by Julian Spivey
About midway through Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Chicagoland Speedway, the first race of the Chase for the Championship playoffs Kevin Harvick wrecked his No. 4 Budweiser Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet after having his tire cut down on a restart.
Harvick’s car developed a tire rub after making contact with the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of Jimmie Johnson, who had been almost spun out himself and knocked onto the apron of the racetrack by an over-aggressive move by the No. 22 Penske Racing Ford of Joey Logano.
The contact between Harvick and Johnson on the restart in which Harvick had been leading was bad enough to make the tire eventually go down and send Harvick into the wall and into the garage to fix his damage. Due to low attrition in the race, Harvick finished in 42nd position, second-to-last in the finishing order.
Harvick was not pleased with Johnson for making contact with him, apparently failing to realize the whole incident was truly caused by Logano’s bumping of the No. 48. After the race Johnson went to Harvick’s motorcoach to talk with the reigning series champion, but Harvick wanted no part of him and even shoved Johnson with a full fist to the chest.
The incident resulting in a poor finish for Harvick was an unfortunate one, but it also is another sign of the stupidity of NASCAR’s current Chase for the Championship playoff format. Four drivers are eliminated after each segment (every three races) of the Chase until the final four drivers compete for the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway in mid-November.
Harvick has been the most consistent and arguably best driver in the sport this season having scored more points in the first 26 races of the season than any previous driver of the Chase era and his 22 top 10 finishes in those 26 races put him on pace to break Jeff Gordon’s modern era record for most top 10s in a season. Simply put Harvick is having one of the greatest seasons in NASCAR history and because of this stupid format he might be eliminated from title contention in two weeks at Dover International Speedway.
He’s 16th out of 16 drivers following the first race of the Chase at Chicagoland on Sunday and because of his 42nd place finish is almost 20 points (half of a race field’s worth) behind the 15th place driver in the current standings. He either needs to jump four drivers in the standings in the next two races at New Hampshire and Dover to make the second segment of the playoffs or he needs to win one of those two races to automatically qualify for the next segment.
There’s a good chance a driver having an all-time great season and the defending champion no less could fail to make the second segment of the playoff format through absolutely no fault of his own, but incidental contact from another competitor. That’s absolutely asinine.
I understand that NASCAR wants to add more excitement to the sport, especially during the fall portion of the season when it has to compete in television ratings with the NFL (something it could never dream of keeping up with no matter what the sport tries). This format may indeed be considered more exciting by a good portion of the sport’s fans, but the sheer truth of it all is that it’s simply not a fair system and Harvick’s accident on Sunday putting him in grave danger of surviving after the season he’s had is just another example of how horrible this Chase format, in its second season, truly is.