He had the fastest truck in the field, qualifying on the pole and surging to multi-truck length leads throughout the event. He held the edge in experience, having turned more laps on the challenging Virginia oval than virtually any other driver in the field. And unfortunately, he also enjoyed the advantage of a closest competitor – runner-up Ty Dillon – who showed absolutely no interest in passing him at any time.
Harvick’s Tide-sponsored No. 2 Chevrolet and Dillon’s No. 3 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevy are both fielded out of the Richard Childress Racing shops in Welcome, NC. The two drivers are teammates, and as a result, sometimes cut each other a little extra slack on the race track. One of those times came early in Saturday’s race, when Harvick suddenly slowed at the exit of Turn Four and allowed his rookie teammate to pass him on the outside. The move earned Dillon one championship point for leading the race, and he dutifully returned the favor just two laps later, waving Harvick back into a lead he was able to maintain for the rest of the afternoon.
Through seven different restarts over the ensuing 243 laps, Harvick ceded the advantageous low line to his youthful teammate. Each time, Harvick’s blue and yellow Chevrolet surged back into the lead at the drop of the green flag, while Dillon feathered the throttle and allowed it to happen. Even on the final restart of the day with just five laps remaining, Dillon made no serious effort to wrest the lead away from his RCR teammate, coasting into the first turn and allowing Harvick to drive away to an uncontested, .953-second victory.
Technically, neither Harvick nor Dillon did anything wrong Saturday. But it sure wasn't right, either.
|Harvick pulls away once again.|
Harvick confirmed the RCR team’s strategy after the race, saying, “It’s (Dillon’s) job to win the championship, and it’s my job to win races. That’s the way this team works.” He also admitted, “my role was to protect Ty on those restarts by giving him the inside line.”
Third-place finisher James Buescher expressed frustration with the RCR team’s tactics, saying he literally shoved Dillon into Turn One on a late-race restart, in an attempt to get at leader Harvick. Fourth-place finisher Justin Lofton wondered aloud what might have been, saying, “If I could have gotten up there (to the front row), there might have been a race for the lead at the end.”
For the record, nobody did anything illegal Saturday. There is nothing in the NASCAR rulebook that requires Ty Dillon to race hard. There is nothing forbidding teammates from cooperating on restarts, to their mutual benefit. The agreement between Harvick and Dillon paid off handsomely, preventing Dillon from restarting in the slower outside lane and being gobbled up by a snarling pack of drivers intent on actually winning the race.
But between the lines, where the unwritten rules of sportsmanship and fair play are found, there was a lot to dislike about Saturday’s race.
|Let the celebration begin!|
What happened Saturday was unquestionably best for Kevin Harvick, Ty Dillon, Richard Childress Racing and their sponsors. But the people who matter most – the fans who laid down their hard-earned money at Martinsville Speedway's ticket booths expecting to see a vintage, bare-knuckled Truck Series street brawl – did not get what they paid for, or what they deserved.
The Camping World Truck Series has built a reputation over the years as the division where drivers will shank their grandma to win a race. That makes them special in our eyes; a throwback to way NASCAR used to be before multi-million dollar sponsors and multi-car teams made things so damned complicated.
There is likely nothing NASCAR can do to prevent what happened Saturday from occurring again one day. But that doesn’t mean anyone should be particularly proud of it.