Spotter's Stand: Kevin Harvick Continues Career-Best Streak
Seventh-place finisher Kevin Harvick didn't lead a lap in Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Dover, but the top-ten finish continued an unusual streak for him: three top-ten finishes in May.
"I think in the big picture it fits well for us because everybody knows that Darlington, Charlotte, and Dover are probably our three biggest struggles," said Harvick afterward. "The month of May has always been tough for us and so far we have got three top-tens."
Those three top-tens mark the first time Harvick has earned more than a single top-ten during the month of May in his Sprint Cup career.
Also telling? His average finish in May this season (fifth) is more than 20 spots better than his average May efforts a year ago -- results that included two finishes of 34th or worse. With the way he and his much-improved Richard Childress Racing team have been running, it's hard not to expect more of the same at the Memorial Day weekend Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte.
David Reutimann finally had a finish that mirrored where he ran in the race.
The Michael Waltrip Racing driver, who had just one top-five to his name in 2010 before Dover, finished fifth after the 400-lapper. According to NASCAR's loop data, Reutimann averaged a running position of 8.5 throughout the race -- fourth best in the entire field.
"We haven't had a whole lot to smile about all year," said Reutimann. "It's been pretty dismal. We've been running really well, it's just that we haven't been able to close the deal."
The native of Zephyrhills, Fla., is right. Over the season, Reutimann has averaged a 17th-place running -- good for 17th best of the 39 drivers who have raced in 75 percent of the season's races -- while his average finishing position is 20th. Attribute that discrepancy to Reutimann's three DNFs in the season's first 12 races.
Contrasting Reutimann's case, Jimmie Johnson endured a costly speeding penalty during the final green flag pit stops at Dover, forcing him to finish a lap down in 16th. NASCAR's data, though, showed that Johnson averaged a third-place standing through the event.
Had Johnson not earned the late penalty -- a rarity for the defending four-time champion -- the stats say he should have beat Kyle Busch. NASCAR's loop data showed that Johnson was the fastest driver both in the laps before a pit stop and those immediately following.
In other words, Johnson was fast all day.
Busch, meanwhile, was second-quickest to Johnson after a pit stop and just the eighth-fastest car in the laps before. I'd say it's a safe bet to say that since the final 109 laps Sunday at Dover were run under green, Johnson would have been tough to beat had he avoided that speeding ticket.
Casey Mears, part-timing it this year on the Sprint Cup circuit, had easily the best equipment he's driven this season when he filled in for Brian Vickers Sunday at Dover due to Vickers being out of the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota with a blood clot issue.
Mears brought the car home 22nd -- not great but very much in line with Vickers' own 20th-place average finish at Dover since he joined Red Bull in 2007. Vickers' best finish at Dover was a sixth-place with Hendrick Motorsports in 2005.
"All things considered -- finding out about this on Thursday," said Mears, one of Vickers' good friends. "Getting here, get fitted -- my back definitely is a little sore -- and trying to work through some of that stuff. I think everybody did a good job tackling what we needed to tackle this weekend."
Vickers is "progressing well" according to a team release on Tuesday, and is expected to meet with the media Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. His return to racing is uncertain, and one would assume Mears would be in the car again this weekend if Vickers can't go.
Remember Paul Menard, that guy we wrote about after Atlanta? At the time, Menard was ninth in the point standings and shocking everybody with his quality finishes.
Menard and his performance have seemingly come back down to Earth. In the season's first six races, Menard averaged a 14th-place finish, but in the following six that average doubled to 28th.
Menard is now 23rd in the Sprint Cup standings.
Goodyear brought a new left-side tire compound to Dover with a new mold shape, and it apparently left teams a little perplexed on how to handle the amount of rubber it was laying down on to the track surface.
"At the end, the rubber buildup was like driving on oil," said second-place finisher Jeff Burton.
Jay Guy, crew chief on Brad Keselowski's No. 12 Dodge, said the track consistency was an issue.
"Sometimes we got really, really loose, and then the next run it got really tight," said Guy. "The track didn't go consistent one way or another for us today. It's something that we have to look at and watch the tapes and see what everyone else was doing."