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WAID’S WORLD: Quick, Unexpected Change Can Alter Race’s Outcome

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On the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (It’s going to take a while to get used to this), things, sometimes, change very quickly and unexpectedly.

As fans, I know you have seen it. Now, I’m not talking about rule and technical alterations – although some folks are exasperated by how fast and repeatedly they seem to occur – I’m talking about competitive changes.

They can happen from week to week or even in the course of a single race. They can, and often do, have a significant effect on the outcome of an event.

We have two prime examples of this in the first two weeks of this season.

At Daytona, a series of multicar accidents decidedly altered the race’s finishing order. Where we normally would have expected such stalwarts as Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr.and Jimmie Johnson to occupy positions in the top 10, all were eliminated.

Instead, Ryan Blaney, A.J. Allmendinger, Aric Almirola and Paul Menard followed winner Kurt Busch among the top five. Change? It was a big, unexpected one.

But at Atlanta the situation was reversed. The race was much cleaner and the survival rate was higher. Consequently, the top 10 finishers were, at the very least, not all that unexpected. They surprised no one.

None of the top five at Daytona repeated at Atlanta. In fact only three drivers among the top 10 at Daytona – Busch, Joey Logano and Kasey Kahne – did so again a week later.

Yeah, a big change but this one resulted in no real surprise. Now things are more like it.

It could be argued – rather well, incidentally – that every time there is a lead swap in a race that’s change.

It is, but we expect that. It’s fair to say that most of us would like to see more of them.

What is not expected is for a driver who has dominated an event to make a mistake on his part that removes him from certain victory.

Such was the case with Kevin Harvick.

Harvick is recognized as a master at Atlanta. He has led hundreds of laps but only has one victory to show for it. It was his career first in 2001.

This past weekend Harvick was on cruise control. It was like the Stewart Haas Racing driver was going 55 mph all by himself on the Interstate. His crew was equally superior. Pit stops were virtually perfect. They were unchallenged.

Until …

After he led 292 of a scheduled 325 laps, Harvick made his final pit stop with 11 laps to go. It went well, no problems.

But Harvick made a mistake. NASCAR nabbed the driver who had been perfect for speeding on pit road – he was one of several, by the way.

The drive-through penalty dropped Harvick to 18h with a handful of laps to go. He climbed back to ninth by the end of the race while Brad Keselowski sped to victory.

Drivers who dominate races have ultimately lost them for several reasons – lack of fuel, mechanical problems and crashes are some of them.

But not many are lost simply because of driver error. We certainly do not anticipate a mistake by a competitor who has performed perfectly all day.

For his part, Harvick offered no excuses.

“I just made a mistake that I preach all the time that you don’t need to make,” Harvick said. “You can’t beat yourself.

“And then you go out and make it yourself instead of following all the things you preach. That part is hard for me to swallow. The good part about it is our Ford has been really fast.

“Man, one way or another I have figured out how to lose races here at Atlanta after being so dominant.”

What happened to Harvick may have indeed been unexpected, but it certainly isn’t new.

For example, Juan Pablo Montoya had the 2009 Brickyard 400 in his back pocket until he, too, was caught speeding on pit road by only .06-seccond.

“I would say we’ve had races where we’ve led a bunch of laps and things fall apart at the end,” said Keselowski, who gave Ford its second consecutive victory. “That’s just part of how this sport works.  And you take advantage of the opportunities when they come.”

Keselowski is right. Change, no matter how dramatic, unexpected and quick it may be, is part of how the sport works.

Or as the old saying goes, “That’s racin’.”

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW STEVE ON TWITTER: @SteveWaid

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Steve Waid

Steve Waid has been in motor sports journalism since 1972, the year he first started covering NASCAR, when he started his newspaper career at the Martinsville (Va.) Bulletin. From there Waid spent time at the Roanoke Times & World as well as NASCAR Scene, where he was the executive editor for 10 years. After retiring in 2010 he became the Vice President of Unplugged Auto Group for its website, MotorsportsUnplugged.com and has now joined POPULAR SPEED as an editor and columnist. Waid has won numerous writing awards and other such accolades. In January of 2014 he was inducted into the NMPA Hall of Fame.