Why Kevin Harvick’s Michigan Win Was the Most Clutch Victory of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Season
But to this point in the season, his victory should be considered the most clutch.
Kevin Harvick was nearing his first playoff miss since 2009
Harvick had not won a Cup Series race in nearly two full seasons since his victory in the 2020 night race at Bristol Motor Speedway. It had been 65 races since Harvick had been to Victory Lane, and his chances to reach the NASCAR Playoffs for the 13th straight year dwindled by the week.
Only two spots for the playoffs remained as the series headed to Michigan with 14 different winners through the first 22 races of the season. That left two open spots for winless drivers to qualify for the playoffs based on their regular-season point totals.
Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. have held those spots since Christopher Bell became the 14th different winner of the season in July at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. That bumped Harvick, who was still 10th in the overall non-playoff points standings, back to 17th in the playoffs standings and 68 points behind the cutline of Truex in 16th with six regular-season races left.
That margin only grew to 96 points in the next two weeks when Harvick finished 27th at Pocono Raceway and 33rd at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
His only remaining chance to make the playoffs was via a win, and he had the second-longest current winless drought of the top three drivers outside of the playoffs to only Erik Jones’ 106-race stretch.
Harvick has been clutch several times throughout his career
Harvick has had some clutch performances previously in his 22-year Cup Series career that has featured 59 wins, the 2014 championship, and will eventually lead him to a NASCAR Hall of Fame enshrinement.
His run toward his lone career Cup Series title included a win in the final two races and a second-place finish the week before at Texas Motor Speedway. He and the No. 4 team were as rock solid as possible on the path to the championship.
He also dominated at Dover Motor Speedway in 2020 for his seventh win of that season with 223 laps led that clinched the regular-season title before he had to deal with the unpredictability of Daytona International Speedway in the regular-season finale a week later.
Additionally, his 2007 Daytona 500 win is one of the more famous in NASCAR history, as he narrowly outdueled NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin on the final lap as the rest of the field crashed behind them.
Of course, his first career victory will always be his most famous. Harvick won in 2001 at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the third race of his Cup Series career as the replacement for Dale Earnhardt Sr., who died in a crash at the end of the season-opening Daytona 500.
Others have also had clutch victories this season
Harvick has a fair amount of competition for the most clutch win of the season to date. Bell’s win at New Hampshire was particularly crucial as he had been on the cutline in 16th at the time of the victory.
Had he not won that race, another winless driver such as Bubba Wallace, who finished third, could have snagged his playoff spot. Even if the runner-up at New Hampshire, Chase Elliott, won what would have been his fourth victory of the year, Harvick would have knocked Bell out of the playoffs with his Michigan triumph.
Daniel Suarez has a case for the most clutch win with his victory in June at Sonoma Raceway. Suarez had competed for several wins earlier in the season, but his most likely path to the playoffs was a victory on a road course such as Sonoma, given his background from the road-course-based NASCAR Peak Mexican Series when he won 10 of 44 races from 2012-14.
He had five regular-season chances to win on a road course, while drivers with more experience on ovals essentially had 21 chances to win on an oval track. Sonoma was the second road course of the season and took the pressure off of Suarez, who no longer had to approach the remaining road courses with a win-or-bust mindset, and the weight of no previous career Cup Series wins.
Even Austin Cindric’s Daytona 500 win could be considered clutch considering his performance throughout the rest of the season.
Cindric won the season-opener in his eighth career Cup Series start. That gave the rookie the breathing room he needed when he didn’t reach the top five again until Sonoma 15 races later. Cindric is 16th in the non-playoff standings and would likely be one of the drivers narrowly outside the playoff field if he hadn’t won the season’s biggest race.
This has been a season full of surprises and impressive clutch performances, but none have equaled what Harvick accomplished at Michigan.
Stats courtesy of Racing Reference