|08/29/19||DIBENNEDETTO NASCAR'S ROCKY BALBOA|
|06/26/19||FROM JOURNEYMAN DRIVER TO HALL OF FAMER|
|06/18/19||WINNERS NOT ADDING UP|
|05/25/19||THE 600 IS STILL A CROWN JEWEL|
|05/15/19||NEXT TWO WEEKS COULD BE TOO GOOD|
|04/10/19||WALTRIP A TWO-WAY HALL OF FAMER|
SO LITTLE COULD MEAN SO MUCH
Somewhere around an eighth of an inch was how much the illegal spoiler on Kevin Harvick's car was offset to the right, peeking out over the rear fender by an eyelash more than it's supposed to. It seems like such a tiny thing, but it turned into something big and going into this weekend's race at Phoenix could mean an even bigger impact than we could possibly think.
It's hard to imagine something so little could mean so much.
Gone is the win that gave Harvick a guaranteed starting position in the Championship Four in the season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Gone is his crew chief, one of the smartest in the garage, Rodney Childers. Gone is the bonus point advantage that would have locked him in on points without a trip to victory lane, the 40-point penalty dropping Harvick to fourth only three ahead of Kurt Busch and just 17 up on Chase Elliott. And if something goes awry this Sunday, gone is Harvick's chance to battle for a second Monster Energy Cup Series championship.
Gone as well is the integrity of the nine wins he's captured this year.
"You never know how long they've been doing that," questioned Ryan Blaney. "You never know how many of their cars had it, if all their cars had it."
"They could have been doing it all year, it could have been the first time," Joey Logano said. "I don't worry about it much. I heard about it and I think we were all in shock. I was in shock 'wow' that was huge. Does it really affect my life? Nope."
Some people said this is the stiffest penalty they can remember NASCAR handing out, but Logano wasn't ready to go that far - yet. "It depends on how the final two races go right? You can call it the biggest one ever if they don't make it to Miami, I guess then you could probably say that. If they're still able to make it to Miami, then it probably wasn't a huge deal."
Harvick, however, does have a couple advantages going into this weekend. First, he's always been lights out at Phoenix with a trip to victory lane earlier this year and nine overall in 31 starts. In the last 13 races on this one-mile track, Harvick has seven wins, two second place runs and 11 top-5 finishes. With no spoiler at all, the California driver would probably be competitive this Sunday.
Second, proving how deep a bench they have at Stewart-Haas Racing, veteran Tony Gibson will take over for Childers on top of the war wagon. Following a stint as Kurt Busch's crew chief from 2014-2017, Gibson took himself off the road and has spent this season back at the shop prepping cars for all four of SHR's teams. He's smart and battle tested. Let's not also forget even though he won't be on pit road, Childers will be in close electronic communication with Gibson and will still be, in many ways, calling the shots.
This situation has also breathed new life into the title prospects of Kurt Busch and Chase Elliott. A win would be nice, but both have a chance now to point their way in too. "They have hope," Kyle Petty said on NBC's NASCAR America. "And if you give a guy hope they're dangerous."
No matter what happens Petty believes the those tuning in on TV or radio or sitting in the bleachers are already winners. "For a fan who has a ticket to Phoenix, their ticket just doubled in value because it adds to what this weekend is. It adds so much excitement, so much tension."
The pressure has certainly been turned up on Harvick, but he's always been able to handle that. He'll take care of what's in his control. Everything that happens, though, will not be in his control. The slightest problem could now have staggering consequences.
A year ago, Joe Gibbs commented after Homestead his driver had come up short only by 600 feet of winning the championship over Martin Truex, Jr. This year the difference could be even smaller - a lot smaller. Like say, an eighth of an inch.