CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Rivalries are the lifeblood of sports, and NASCAR sorely needs a few to spice up the action.
The discourse among drivers has been tame for several years, in part because wives and children have seemed to mellow the competitors. They live inches away from each other in the same motorhome lot every weekend, share the playground, the basketball court and the gym.
It’s kind of hard to slide a side eye at someone you share a neighborhood with 38 weekends a year.
So there was much delight Sunday night when DeLana Harvick, wife of known agitator Kevin Harvick, took a swipe on social media at Austin Dillon. Mrs. Harvick was upset that Dillon seemed to lose power in the waning laps at Atlanta Motor Speedway, where his decision to stay on the track caused a race-altering caution.
Because Dillon didn’t pull off, NASCAR brought out the yellow flag and the field headed to pit road for a final stop. Harvick, who had the win in control prior to Dillon’s action , was flagged for speeding on pit road and the penalty cost him a victory.
Harvick had led 292 of the 325 laps — the most ever for a driver at Atlanta who did not win the race — and he finished ninth.
His wife used an expletive on Twitter to express her displeasure with Dillon, and many fans rejoiced because it was the most exciting thing to come out of the second race of the season.
Harvick didn’t point the finger at Dillon. After all, it’s hard to cast blame on someone when you were the one caught speeding. But that entire sequence and the volley from DeLana Harvick were the best parts of an otherwise uninspiring race.
Perhaps something else would have changed the course of the event in the final minutes, but without that caution, Harvick drives to an easy win. Instead, Brad Keselowski proved his team can overcome adversity by coming back from a pit road error to take the checkered flag.
Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott again showed they will contend for victories many times this season. Atlanta officials conceded that overwhelming driver pressure has them reconsidering a planned repave to the track, and Ford with its beefed up lineup has gone 2-for-2 to start the Cup season.
Those are your highlights, folks.
NASCAR no longer wants to see fisticuffs from its drivers, who also have sponsors that prefer they be family-friendly brand ambassadors. But everything is built around excitement, and NASCAR needs more of it, immediately.
Chip Ganassi has taken the “I like winners” slogan to new heights with his social media use of the tag when talking anything from politics to team performance. The owner must be getting a little anxious about star driver Kyle Larson.
Larson finished second to Keselowski on Sunday after choosing to run the slower high line at Atlanta while leading the race in the final moments. Keselowski got by Larson on the bottom, and Larson has now been passed for the lead late in a race in the last three Cup races dating to the November season finale.
The season-opener at Daytona wasn’t his fault because Larson ran out of gas. But Larson could be accused of either overthinking or being too nice. Either way, he’s got just one win in his Cup career and that’s not enough for the victory-charged Ganassi.
BUILT FORD TOUGH
Ford wasn’t kidding when it said it wanted improved performance from its Cup program. The manufacturer signed Stewart-Haas Racing for this season and parlayed it into a Daytona 500 victory with Kurt Busch.
The race Sunday at Atlanta was going to SHR driver Kevin Harvick until his late speeding penalty, so the win went instead to Ford driver Brad Keselowski of Team Penske. Ford, which won a total of eight Cup races last season, has two wins in two races this year.
“They said they were going to bring on Stewart-Haas, and we said ‘That’s great,’ because we really get some teammates, we’ve got benchmark,” said team owner Roger Penske. “For Ford, it’s terrific that we kick off the season certainly with Kurt’s win last week and the win this week for us.”
VIVA LAS VEGAS
Leading into race day, much of the talk at Atlanta was about a potential second Cup race going to Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority’s board of directors scheduled a special meeting Wednesday to discuss a race sponsorship agreement with the track. The deal would be for $2.5 million a year for seven years with the option of extending the deal three years.
Current Cup tracks are in the second year of five-year sanctioning agreements with NASCAR, but Speedway Motorsports Inc. can cut any deal it wants to move a race. It could move an event from its current collection of tracks, or could try to deal with a property outside of its portfolio.
SMI owns Las Vegas, Atlanta, Bristol, Charlotte, Kentucky, Texas, New Hampshire and Sonoma. International Speedway Corp. owns 12 tracks that host Cup races, while Dover, Pocono and Indianapolis are separately owned.
Las Vegas has hosted one Cup race a year since 1998, but SMI CEO Marcus Smith didn’t shy away from a potential addition.
“When we see that the community is supportive of racing there, it’s definitely encouraging to us,” he said.
That could be a shot at North Carolina leaders who have not given the Smith family the financial support it desires for its Charlotte properties, and the Smiths aren’t thrilled with similar setbacks in New Hampshire.
NASCAR has said only that the 2018 schedule is a work in progress.
“We are constantly working with promoters to discuss and develop NASCAR schedules,” said Jim Cassidy, senior vice president of racing operations.
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