NASCAR Barometer: Harvick Wins in Texas

NASCAR Barometer: Harvick Wins in Texas

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Kevin Harvick tracked down and passed Martin Truex Jr. in the final laps of Sunday's AAA Texas 500 to book a spot in the championship finale. He joins Kyle Busch in the final championship battle, along with Truex, who secured his berth via points with Sunday's top-five finish. That means just one spot remains for one of the five other championship contenders to battle for in this week's race at Phoenix International Raceway. Fantasy owners would have expected Harvick's surge to come this week, but his first career win at Texas will allow him a moment of relative relaxation as he readies for Miami.

Brad Keselowski delivered a top-five finish on Sunday and that puts him in the final transfer spot ahead of this week's race. Denny Hamlin and Ryan Blaney both delivered top-10s, while the Chevrolets struggled. Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott are significantly behind in points and face must-win scenarios to advance to Miami with their championship hopes intact. It looks like Chevrolet won't have a dog in the fight in Miami at the moment, and they will be looking to change that this week in Phoenix.

UPGRADE

Kevin Harvick – Harvick won the first stage of Sunday's race in Texas, earning himself valuable points, but that didn't matter after he successfully overtook Truex in the final laps to claim his first win at Texas Motor Speedway to clinch a spot in the final at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Harvick had been quick all weekend and he leveraged that speed

Kevin Harvick tracked down and passed Martin Truex Jr. in the final laps of Sunday's AAA Texas 500 to book a spot in the championship finale. He joins Kyle Busch in the final championship battle, along with Truex, who secured his berth via points with Sunday's top-five finish. That means just one spot remains for one of the five other championship contenders to battle for in this week's race at Phoenix International Raceway. Fantasy owners would have expected Harvick's surge to come this week, but his first career win at Texas will allow him a moment of relative relaxation as he readies for Miami.

Brad Keselowski delivered a top-five finish on Sunday and that puts him in the final transfer spot ahead of this week's race. Denny Hamlin and Ryan Blaney both delivered top-10s, while the Chevrolets struggled. Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott are significantly behind in points and face must-win scenarios to advance to Miami with their championship hopes intact. It looks like Chevrolet won't have a dog in the fight in Miami at the moment, and they will be looking to change that this week in Phoenix.

UPGRADE

Kevin Harvick – Harvick won the first stage of Sunday's race in Texas, earning himself valuable points, but that didn't matter after he successfully overtook Truex in the final laps to claim his first win at Texas Motor Speedway to clinch a spot in the final at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Harvick had been quick all weekend and he leveraged that speed early in the race to move forward, and showed a championship mentality as he used it again to make the final pass for the win. The final race in this round of the playoffs is Phoenix, which is one of Harvick's best tracks. He has eight victories from 29 starts at the circuit and hasn't finished outside of the top 10 there since 2013.

Martin Truex Jr. – No driver has been better on the 1.5-mile ovals this season than Truex. This driver has been one of the best on these tracks all season, and Sunday's race in Texas proved to be more of the same. He steadily ran at the front of the pack throughout the afternoon but wasn't able to hold onto the top spot once Harvick charged him down in the final miles. Despite not yet having a win to put him into the finale, Truex has a comfortable margin in points that clinches a spot in the championship race. He has never won at Phoenix and hasn't even finished in the top 10 at the track since 2015. Truex's best finish at the circuit was fifth in 2009 when he started from pole.

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin put the controversy from last week's race at Martinsville behind him in Texas. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver was fast throughout the weekend and was one of the top contenders throughout the distance. The team gambled with a two-tire stop late in the race, which gave him the track position he needed to be in contention for the win. Things didn't turn his direction, though. Still, he was fast enough to claim a third-place finish, but it wasn't enough for him to get into Miami quite yet. Hamlin's lone Phoenix win came in 2012, but he's only finished outside of the top 10 there once in the last six races. Only one spot remains to be claimed in Miami.

Brad Keselowski – Keselowski had to pit almost immediately after the start of the race to replace a flat tire after contact, but luckily he had plenty of time to regroup and climb his way back into a top-five finish. Days like Sunday at Texas aren't good enough to put him into the championship finale, but they go a long way toward restoring the momentum the team had at the beginning of the season. There's still one more race for Keselowski to rise above the rest and force his way into the final championship battle. The Penske Racing driver has finished in the top 10 in half of his eight Phoenix starts in the series and will need to maintain his position to make it to Miami.

Ryan Blaney – Blaney truly is giving Wood Brothers Racing a stunning season in 2017. He is heading off to Penske in 2018, but Blaney has taken this single-car team and driven it through to the final eight of the championship playoffs. He hasn't made it here completely through luck either. His effort in Texas proved that he's one of the future stars of the sport. He drove a complete race and delivered a top-10 finish at the most pressure-filled point of the season thus far. Blaney rapidly is becoming one of the go-to fantasy options. His three Phoenix starts have given him two top-10s, which should give fantasy players plenty to consider as they set their lineups this week.

DOWNGRADE

Jimmie Johnson – Texas was considered to be one of Johnson's best tracks, but Sunday's race was the complete opposite. The No. 48 was behind all afternoon and found himself three laps down as the final stage got underway. The points he lost on Sunday mean he must win at Phoenix to keep this season's championship drive alive. Luckily, he has won four times at that track. Still, fantasy owners can see that Johnson isn't where he needs to be to be a threat to win another championship, and it's largely by luck that he has come this far in the fight. Next week likely will be his last chance at this year's title, and it won't be a surprise if he fails to make it through to Miami.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – A hub failure put Earnhardt into the garage with extensive repairs, which put him out of a decent effort too early in Sunday's race. Texas Motor Speedway was the site of both of his maiden wins in the Xfinity and Monster Energy Cup series, but he signed off at the circuit with disappointment. Just two races remain in his full-time Cup series career. He has three wins at Phoenix, with the latest being in 2015. He finished 14th there earlier this season but has been more like a top-10 driver at the track for the past few seasons. Time is winding down for Earnhardt, and a top-10 this week might be one of the last of his career.

Kyle Larson – Larson won the second stage on Sunday, but it was too late for his championship effort. Larson had a tremendous start to the season, and he's continuing to show promise, but with a lack of consistency. The speed certainly has been there throughout the year, but even now he continues to struggle with delivering top-10 finishes every week. Last week's DNF in Texas is representative of that, and it is why his championship fight is already over. This team needs to focus on building upon their speed and delivering consistent finishes to go further. Larson has seven Phoenix starts and has finished in the top three in the last two visits. He was the runner up there earlier this season and led three laps in that effort.

Kyle Busch – Early contact put Busch behind in Texas last week. His win two weeks ago at Martinsville Speedway certainly comes as a relief after this past week's struggles. Busch dealt with a damaged car for the entirety of Sunday's race and only worked his way up to 19th place by the finish. With Truex's clinch of a spot among the final four on points, the win two weeks ago for Busch holds even more importance. The team has one race this week in Phoenix to regroup and regain their confidence ahead of that final championship fight. Busch has one Phoenix victory but has four consecutive top-five finishes at the track ahead of this week's race. Rest assured he will be ready for Miami.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Matt Kenseth – The week Kenseth admitted that he would be stepping away from competition next season he went out and delivered a top-five finish. He's this week's biggest surprise not for the finish, but more for the fact that he has not settled his plans for the coming season. He will be replaced at Joe Gibbs Racing and has not found a competitive seat he wants to jump into for 2018. That is a huge surprise for a driver of his caliber. He may join the growing list of top drivers exiting the series for good, but one wonders if Kenseth won't find his way back. As things stand now, just two races remain in his Monster Energy Cup future, which is way too few for such a top contender.

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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.
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