CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Tony Stewart has never been fond of predictions and when asked, he almost always gives the same response: “If I knew the answer to that, I’d probably be a bookie in Las Vegas.”
Yet when it comes to teammate Kevin Harvick’s chances of advancing out of the next round of NASCAR’s playoffs, the co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing suddenly sounded like an odds-maker.
“There’s nobody I’d put money on in a two-race deal more than him,” Stewart said of Harvick.
Harvick, who has consistently had one of the fastest cars all season, has been backed into a corner in the third round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Matt Kenseth spun him on a restart Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, where Harvick finished 33rd. It dropped him to last in the eight-driver Chase field, with two races to either climb to fourth in the standings or to earn the automatic berth that comes with a victory.
Only four drivers will race for the championship in the Nov. 16 finale at Homestead, where Harvick spent Tuesday and Wednesday testing with SHR.
There was palpable disappointment throughout the SHR organization at Martinsville, where Harvick had climbed from 33rd to inside the top-10 before Kenseth spun him, but no one was ready to count him out.
Although he’s never won a Cup race at Texas, site of Sunday’s event, he has been strong on 1.5-milers this year and won at Charlotte earlier this month. The Texas race will also mark Harvick’s 500th career start.
Then he moves to Phoenix, the site of the final race of this round and where Harvick is a five-time winner. His winning streak includes three of the last four races.
“I think we feel good going to Texas, and Phoenix is one of his favorite tracks,” said Stewart.
SHR competition director Greg Zipadelli noted that Harvick can climb out of a hole.
“He seems to do well when his back is against the wall and I think he wants it,” Zipadelli said. “Nobody is going to give you it. Racing for years, you gotta go earn it, you gotta race it and some days things stack against you and you’ve got to go see what you’re made of. We’ll go to the next couple of races and see what we’ve got.
“I believe in our people, I believe in our equipment, so we’ve just got to do it.”
Crew chief Rodney Childers said the No. 4 team will change nothing in its approach, and nobody is panicked about Harvick’s position.
“We’re ready to go,” Childers said. “Our Texas and Phoenix cars are already ready. There’s nothing we need to change or do differently. We’ve just got to go win a race.”
NBC-VODA: NBC Sports Group has signed Krista Voda to host NBC Sports’ upcoming NASCAR Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series pre- and post-race coverage.
Voda’s on-air duties will also include regular appearances as host of NASCAR America on NBCSN, as well as a range of assignments across NBC Sports and NBC Olympics.
“Krista is a talented host that has established a strong connection with NASCAR viewers over the course of an already impressive career,” said Sam Flood, executive producer of NBC Sports and NBCSN. “Her passion for the sport and comprehensive grasp of its stars, personalities and history will provide for an engaging and informative race day experience for the fans.”
Voda has covered NASCAR for 13 consecutive seasons. She is the current host of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series pre-race show for Fox Sports, and was the first female to ever host NASCAR’s Daytona Duels, as well as the NASCAR All-Star Race in Charlotte.
ESPN MOVES: Ricky Craven will remain with ESPN as a NASCAR analyst even after the network ends its broadcasting agreement with NASCAR at the end of the year.
Craven, who started with ESPN as an analyst in 2008, will make regular appearances in the ESPN studio around NASCAR Sprint Cup races. He’ll also analyze breaking news as warranted.
“Our news and information platforms will continue to provide NASCAR fans with coverage of the sport and insightful analysis going forward,” said Michael Shiffman, senior coordinating producer, SportsCenter. “Ricky Craven has proven to be a valuable voice and analyst and we are very happy that he is remaining part of the ESPN team into the future.”
Craven was the 1995 Cup Series rookie of the year. He is part of the closest recorded finish in NASCAR history when he edged Kurt Busch by .002 second to win at Darlington in 2003. His last fulltime season of driving was 2005.
Meanwhile, the network said Brad Daugherty will remain with ESPN as an NBA and college basketball analyst beginning in November.
Daugherty, who played eight seasons for the Cleveland Cavaliers, has been a NASCAR analyst on NASCAR Countdown, NASCAR Now and across ESPN platforms. He previously covered college basketball as a reporter for ESPN and ABC on ACC telecasts from 1999-2001.
Daugherty is co-owner of JTG-Daugherty Racing, which fields a car for AJ Allmendinger.
SCHMIDT PETERSON-RINGEL: Ethan Ringel has signed with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports for the upcoming Indy Lights season.
The 20-year-old Ringel is SPM’s first confirmed driver for next season. He competed in the Atlantic Championship Series in 2014 and earned seven podium finishes.
“It’s time for me to step up to Indy Lights in 2015, and there’s no better team to drive for in the series than Schmidt Peterson Motorsports,” Ringel said. “They have talented mechanics and engineers, and their winning record speaks volumes.”
SPM has seven Indy Lights championships.
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