Crown Jewels: Harvick continues to win, impress competitors

Kevin Harvick wins the 65th annual Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway (Credit: 297377NASCAR Via Getty Images)

Kevin Harvick wins the 65th annual Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway (Credit: 297377NASCAR Via Getty Images)

Kevin Harvick doesn’t win poles.

Qualifying has never been his forte. Winning, yes, but logging laps for a starting position wasn’t that big of a big priority.

That’s why sitting on the pole for the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway caused so much (necessary) buzz.

Harvick remained dominant throughout Saturday’s race and won, leading a total of 238 laps. After a horrific weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, the win was nothing short of a boost. His second win of the season, the driver of the No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet was the first driver to win from the pole since Dale Jarrett did it in 1997. The mystic air around Darlington isn’t lost on him, either.

“To come here each year and know you only have one shot to win, it’s pretty phenomenal to be a part of. It’s one of the crown jewel races. I told [Rodney Childers, Harvick’s crew chief] that, if we win one, let’s win Darlington.”

“To be able to celebrate all these wins is more than some get to celebrate in their careers, yet to celebrate them is phenomenal.”

Saturday also marked a comeback for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who also faltered in Texas. He finished second after two hectic restarts. On the first, the race winner gave him a push, yet he knew things wouldn’t be friendly for long.

“We really weren’t a top two car,” Earnhardt Jr. said post-race, “I was pretty sure [Harvick] was going to get around us somehow.”

He also knew that Harvick would be a major factor. “The performance of the 4 car, I saw it coming because I know how good Rodney [Childers, Harvick’s crew chief] is, and I know how good [Harvick] is, and pairing them together, that’s one of the best pairings in the garage.”

Rounding out a Chevy-filled top three was Jimmie Johnson, the reigning champion that has went surprisingly winless in the first eight races. The finish came after falling to 31st early in the race. At that point, crew chief Chad Knaus had “no idea” for a solution.

“Yeah, I’m just happy to finish there in the top three. I thought we had a shot at a win. I think if things stayed green after our last pit stop, we had a good chance at it.”

Harvick’s results during his first year with SHR and Childers have impressed everyone, including his fellow competitors. As the teams head to Richmond International Raceway in two weeks, the drivers are breathing a sigh of relief after dealing with The Lady in Black, a temptress with a new agenda every lap.

Point Standings after the Bojangles’ Southern 500

1. Jeff Gordon (–)
2. Matt Kenseth (-1)
3. Carl Edwards (-19)
4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-26)
5. Jimmie Johnson (-27)
6. Kyle Busch (-28)
7. Brad Keselowski (-51)
8. Joey Logano (-52)
9. Ryan Newman (-61)
10. Austin Dillon (-62)
11. Greg Biffle (-70)
12. Tony Stewart (-73)
12. Brian Vickers (-73)
14. Kyle Larson (-74)
14. Denny Hamlin (-74)
16. Clint Bowyer (-78)

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Fast Facts: Bojangles’ Southern 500

Here is a quick rundown of information to Saturday night’s Bojangles’ Southern 500:

WHAT? The 2014 Bojangles’ Southern 500 is the 65th running of the event. It is considered one of the crown jewel races on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule. The race is scheduled to run 367 laps, which translates to 501.3 miles.

WHERE? The race is taking place at Darlington Raceway, which is located in Florence, South Carolina. The track, which is around 1.36 miles in length, is known for its egg-like shape and turns, which all have different degrees of banking. Nicknames for the track include The Lady in Black and references to it being Too Tough to Tame.

WHEN? TV time for the event begins at 6:30 ET on FOX. You can also catch a radio broadcast on MRN.

WHO? The polesitter for the race is Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet for Stewart Haas Racing. In NASCAR’s knockout qualifying format, he posted a time of 26.802 seconds, going at a speed of 183.479 MPH. It is his seventh pole in 474 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races. Harvick has one win so far in 2014, cruising to Victory Lane at Phoenix International Raceway.

NOTABLES? -Joey Logano qualified second for the event, his seventh top-10 start of 2014. He remains the only driver to advance to the final round of knockout qualifying. He won last week’s rain delayed Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
-Aric Almirola posted the fastest lap of the qualifying session in round two, going 184.145 MPH. He ended up third in the final round. His Richard Petty Motorsports teammate, Marcos Ambrose, will start fourth.
-For the first time since the beginning of the season, there is no threat of rain to derail the weekend.

A Force to be Reckoned with: Elliott wins in devious date with Lady in Black

The horn in Dawsonville will be screaming for the second week in a row.

In dramatic fashion, Chase Elliott toyed with Elliott Sadler to secure his second win in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. The win came after the two battled and roughed each other up on the final lap, and it was the perfect ending for an event at Darlington Raceway.

Elliott became the first rookie to win the NNS race at Darlington, making an already-impressive win more astounding. In addition to running with veteran Sadler, the driver of the No. 9 also fending off the likes of Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, and Kevin Harvick.

In the post-race conference, Sadler wasn’t sure if he could’ve held the rookie off. “I got really lose, but he didn’t touch me.” Despite the loss, the veteran’s spirit remained intact.

The duo was set up by a caution with seven laps to go. Sadler gambled, taking two tires on the final stop. By the time the field went green, two laps remained, and the stakes were high.

At eighteen-years-old, Elliott has become the youngest driver in NNS history to win two races. The record was previously held by Joey Logano. This victory comes in his first start at Darlington, and it propels him to the top of the points. He holds court in the NNS standings, thirteen points above Regan Smith.

Kenseth, who finished third, was happy for the young winner. He talked about watching him grow up and likened the feeling to watching the success of his own son, racer Ross Kenseth.

It’s obvious that fans are not the only ones who are impressed. Even owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. was shocked, but in a great way.

“[The No. 9 team] are well put together. [Chase Elliott] came into [Darlington Raceway] unassuming, and he took what he got….Everything he’s doing makes sense.”

The boss also commented on his driver’s progression, saying with a laugh, “We like to think we’re going to keep him, but it looks like he’s ahead of schedule.”

When it came to the race winner himself, things were simple: “I’m not really sure how I did that. [Elliott Sadler] got loose in two, and I got pretty close to him.”

“I haven’t thought about [moving into the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series] at all. I’m focused on what I’m doing now,” he stated, showing his levelheadedness about his position in the sport of racing itself.

Under the lights at Darlington Raceway, Chase Elliott won for the second week in a row, bringing the total to two wins in seven NASCAR Nationwide Series starts. As the horn screamed in Dawsonville, it served as a reminder that the eighteen-year-old is a force to be reckoned with, especially if The Lady in Black is on his side.

Point Standings after the 32nd Annual VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200

1. Chase Elliott (–)
2. Regan Smith (-13)
3. Elliott Sadler (-20)
4. Ty Dillon (-23)
5. Trevor Bayne (-30)
6. Brian Scott (-46)
7. Brendan Gaughan (-56)
8. Dylan Kwasniewski (-71)
9. James Buescher (-76)
10. Ryan Reed (-99)
11. Mike Bliss (-106)
12. Dakoda Armstrong (-111)

Larson comments on racing with Busch, ROTY battle

Rich in history, it’s not surprising that Darlington Raceway is challenging for fresh-faced NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kyle Larson.

“Each lap you run, your car gets worse,” the Rookie of The Year candidate told the media Friday afternoon. He believes that, out of the tracks on the schedule, Darlington is “the most on-edge.”

The press conference was to announce Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s new partnership with Oscar Mayer to introduce P3 Portable Protein Packs to the NASCAR population. The topic soon turned to the young driver and the gains he’s been making on the racetrack. Larson currently resides 15th in points after earning two tops 5s and three top 10. In the Rookie of The Year standings, the driver of the No. 42 has a nine-point lead over a stout field, one that includes another top contender in Austin Dillon.

About the battle with Dillon, Larson noted, “[Austin Dillon] is really good at finishing races…I want to win [the Rookie of The Year honor] really bad.”

The driver has been busy in 2014, running NASCAR Nationwide Series races in addition to the full Sprint Cup schedule. He won his first NNS event at Auto Club Speedway, competing against NSCS veteran Kyle Busch for the victory. The two have raced side-by-side many times, although Larson assured they are just doing their jobs.

“I wouldn’t say [Kyle Busch and I] have a rivalry. We’re just racing each other hard each week.”

His performances in NNS races may not be earning him points, yet the finishes have propelled TCGR to third in the series’ owner standings.

Larson’s first year in the top-tier of NASCAR has produced many headlines, and, with his ability to adapt, there are many more to come.

Johnson’s history at Darlington may aid in 2014 turn-around

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series seemingly has everything for the fans this year; Dale Earnhardt Jr. has won, seven different faces have visited Victory Lane, and there have been a mirage of storylines to talk about during the week.

One of those talking points? The empty ‘win’ column for a certain six-time champion.

Jimmie Johnson is a collected guy and a reliable driver. You can bet every weekend that he would win the race, and you would have a solid chance at striking gold. His talent is undebatable; six championships, remember?

Despite all this, the No. 48 team has struck nothing but dirt. This borderline-phenomenon has everyone raising their eyebrows, yet the fans are lifting their glasses. It’s easy to see that Johnson’s issues aren’t bothering them.

Someone better tell them that the party may be over soon.

Numbers from the first practice session at Darlington Raceway placed the reigning champion third on the charts, with the second-best 10 consecutive lap average. The pressure to win isn’t being ignored, and it’s only fueling Johnson’s fire.

Although a win can never be guaranteed, it seems to be in his sights. The achievement won’t be reached without a few missteps; Johnson was cruising towards a possible win at Auto Club Speedway when he became the victim of tire issues a few weeks ago, which plagued others as well. Breaking composure, he spoke about his anger with Goodyear and called on them to do something. The outlandish behavior goes along with his season for sure.

Though The Lady in Black is a fickle character, Johnson’s stats at the venue are cause for hope; three wins, eight top 5s, and 11 top 10s show his strengths at Darlington. He also averages an 8.8 finish. This lady has been sweet to him over the years, and that may play in his favor.

Johnson’s slightly slump helps set 2014 apart from seasons past, yet there’s no doubt Darlington Raceway could aid him in turning things around.

Penske Powerhouse proves strong at Texas, creates seventh different winner

(Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)

(Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)

A new face entered Victory Lane, yet it wasn’t an unexpected one.

Joey Logano won the Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. The event ran on Monday after rain washed out the scheduled Sunday afternoon start. The No. 22 was stout in the final stretch, resulting in his first win of the 2014 season and his second for Team Penske.

Though the race was postponed due to weather, nothing can rain on Penske’s parade this season. Logano and teammate Brad Keselowski have figured out the new qualifying format, the deepest start overall being fourteenth under the system. With the No. 2 car taking the checkered flag at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the team is looking to field both cars in The Chase. Keselowski finished 15th at Texas after a speeding penalty during final pit stops. Prior to the mistake, he was running second, hunting down his teammate and going for another win. There’s no doubt he would’ve contended on the green-white-checkered.

Team Penske is recuperating after a difficult 2013. Though the organization grabbed two victories, the 2012 Sprint Cup Series champion wasn’t backing up his title well, and he had a few run-ins with NASCAR. Logano’s Chase berth was overshadowed by his newsworthy altercation with Denny Hamlin.

What makes this duo so impressive this time around? Pressure has a lot to do with it; Keselowski deemed his 2013 performance unacceptable, and Logano needed to gain respect. Between the slumps and bumps, hungry grew. The beasts awakened. Two brash, fearless drivers became mentally stronger.

That, in turn, created a powerhouse. One that isn’t stopping soon.

Logano’s win makes for seven different winners this season, and feat that may be broken this coming weekend at Darlington Raceway. The Lady in Black has a lot to live up to; Monday’s race was full of interesting happenings, from Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s fiery crash, to Kevin Harvick’s blown engine, to the late race caution that shook things up.

One thing is for sure: a hot, Southern race under the lights is bound to generate even more media buzz.

Point Standings after the Duck Commander 500

1. Jeff Gordon (–)
2. Matt Kenseth (-4)
3.Carl Edwards (-12)
4. Joey Logano (-24)
5. Kyle Busch (-28)
6. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-31)
6. Jimmie Johnson (-31)
8. Brad Keselowski (-41)
9. Brian Vickers (-54)
10. Paul Menard (-56)
11. Ryan Newman (-57)
11. Austin Dillon (-57)
13. Denny Hamlin (-62)
14. Tony Stewart (-70)
15. Kyle Larson (-72)
15. Greg Biffle (-72)

New Face, Same Last Name: Elliott’s win is cause for awakening

(Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

(Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

The future is here, and it is bright.

At Texas Motor Speedway on Friday night, Chase Elliott soared to his first NASCAR Nationwide Series win in his sixth series start. Outrunning names like Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick. and boss Dale Earnhardt Jr., the win proves what good can come from having NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers race in the lower levels.

The Sprint Cup racers were dominant all night, logging laps and filling out the top five. It was The Harvick Hour for the longest time, then it became The Busch Show. Channels flipped, but the same story was there. It was exciting to see Busch and Kyle Larson both climb from the back after both failed qualifying inspection. The racing was exciting, yet something was missing.

Something like an awakening

Things are bound to get weird in The Lonestar State, and they are usually larger-than-life. Sixteen years ago from that night, Earnhardt Jr. won his first NNS race at the track. It’s only fitting that his JR Motorsports driver repeated history.

History. Let’s talk about that.

Elliott’s last name is legendary. His father, Bill, is a NASCAR champion and on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot. Known as ‘Awesome Bill from Dawsonville,’ his is one of the sport’s iconic figures. There’s no doubt in that statement’s validity. The legacy was passed onto his son, even if it wasn’t intentional. It became noticeable that the young gun was a force to be reckoned with as pressures mounted. Aligning himself with Hendrick Motorsports and JRM was an element that elevated his flowing potential.

He was following in his father’s footsteps, yet, for the first time in his life, Elliott stepped away from what he knew. From what we all knew.

New face, same last name, but with an awakening.
Point Standings after the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300

1. Chase Elliott (–)
2. Regan Smith (-2)
3. Ty Dillon (-10)
4. Elliott Sadler (-16)
5. Trevor Bayne (-18)
6. Brendan Gaughan (-31)
7. Brian Scott (-32)
8. Dylan Kwasniewski (-45)
9. James Buescher (-48)
10. Ryan Reed (-83)
11. Chris Buescher (-85)
12. Mike Bliss (-87)

FAN REACTION: Thrilled, fans marveled at Elliott’s talent and likeliness to his father. Although it’s a compliment, they are also respecting him as his own driver, which is a great thing to see. Nothing brings hope like seeing young guns thrive in a field saturated with double-duty racers. The sport’s potential is at an all-time high and a far cry than what it use to be years ago.

He may have a famous name, but ‘Elliott’ doesn’t drive the car. Elliott does. The win is not only a power move for him but for NASCAR, and it’s propelling things further than imaginable. The future has never been so blinding, and nobody minds at all.