Major news broke today that Kevin Harvick and the #4 team have been issued a L1 penalty for their spoiler on the car at Texas last weekend. Harvick put on a dominating effort in that race, leading 177 of the 337 laps, winning both Stages, and taking home the checkered flag–his second straight win in the fall event at that track.
With this penalty, though, Harvick’s Texas win is now considered “encumbered,” a term we heard quite often last season with Joey Logano (who ended up missing the Playoffs). Additionally, the #4 team will be assessed a 40-point penalty, and crew chief Rodney Childers will be suspended for the next two races. Harvick’s car chief, Cheddar Smith, will join Childers on the sideline as well, as he receives a 2-race suspension as well. Stewart-Haas Racing has already said they won’t be appealing the penalty.
Similar penalties have been handed down to the #12 Penske team with driver Ryan Blaney and the #20 Joe Gibbs Racing team with driver Erik Jones. Unfortunately, those stories won’t get as much media attention, as they are not current Playoff drivers (hello Jeff Gluck).
As far as the NASCAR Playoffs goes, this definitely shakes things up a bit. Instead of being guaranteed a spot in the Homestead Championship race, Harvick now has to either win or get in on points this Sunday at Phoenix. After the penalty, he currently holds the 4th and final spot, just 3 points ahead of teammate Kurt Busch. As far as the other drivers that are currently “in,” Kyle Busch has a 28-point cushion over the cut line while Martin Truex, Jr. has a 25-point cushion.
How big of a deal is Harvick’s penalty?
Overall, this isn’t a big deal, at least in my opinion. Before the penalty, we were more than likely going to end up with Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Martin Truex, Jr. as the four drivers competing for the championship at Homestead. After the penalty, we’re more than likely going to end up with Logano, Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Truex as the four Championship drivers at Homestead.
Of course, Harvick, Busch, or Truex could easily miss out on the Championship Race with something catastrophic happening to them on Sunday–or if Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott, Aric Almirola, or Clint Bowyer pull off a surprise victory–but that’s not extremely likely. And when it comes to Harvick, it’s hard for me to imagine him being too worried: not only did the #4 Ford end up in victory lane at Phoenix back in March, but he’s also won six of the last ten races at this track. Harvick also hasn’t finished worse than 6th at Phoenix since the 2013 season.
One thing that Harvick has to be a little concerned with, though, is the loss of crew chief Rodney Childers. That is one aspect of this penalty that I could see hurting the #4 team the most, especially if they make it to the Championship Race at Homestead.
This penalty will no doubt be blown up in the media as a huge development in the 2018 Playoffs, but that’s a pretty easy thing to do when there’s not much more to talk about. The Big Three are still probably going to all make it to Homestead to battle for the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship.