Kevin Harvick's new role as NASCAR's "Closer," racing at Martinsville, Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s resurgence and another Formula One invasion of NASCAR top this week's edition of the Mail Bag. You can join in anytime by posting on one of our message boards, following me on Twitter (@ppistone) or just by email at email@example.com:
Does Kevin Harvick employ a strategy every week to hang out in the middle of the pack and then make a charge to the front when the laps count most or has circumstances just led to him winning two weeks in a row seemingly coming from nowhere?
I can assure you Harvick, crew chief Gil Martin and the Richard Childress Racing No. 29 team would rather just lead all day and go to victory lane that way if they had a choice. But they don't and you have to admire how it seems nearly on a weekly basis Harvick gets mired behind the field for a variety of reasons but always seems to find a way to overcome adversity and be in position to challenge for the win at the end. He's led all of seven laps at Fontana and Martinsville combined but has two straight wins to show for the effort.
What has been the key to Harvick's team turning things around? He was pretty much out of RCR less than two years ago and now is the most dominant and successful driver on the circuit.
You're right about Harvick being very close to leaving the RCR fold in 2009 when he and team owner Richard Childress could not seem to get together on a contract extension. However Harvick admits it was the best decision of his career to stay right where he is now. The team slowly made gains at the tail end of 2009 and developed into a dominant force last year going right down to the wire in the championship fight. Crew chief Martin has pointed to their win at Michigan last August as more of a turning point in terms of the entire team gelling and coming together. Right now it's hard to argue that the 29 bunch is hitting on all eight cylinders right now.
I was one of those people who did not like the racing at Bristol two weeks ago and I believe the track was ruined when it was reconfigured. Martinsville is the best short track on the schedule now for a lot of the reasons I think are missing from Bristol. Bumping and banging your way to the front is what short track racing is all about and only Martinsville provides that now on a regular basis.
While I'll agree with you that Martinsville racing is among the most entertaining on the schedule, I still don't think simply ramming someone out of the way for position is what NASCAR racing is about. There was some of that last Sunday, most notably Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch, but there were plenty of "clean" passes as well. Bristol's twenty caution flags back in the day was way too much for my liking. Martinsville has eleven Sunday so that tells me the racing was cleaner than the "old" Bristol used to be. I'd like a combo of what we have at Bristol and Martinsville now in terms of short track racing. To me that would be the best of both worlds.
The grandstands were thundering when Junior took the lead last week in Martinsville. It reminded me a lot of when the black number three would take the top spot. Will the 88 win this year?
Yes. And it will in my opinion come very soon, perhaps as early as Saturday night in Texas and if not certainly before the calendar turns to May. The combo of Earnhardt and crew chief Steve Letarte seems to be the perfect pairing. Earnhardt has confidence that hasn't been around in quite a long time. And maybe more importantly he has cars that are competitive. That's an equation that has trips to victory lane written all over it.
The original story of Kimi Raikkonen coming to NASCAR had him with a team involving Foster Gillett. Now it's with Kyle Busch's truck team. What changed?
I'm not sure. You're right the story started with the former Formula One Series champion making his debut with a team called ICE1, which included backing from Gillett as a "major partner." But now he'll make his first start in the truck series next month at Charlotte out of the Kyle Busch Motorsports stable with no mention of the controversial Gillett to be found. In all honestly this is a much better situation for Raikkonen who comes to NASCAR now in top notch equipment and without having to deal with the Gillett baggage and scrutiny.
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