The NASCAR Cup series Playoffs are now through the first round. And after the three races of that first round two of the favorites going into Playoffs are out.
Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch were eliminated last Saturday night at Bristol. Both contenders ran well, but Busch ended with a DNF, not due to a crash, but a mechanical issue.
Harvick came up short in his Playoff run despite finishing 10th. He came into Bristol in deep points hole, the lowest of the 16 drivers, and two weeks removed from the opening race at Darlington when his Ford erupted in flames, and he was forced to park. That night Harvick was none too happy about his DNF.
“I’m sure it’s just crappy parts on the race car like we’ve seen so many times,” he said. “They haven’t fixed anything. It’s kind of like the safety stuff. We just let it keep going and keep going.”
The following week NASCAR said it addressed the issue and is continuing to do so.
Added to Harvick’s Darlington DNF was a second one that occurred the next week at Kansas when he was forced into the wall to avoid two cars in front of him when they got together.
But no matter what happened, it was those “crappy parts” that put him in a hole at Darlington that he just wasn’t able to climb out of.
Saturday night several Toyotas experienced mechanical issues, three of them power steering issues. One of them Martin Truex Jr., who had failed to make the Playoff field after engine issues knocked him out of the race at Darlington.
Bristol marked his second DNF in the last three races.
“Yeah, it blew the seal out (of the power steering pump) and pushed all the fluid out on the right front tire,” Truex said. “Just unbelievable. What’d (Kevin) Harvick say? Crappy parts.”
So is it “crappy parts” or something else that could be wrong with NASCAR’s new Next Gen car?
This is the first season, and Playoffs, for the Next Gen car and while DNFs are up 55% according to one report, the majority of those, 73.5%, are for crashes, followed by engine issues, 10.6% and suspension issues 4.0%.
Scott Miller, NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition said Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR radio that the entire industry is undergoing a learning curve when it comes to the Next Gen car and defended the process.
“Bristol is definitely a unique load case,” Miller said. “Some things cropped up with the steering that weren’t expected. Honestly no excuse, but with the newness of this car and the newness of everything, I think that it’s not acceptable to have problems, but it’s probably part of the learning process for us.
“All the teams and (manufacturers) were involved in the RFP process when we chose the parts. Everybody’s got a stake in this, and it’s not just NASCAR choosing quote-unquote, crappy parts.”
Chase Elliott also had a DNF in the opening race of the Playoffs, but that was for a crash early in the race. He followed that up with an 11th place at Kansas and a runner up finish at Bristol. And perhaps most importantly no mechanical issues.
In fact, no Chevy has had a machinal issue during the Playoffs to date while Ford and Toyota have. However, Elliott is in the same camp as Miller.
“Most of the parts are much the same,” Elliott the 2020 champion said Tuesday while at Homestead-Miami Speedway for testing. “I guess we just got lucky the last couple weeks…hopefully our luck doesn’t run out.”
According to Elliott, it’s less about parts and more about pushing the limits of the car. Indeed, several drivers, mainly Ford drivers, had flat tires Saturday night. Brad Keselowski was leading at Bristol, and it seemed to be his race to lose until a flat tire derailed his night, and his hopes for winning. With the commonality of steering issues for the Toyotas perhaps there was some adjustment that was being tried into order to gain an advantage, not “crappy” parts.
“It’s a balance every week and unfortunately there’s just pace in some of those things that you can get aggressive with such as camber,” Elliott said. “Right front camber is just free pace at some tracks it seems like at least for what little I know.
“In those scenarios it’s just about trying to find that line and there’s gonna be times where you step over it, unfortunately. But you know until you kinda live through some of those situations to understand where your limitations are and what whatnot it’s hard to know.
“That’s why we’re testing here today. To try to get our finger on just how far you can push certain things when you come to some of these tracks. And Homestead’s a really a good one to learn where that balance is.”
Elliott will start the second round of the Playoffs as the top seed. The first race of the second round is Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. Elliott crashed out the last time the series raced there, the All-Star Race in May. He’s never won at the 1.5-mile track, his best finish there was 4th in 2016.
He admits he’s not a fan of Texas.
“I’d love to go have a good run,” he said. “It’s always a good thing to, to start a round and kind of get it off on the right foot.
“And as much as I hate going there, I still think we can go win. We just gotta put a good weekend together and execute a solid day. And I think if we do that, we’ll have just as good a shot as, as a lot of people to win. So that’s what I would like to do.”
Texas Motor Speedway underwent a repave and reconfiguration with the banking in turns 1 and 2 reduced from 24 to 20 degrees and widened.
“You know, like I said, as much as I don’t like the racetrack and think they kind of ruined it, I still think we can go have a good run. That’s where my heads at, and I think we can go achieve that.”
Elliott is normally a pretty private person, but still made no apologies for his view of Texas.
“Yeah, I don’t share a lot of things,” he said. “But yeah, Texas, I just don’t enjoy very much.”