- By George Diaz Orlando Sentinel
Not very long ago, it was hip to be young.
It was all the rage in NASCAR, where new bloods like Darrell “Bubba” Wallace and Ryan Blaney were going to kick all the old guys to the curb or, better yet, dust them on Turn 4.
The veterans are having none of that.
Ancient Kevin Harvick, at 42, is crushing everyone, young and old, having won two consecutive races heading into Phoenix this weekend.
But it’s not just Harvick. There are only two 25-or-younger drivers in the Monster Energy Top 10 standings — (Blaney, 24 and third) and Kyle Larson (25 and sixth).
Harvick is first, of course, followed by Joey Logano (27).
No one is suggesting that a three-race snapshot will be the defining one of a season that lasts 36 races, but it’s a good sign for the old guard, written off by many, and in some cases not around to defend themselves (Matt Kenseth).
Of course, much of this involves Harvick, a one-man wrecking crew in Atlanta and Las Vegas. These are the standard one-and-a-half mile tracks, which bodes well for his championship chances.
With two wins in the bank, Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers are playing with a ton of house money. They can take chances on fuel strategy and pit stops, going against the rest of the grid, and lose nothing. They may steal a victory or two, the definition of piling on as a lock in the playoffs.
Phoenix and its one-mile configuration bring a different dynamic, but not overly challenging. In fact, it sets him up nicely:
Since November 2013, Harvick has five victories in nine races there, and has finished no worse than sixth.
“I think it would be hard to bet against him because that team has been so good at Phoenix in the past,” said Fox Sports analyst Michael Waltrip. “ISM Raceway is a track that suits Kevin Harvick’s driving style. It’s a short track with speeds like a super-speedway. He can run anywhere, and I think it will make him a favorite by the time we get to Phoenix.”
The last Cup driver to win three in a row is Kyle Busch in the summer of 2015.
Harvick is already giddy smelling the rarified air of becoming only the fourth driver to win 100 races across the grid of Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Truck series. The others include Richard Petty, David Pearson and Busch.
And he’s doing it by dominating. He led 214 of 267 laps in Las Vegas after leading 181 of 325 laps in Atlanta. That’s a combined 395 laps led in the last two races.
“We have to hand it to them — they did their homework and they’re really fast and they’re doing a good job,” said Martin Truex Jr., the defending Cup champion. “I’m not going to be the one that sits here and says there’s an unfair advantage because I haven’t figured that out yet.”
Somebody needs to, and fast, before young and old find themselves chasing Harvick to no avail.
Everyone in the Chevy camp was upbeat about a makeover starting with the Daytona 500 this season. After five years with the somewhat blah-blah SS model, Chevy teams switched to the new Camaro ZL1 as its NASCAR car brand.
So far, it’s been good looks, bad results. Chevrolet drivers led 20 laps at Daytona. Camaros led 17 laps at Atlanta. Zero laps in Las Vegas. Ford has been the dominant manufacturer, leading 84 percent of the total laps, followed by Toyota at 12 percent.
“We have talked and talked for three solid weeks about how the Ford has a five-year-old body in the Ford Fusion, how it’s at a disadvantage to last year’s new Camry and this year’s Camaro in the downforce department and at the mile-and-a-half tracks,” said Mike Joy, NASCAR’s play-by-play man for Fox Sports. “What happened? Wow. Talk about wrong.”
With sponsorship issues facing just about every driver, some of them are using creative ways to find funding.
Matt DiBenedetto posted a short video to Twitter on Tuesday asking for sponsors for this weekend’s race in Phoenix.
“We are in a little bit of situation, but we are unsponsored at ISM Raceway at Phoenix this weekend,” DiBenedetto said. “Fans have been the whole reason I’ve made it where I am today. I figured why not reach out to you guys?”
It seems to be working. Denny Hamlin pledged $5,000, former driver Darrell Waltrip and Boogity Brands offered $5,000, and Kevin Harvick pledged another five grand.
Onward to Phoenix, hopefully.