Of the three past champions who didn’t finish Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series playoff opener at Darlington, Kevin Harvick had the most legitimate reason to gripe. Chase Elliott put himself into the wall, and Kyle Busch may have destroyed his own gearbox. All Harvick did was successfully make nearly 1,100 left turns on The Track Too Tough to Tame before the No. 4 Ford initiated an attempted weenie roast.
Harvick was able to scurry out of the car before the flames got to him. Afterward, he put NASCAR on blast. NASCAR has responded by telling Harvick he was wrong. But only partially.
Kevin Harvick’s post-race rant at Darlington was memorable
NBC Sports interviewed Kevin Harvick on-air not long after the car fire put him out of business Sunday at Darlington. Harvick had been running in the top 10 for nearly 40 laps when he started smelling smoke. One lap after pitting and potentially working his way into the top five, he had to abandon the race when flames started shooting out from beneath the car and coming up through the dashboard.
Had Harvick’s rant been a boxing match, the referee would have had to stop the fight out of safety concerns for NASCAR. And, yes, there’s irony there since Harvick isn’t all that convinced NASCAR has drivers’ safety at heart.
“I’m sure it’s just crappy parts on the race car like we’ve seen so many times. They haven’t fixed anything,” he began. “It’s kind of like the safety stuff. We just let it keep going and keep going. The car started burning and as it burned the flames started coming through the dash. … We didn’t touch the wall. We didn’t touch a car and here we are in the pits with a burned-up car, and we can’t finish the race during the playoffs because of crappy-a** parts.”
NASCAR VP: ‘I think he actually does know we do care’
Kevin Harvick was upset that finishing 33rd in the NASCAR Cup Series playoff opener put him at risk of not transferring into the next phase following the Bristol race on Sept. 17. However, he almost certainly would have been more restrained had there not been so many previous fires in Next Gen cars this season.
But Harvick did say what he said about NASCAR not fixing anything, and that required a response. Appearing on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, senior VP of competition Scott Miller had to walk a tightrope in responding. NASCAR always refutes allegations and insinuations on matters of safety, but millions of fans have watched car after car catch fire throughout the season.
“I know that was an emotional time and his race was ruined, but to say that NASCAR didn’t care is about as far from the truth as you can get,” Miller claimed. “That’s really all I have to say about that. I’m not going to get in any kind of back-and-forth contest with Kevin over the airwaves, but I think he actually does know we do care.”
Having responded to Harvick, what will NASCAR do to fix the issues?
Senior VP Scott Miller termed the Next Gen car fires “unacceptable” and said NASCAR is continuing to work on solutions. Unfortunately, the engineers and technicians might be looking in the wrong place. Miller pointed to the way Darlington’s track chews up tires, leaving rubber that seeps into rocker boxes.
Firstly, the fires have happened at multiple tracks. Secondly, Darlington has been chewing up tires for years without fires breaking out beneath cars. If rubber is collecting in the undercarriage, then NASCAR should have known at least two years ago there was a potential problem with building its next generation of cars closer to the ground. The most notable in-season change has been to add insulation to the dual exhaust pipes, and it’s not working.
“We talk to everybody, and nobody wants to see this happen,” Miller said. “I think everybody will be forthcoming to try to help us as an industry get to exactly what is creating this.”
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