NASCAR Barometer: Clutch Win Keeps Harvick in Chase

NASCAR Barometer: Clutch Win Keeps Harvick in Chase

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

On Sunday, Kevin Harvick did what he is known for: He won after having his back against the wall. The Stewart Haas Racing driver has just two top-15 finishes in the last five races, but both of those results were wins, including Sunday at Kansas Speedway. Those wins put him through to each subsequent round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, and with Sunday's win, he joins Jimmie Johnson as one of the final eight drivers. Harvick had a consistent and mistake-free afternoon in Kansas and can now breathe easily as the final race in the current round takes place at unpredictable Talladega Superspeedway.

Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Austin Dillon and Brad Keselowski face the daunting task of heading to Talladega with their championship hopes in the balance. Elliott appears to be in the most peril with a 25-point gap to safety after consecutive disappointments. Keselowski is smarting from an unfortunate bobble in Kansas, while Dillon and Hamlin must cure their ills in order to advance in the championship hunt.

UPGRADE

Kevin Harvick – Despite not being a standout favorite through practice, Harvick put the pieces together during the race on Sunday. The team gave him the car he needed to run at the front of the field, and that's exactly what Harvick did. It was another clutch performance from the former champion, who, having never been eliminated under the current structure, is becoming known for his ability to advance through the knockout Chase format. He was a permanent

On Sunday, Kevin Harvick did what he is known for: He won after having his back against the wall. The Stewart Haas Racing driver has just two top-15 finishes in the last five races, but both of those results were wins, including Sunday at Kansas Speedway. Those wins put him through to each subsequent round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, and with Sunday's win, he joins Jimmie Johnson as one of the final eight drivers. Harvick had a consistent and mistake-free afternoon in Kansas and can now breathe easily as the final race in the current round takes place at unpredictable Talladega Superspeedway.

Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Austin Dillon and Brad Keselowski face the daunting task of heading to Talladega with their championship hopes in the balance. Elliott appears to be in the most peril with a 25-point gap to safety after consecutive disappointments. Keselowski is smarting from an unfortunate bobble in Kansas, while Dillon and Hamlin must cure their ills in order to advance in the championship hunt.

UPGRADE

Kevin Harvick – Despite not being a standout favorite through practice, Harvick put the pieces together during the race on Sunday. The team gave him the car he needed to run at the front of the field, and that's exactly what Harvick did. It was another clutch performance from the former champion, who, having never been eliminated under the current structure, is becoming known for his ability to advance through the knockout Chase format. He was a permanent fixture in the top five in the last half of Sunday's race and he joins Johnson in the next round of eliminations. He has just one Talladega win from 2010 but he hasn't finished outside of the top 15 in the last six races there.

Matt Kenseth – Nothing went wrong for Kenseth in the first half of Sunday's race at Kansas. In the second half, he slipped from the lead but remained a contender inside the top 10 throughout the full distance. He led 116 laps and finished ninth when all was said and done, which is more than enough to put him in a confident position with one race remaining in the current elimination round. The team continues to perform well, and Kenseth is peaking at the perfect moment to be a championship contender in Miami. Kenseth won at Talladega in 2012 but hasn't finished in the top 20 in any of the last three races at the superspeedway. He crashed out of the race there earlier this season but not before leading 39 laps.

Kyle Busch – A late pit stop under caution for fresh tires enabled Busch to work his way forward to the front of the field. He was among the fastest cars in practice and qualifying, but his battle with Carl Edwards after the restart held him up and allowed Harvick to gain an even larger lead. The day ended with a top-five finish, which was the team's sixth in a row. Busch has one Talladega win from 22 career starts, but the defending champion did finish second there earlier this season. Busch consistently has been one of the top drivers each week in this Chase, and his ability to overcome adversity may make him an even stronger contender than he seems.

Carl Edwards – It has been some time since Edwards translated practice and qualifying speed into a top race finish. His performance in Kansas was his second top-10 finish in the last seven races despite him starting inside the top 10 fives times in the same span. He may have done enough to advance in the Chase after not suffering as big of a stumble in Charlotte as other Chase contenders. Edwards has never won at Talladega, however. That makes the finishes in the last two races even more critical. His best finish at the track was third in 2013 when he started on pole. He crashed out of the race there earlier this season and has two finishes worse than 30th there since joining Joe Gibbs Racing.

DOWNGRADE

Jamie McMurray – Contact with Alex Bowman cut McMurray's front tire and sent him sliding into the wall in the following turn and effectively out of Sunday's race. The weekend hadn't been great for the No. 1 prior to that incident either. McMurray has been lacking pace for much of the season compared to the top drivers, but his finishes have taken steps backward recently as well. McMurray's last Talladega win came in 2013, but his fourth-place finish at the track earlier this year was one of his best of the season. He'll have to overcome a disappointing 37th-place finish from Kansas and two finishes outside of the top 30 in the last three races.

Brad Keselowski – Keselowski saw his Chase hopes take a huge hit when he was loose and moved up the track ahead of Denny Hamlin late in Sunday's race. Contact between the pair sent the No. 2 spinning into the grass, which destroyed the front of his car and sent him out of contention. He now needs a strong finish at Talladega to keep his championship hopes alive. Keselowski currently stands seven points behind the elimination mark in the standings, which means he must have a top result to advance after next week's race. He does have four victories at the Alabama superspeedway, however. He won at the track earlier this season and scored three top-five finishes in the last four.

Chase Elliott – Elliott's streak of bad luck persisted in Kansas. The young driver suffered a tire rub before losing pace and scraping the wall in the second half of Sunday's race. He tried valiantly to return to the fray, but more trouble was all that awaited him. Ultimately, a failed tire ended any chance of him finishing on the lead lap. The Hendrick Motorsports driver continues to run strongly in each race before suffering some form of trouble that takes him out of contention. Elliott started from pole in his only Sprint Cup outing at Talladega and that resulted in a fifth place finish with 27 laps led. He will be hoping to do better than that this week after two weeks of Chase disappointment.

Kyle Larson – Larson was unable to avoid problems in Kansas. The driver, still battling for fifth in the standings, had heavy contact with the outside wall and fell multiple laps down to the leaders despite making repairs and returning to action. He finished 30th in yet another difficult race this season. While Larson found his breakthrough victory in 2016, he still has some ground to cover before he becomes a consistent contender each week and for the championship. The ability of the team to finish on top each week simply isn't there yet. In five Talladega starts, Larson has just one top-10 finish, which was his first try at the track in Sprint Cup. He led nine laps there earlier this year before finishing 29th.

Denny Hamlin – Early trouble almost doomed Hamlin's afternoon in Kansas, but a well-timed caution period allowed his team to check the car without losing much ground. Unfortunately, after battling hard all afternoon the team then suffered another pit road penalty that dropped him from the top 10 all the way to the back of the field with less than 30 laps remaining in the race. He was able to work his way back to a top-15 finish, but that result isn't good enough when just three races determine your standing in the current Chase format. Hamlin has one Talladega win but has an average finish of just 20th from 21 career starts. He needs a top result this week for a guaranteed chance to continue his championship fight.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Alex Bowman – Bowman may be a confident fantasy choice through the end of the season after what he accomplished in Kansas. The substitute has been no stranger to the top of the timesheets in practice and qualifying, but turning in the same over an entire race distance has been a challenge. That changed with a top-10 run in Kansas last week. Bowman not only started in the top 10 on Sunday, but he finished there as well. His past career hadn't seen him compete in the same equipment that he has now with Hendrick Motorsports, and his results are significantly improving as a result. He has four Sprint Cup starts in Talladega, but fantasy players should reasonably expect him to outperform his average track finish of 30th there this week.

Want to Read More?
Subscribe to RotoWire to see the full article.

We reserve some of our best content for our paid subscribers. Plus, if you choose to subscribe you can discuss this article with the author and the rest of the RotoWire community.

Get Instant Access To This Article Get Access To This Article
RotoWire Community
Join Our Subscriber-Only NASCAR Chat
Chat with our writers and other RotoWire NASCAR fans for all the pre-game info and in-game banter.
Join The Discussion
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
NASCAR DFS: PrizePicks Selections for the Ambetter Health 400
NASCAR DFS: PrizePicks Selections for the Ambetter Health 400
NASCAR DFS:  Ambetter Health 400
NASCAR DFS: Ambetter Health 400
NASCAR DFS Trucks: Fr8 208
NASCAR DFS Trucks: Fr8 208
Ambetter Health 400 Preview: New Slot for Atlanta
Ambetter Health 400 Preview: New Slot for Atlanta