Kevin Harvick Can Hate on Chase Elliott, but He’s Been off His Game for an Entire NASCAR Cup Series Season
Kevin Harvick set a NASCAR Cup Series record last year for most victories by a driver 44 or more years old. This season, he’s well on his way to tying the record, shared by many, for fewest victories by a driver 45 or older.
If Harvick chooses to continue his feud with Chase Elliott, a driver with more important objectives in mind, then it may just be to obscure the fact that he could easily go winless for the first time since 2009.
Comparisons to Denny Hamlin ceased when the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs started
Between them, Kevin Harvick (nine) and Denny Hamlin (seven) won nearly half of the 36 NASCAR Cup Series races in the 2020 season. They formed the No. 1 story of the season until Harvick bombed out of the playoffs the week before the Championship 4. Chase Elliott ended up winning the championship, Hamlin wound up fourth, and Harvick placed fifth.
From a technical and competitive standpoint, nothing changed dramatically during the offseason. Teams hampered by restrictions related to the pandemic found themselves with three months to tweak their cars. If we assume that no driver’s performance suddenly fell off a cliff, then one likely conclusion is that some teams did better than others in finding speed and handling. (Special mention goes to Hendrick Motorsports for “finding” Kyle Larson.)
Whatever the reason, Harvick and Hamlin each went winless in the new NASCAR Cup Series regular season, but that’s the extent of any similarities. Hamlin has won twice in the playoffs and has 17 top-five showings for the year. Harvick remains winless and has finished in the top five just eight times.
The Chase Elliott episodes distract from the facts about Kevin Harvick
Kevin Harvick became peeved at Chase Elliott for blocking him late in the Bristol playoff race, potentially costing Harvick a victory. However, it’s worth remembering that Harvick advanced to the second round of the playoffs anyway.
Three races later, Harvick took his best run at wrecking Elliott on the Charlotte Roval and ending his playoff run. Somehow, Elliott got back into the hunt. He was coming up on the No. 4 Ford in the closing laps when Harvick locked his brakes, crashed hard, and knocked himself out of both the race and the playoffs. A lot of fans will go to their grave believing that Harvick panicked upon realizing Elliott was bearing down on him. There’s a label for that sort of fear, and it doesn’t get used in polite conversation.
Whatever the case, Harvick is going to finish outside the top eight for the first time since 2009. His average race finish is his worst since 2014, the year he joined Stewart-Haas Racing.
According to Frontstretch.com, Harvick has two years left on his contract with SHR, so his future is secure. The planned cutover to the Next Gen car next season changes the playing field for everyone. The new car supposedly will be an equalizer for all teams, shifting more emphasis to drivers’ skill, theoretically a plus for Harvick.
On the other hand, that’s what NASCAR says about every new car rollout.
Kevin Harvick and the whole SHR team has had a down year
Between them, Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Chase Briscoe, Aric Almirola, and Cole Custer have only won once this season, so Kevin Harvick isn’t the only SHR driver who is struggling. The remaining tracks should be good ones for Harvick, but he hasn’t won at any of the tracks where he booked 21 wins from 2018-20.
Ironically, the last race of the year is at Phoenix Raceway, where Harvick won nine times from 2006-18. He could conceivably win there on the day that the Championship 4 battles for the season title. NASCAR adopted the current playoff format in 2014, and a Championship 4 driver has won the final race of the year in all seven seasons thus far.
In 2013, the last year of the old format, the season finale was at Homestead-Miami. Denny Hamlin, on his way to his worst final ranking as a full-time competitor, pulled off the victory to somewhat salvage his season.
Harvick could pull off similar magic, but it won’t erase the sting of going from nine victories last year to being remembered solely for feuding with Chase Elliott.
All stats courtesy of Racing Reference.