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After his second straight victory was won in dominating fashion, there was the beginnings of controversy around Kevin Harvick’s car. On his way to sweeping all three stages in Las Vegas, fans and other drivers noticed something weird going on with Harvick’s roof and back window.
You can see in this image that, during the race, the rear roof and window were collapsed slightly:
Then, during the celebration after the race, the roof was suspiciously straight, although the slightest evidence of the dip can still be seen if you look closely at the line where the window meets the roof.
Speculation of cheating or a clever exploitation of a loophole ran rampant. Had the team found a way to legally improve the aerodynamics of the car? Even Dale Earnhardt Jr. commented on the situation on his podcast:
The possibility of a new advantage has everyone interested in the number four car, but if you believe Harvick’s own crew chief, Rodney Childers, it’s much ado about nothing.
“Basically, we had a rear window brace fail and NASCAR mandates that we run a certain T-bar in the back glass and that T-bar is actually pretty strong,’’ Childers said on “The Morning Drive” via NBC Sports. “Then also over the winter they wanted the rear package to raise the bottom of the rear glass to be really stiff and stay controlled — there were some guys that were having their rear package trays falling an inch at the end the year last year.
“The bottom of the glass got strengthened up and the T-bar is stiff and the center brace that holds that T-bar is what bent and failed and the T-bar ends up being stronger than the back of roof at that point and then pulled the back of the roof down.
“To be honest, that stuff has been a struggle over many, many years. I can remember being at Michigan with Mark Martin in 2012. You’re just going so fast at those intermediate tracks and you’ve got so much air pushing down on that stuff. I remember Mark coming off the race track and we had a 2-inch gap from the bottom of the glass to the deck lid when we came in from practice and had to modify all that stuff.’’
Of course the crew chief isn’t going to give away his secrets if he found an advantage, but Childers sounded legitimately confident that NASCAR wouldn’t have to start looking for these kinds of roof deformations as a potential advantage. He first explained that he has no idea if the dip helped or hurt the car because the wind tunnels they use to test don’t even reach those speeds. Then, he made it clear that they don’t want the dip to come back and will do everything they can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
“I think the biggest thing is getting it fixed and making sure that it doesn’t happen again. I think all the guys there they understand aerodynamics and they understand what goes on. We all communicate and we try to do the right things. I think also my reputation over there is pretty good.
“Like I said, it’s not something to be proud of. We’re proud of winning races and having fast cars. Whether a brace failed or not, we were going to win the other day. That’s really the whole story.’’
Unless we see more cars trying to replicate the dip, we are inclined to believe this was a structural failure, not an exploit.