, winning the Busch and Nextel Cup races. Harvick had a really good handling car, and you could see that by the way he was running everybody down in the long runs, catching and passing them.
Harvick is in the final year of his contract with Richard Childress Racing and is being courted by a lot of money from Toyota and by some other teams. I'm a big Richard Childress fan, and I hope Harvick respects the opportunity Childress gave him when Dale Earnhardt passed away. I really want those two to stay together, but when people start throwing a lot of money around, your mind can tend to wander.
I'm really big on being loyal to people as long as they are paying you what you want and giving you good equipment. Childress seems to be paying Kevin well and giving him good equipment, and I hope Harvick doesn't leave the team for just a little more salary.
Although Harvick won the race, Tony Stewart is the one laying down consistently strong finishes (second at Phoenix). Tony is the hottest and most consistent driver in the sport right now. The rest of the competition is all over the place. You think they are all over right now, wait till they hit the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway with that new asphalt at the track and approaching 200 mph.
Jeff Gordon is hot and cold, all over the map right now. His team can't get the car to handle. Jeff is a great driver, we all know that, but the No. 24 folks have to get that car handling better and more consistent. He finished 10th, but he was running 15th or 16th throughout the day until the field ran out of gas at the end and he didn't. Gordon knows they need to get better.
This week, it's off to Talladega, Ala., for the second restrictor-plate race of the season. Although a pileup always seems to happen, the drivers hope to avoid the Big One, a big crash at high speeds that can take a large portion of drivers out of the field. The fans don't want any of their drivers to get hurt, but they sure do like to see the excitement of the spinning and some of the cars sliding around.
The Big One happens because they run three wide and when one driver makes a small mistake, it's like bowling a strike: When one driver loses it, he takes the whole field with him.
Although Dale Earnhardt Jr. won at Talladega five times from 2001 to 2004, the Hendrick and Roush cars have caught him and figured out what they need to do to get their cars running almost as well.
Dale Jr. used to get out there, dominate and drive off, and he's not doing that now. He's going to have to keep his nose clean. If he does, he can win this race, but it's not going to be as easy as it was in the past because the other teams have their restrictor plates figured out, too.
If you remember, Team Penske led the Daytona 500 off and on throughout the day, and those Penske engines are going to be strong again at Talladega.
Former Cup champion Rusty Wallace will provide coverage for ESPN and ABC during this year's IndyCar Series and selected Nextel Cup races.
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