There’s three races to go in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular season, as the circuit heads to Bristol, TN, for Saturday night racing (7:30 PM ET, ABC). And one driver who has reason to be very happy right now is Kevin Harvick.
Harvick hasn’t gotten a lot of attention this season. He’s lurked a little bit off the points pace set by Jimmie Johnson. Harvick doesn’t have the four wins of Matt Kenseth. And on the flip side, Harvick’s solid fourth-place standing have kept him in very safe position for playoff qualification. There hasn’t been reason to focus on Harvick so far, but that may change as the postseason draws near.
With two wins under his belt, Harvick has put himself in good position to win his first-ever Sprint Cup Championship, if he has a strong finishing push (Click here for a complete layman’s explanation of NASCAR’s postseason qualification rules ).
Harvick broke into the circuit in 2001 with Richard Childress Racing, and he did so with big shoes to fill. Harvick got the spot that opened up with the tragic death of Dale Earnhardt Senior. Perhaps feeling the pressure, the young driver seemed to always be on edge.
“He always seemed to be ticked off at something,” said TheSportsNotebook’s NASCAR consultant, my brother Bill, who is not unfamiliar with the concept of living in a state of perpetual agitation. “But he seems to have settled down a lot.”
Winning will do that for you, and while Harvick has never won the brass ring, he’s finished in the Top 10 seven of the last eight years. He got as high as third, in both 2010 and 2011 and finished fourth a year ago.
Given that solid track record, it was perhaps surprising that Harvick was posted as a 25-1 shot to the win the Sprint Cup championship at the start of the season. When we did our NASCAR season preview prior to Daytona, Bill did not hesitate in recommending Harvick as the best longshot pick to win the title.
He’s got some work to do in the races ahead, but the way the season has unfolded assures that February’s longshot is going to be September’s contender.
REVENGE TIME AT BRISTOL
I don’t know who its revenge time for, but if you do have a grudge against a driver, Bristol Motor Speedway is the place to do something about it. This is a tight track, with the drivers bumping and grinding against each other, and it’s easy to get away with something if there’s an opponent you’ve got it in for. Put another way, if baseball were like NASCAR, this would be the track that Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun got their come-uppance at.
The other thing we know about Bristol is that Kyle Busch owns the track. At least that’s the record over the past five years. Busch swept two races here in 2009, and also won in 2010 and 2011. That’s three wins in a nine-race span that includes this year’s March 17 running, won by Kasey Kahne.
Its then with good reason that Kyle Busch joins Jimmie Johnson as the 5-1 co-favorites on Saturday night. And Kevin Harvick? Still not getting the respect, at 15-1.
Joey Logano’s win last week at Michigan was a game-changer in the race for the two wild-card spots. Logano is now a threat to Martin Truex for the final spots, and should Kasey Kahne move from 11th to 10th, and out of the wild-card realm, Logano’s win mean that he and Truex would get the extra berths.
The driver most hurt by this is Jeff Gordon, who has the point totals to be a wild-card contender, but without a win he’s not going to qualify. Gordon has three more chances to change that, but time is running out.
Of the seven drivers who’ve been steadily holding down spots in the Top 10 most of the year, Dale Earnhardt Junior is starting to show some slippage. He blew a tire and had a bad race last week in Michigan. Junior is now in seventh place, with a 20-point cushion on the playoffs. Because he does not have a win, he won’t make it as a wild-card (and if he does get a win, he’ll strengthen his position enough that falling outside the Top 10 won’t be an issue). This means that Junior is one more bad week away from being in serious trouble.