NASCAR Barometer: Lucky No. 7 for Harvick

NASCAR Barometer: Lucky No. 7 for Harvick

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Kevin Harvick was the fastest car on the track from the start of Sunday's Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan International Speedway. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver again put his nose out ahead of his two other championship rivals with a dominant victory. He swept each of the stage wins and led 108 of the 200 laps en route to his seventh victory of the season, one more than Kyle Busch. The race was filled with on-track incidents and pit strategy gambles, but nothing was enough to topple Harvick as he overcame every challenge he faced throughout the afternoon.

Just three races remain in the regular season before the playoff field is set and the championship battle commences. That means three winless drivers have an opportunity to stamp their entry into the championship fight, and only three opportunities remain for championship favorites to optimize their chances to prevail in Miami. The Bristol night race is on tap next, and after winning each of his last two visits, Kyle Busch will be eyeing his chance to pull level with Harvick in the wins column as quickly as possible.

UPGRADE

Kevin Harvick – Harvick was among the dominant drivers at Michigan earlier this season, and he continued that by winning his 11th and 12th stages of the season in the first two segments of Sunday's race. He had the fastest car all afternoon and took the race win to put the cherry on top. It was another dominating performance to give him seven victories

Kevin Harvick was the fastest car on the track from the start of Sunday's Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan International Speedway. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver again put his nose out ahead of his two other championship rivals with a dominant victory. He swept each of the stage wins and led 108 of the 200 laps en route to his seventh victory of the season, one more than Kyle Busch. The race was filled with on-track incidents and pit strategy gambles, but nothing was enough to topple Harvick as he overcame every challenge he faced throughout the afternoon.

Just three races remain in the regular season before the playoff field is set and the championship battle commences. That means three winless drivers have an opportunity to stamp their entry into the championship fight, and only three opportunities remain for championship favorites to optimize their chances to prevail in Miami. The Bristol night race is on tap next, and after winning each of his last two visits, Kyle Busch will be eyeing his chance to pull level with Harvick in the wins column as quickly as possible.

UPGRADE

Kevin Harvick – Harvick was among the dominant drivers at Michigan earlier this season, and he continued that by winning his 11th and 12th stages of the season in the first two segments of Sunday's race. He had the fastest car all afternoon and took the race win to put the cherry on top. It was another dominating performance to give him seven victories in 23 races. The season continues to be one of his best, and the team seems to be gaining momentum as the playoffs approach. In 35 career Bristol starts, the former has two victories, 12 top-fives and 18 top-10s. With six consecutive top-10s at the track, he should be one of the favorite fantasy selections again this week.

Kyle Busch – Sunday was another top day for Busch. He finished third to earn his 17th top-five finish from 23 races. He may not have had the fastest car throughout the afternoon, but he held himself in contention among the top runners to continue building momentum as the playoffs approach. This coming week should be another good one for the No. 18, with Bristol being one of his best tracks. He has seven career victories at the circuit, including the last two races with the latest coming from pole position. If the back and forth battle among the top three drivers this season has been anything by which to judge, Bristol should be a week where Busch reasserts himself at the front.

Brad Keselowski – While Keselowski's quest for a win at his home track continues, he should be happy with his runner-up finish from Sunday. He was a top-five contender and moved further forward as Austin Dillon suffered late wheel issues. The Penske Racing driver has been inconsistent recently and remains without a win in 2018, but he can take a lot of positives away from a good finish on Sunday. Keselowski admitted that struggles have kept him knocking on the door of victory, but he remains optimistic as the playoffs approach. Bristol should give him some optimism with two career track wins. He qualified third there earlier this season but only finished 23rd after spinning, despite sweeping the first two stage victories that afternoon.

Daniel Suarez – Confidence continues to grow for Suarez as the regular season draws to its conclusion. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver was quick in practice but spun in qualifying and started at the back of the field. That didn't matter much, however. By the time the first stage was complete, he had driven his way up to just outside of the top 10. He gambled on fuel in the second stage and came up slightly short but remained in position to have a good afternoon with an 11th-place finish to continue improving his season. That trend could very well continue this week, too. His three Bristol starts gave him an average finish of 14.7, which could make him a smart selection in the middle spots of a roster this week.

DOWNGRADE

Erik Jones – Jones brought out the first caution of Sunday's race when he spun coming off of turn 4 on just the ninth lap. He was in a prime spot to have a great day with a top qualifying effort, but he wasn't happy with his car once racing got underway. He continued to just hang on, and then contact with Ryan Blaney sent him spinning for the second time. His day was one of ups and downs, and his finished reflected the struggle. His win will get him into the playoffs, but improvements must be found to advance as far as possible. Jones' best Bristol Cup finish came in this race last season when he started on pole and finished second, leading 260 of the 500 laps.

Joey Logano – For the second week in a row, Logano's crew made a big mistake. Todd Gordon told the team the incorrect shock to put on the front of the car. This week's mistake didn't end Logano's race like last week's call, but replacing it on pit road prior to the green flag lost the spot for which they worked hard to qualify. Luckily, Logano's day wasn't over and he had the entire race distance to recover from the slip up. Logano has two career Bristol wins and finished ninth there earlier this season.

Martin Truex Jr. – Truex was racing in the pack during the first stage when William Byron got loose to his inside and slid into the No. 78. Both cars spun in the turn, and Truex had to stop for new tires and quick repairs. He recovered from that to lead in the second stage, but stretched his fuel load too far and ran out with less than two laps remaining in the segment. He never recovered and finished outside of the top 10 for a frustrating afternoon. Amazingly, in 25 Bristol starts Truex has just three top-10s. This has not been a good track for him, and with just one top-10 in the last 10, this may not be the week to include him among the top selections.

Kyle Larson – After winning three consecutive Michigan races, Larson suffered a frustrating day Sunday. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver stopped for a loose wheel in the first stage, which dropped him off of the lead lap and set up a long afternoon for the team. He fought his way back multiple times but was never able to make a spot in the top 10 his own, finishing a disappointing 17th. This team will have to continue its search for a 2018 win with races quickly running out. Larson has been better at Bristol recently than early in his Cup career, however. He enters Saturday's race with three consecutive top-10s at the track after having just one top-10 finish in his first six visits to the circuit.

Ty Dillon – Dillon's tough season continued last week in Michigan. The Germain Racing team has struggled to be competitive throughout the season so far, and Sunday's race in Michigan was no different. Dillon qualified just 27th for the race and spent most of the afternoon buried deep in the order. Things got worse early in the final stage when he plowed into debris on track. The massive impact from the part on the back straight destroyed his splitter and immediately forced him out of the race with damage underneath the machine. Dillon continues to be a risky choice for fantasy owners, and Bristol will be no different. He has zero top finishes from four career Bristol starts with just one finish inside the top 20.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Austin Dillon – Unlike brother Ty, Austin Dillon had an afternoon to be proud of at Michigan. The Richard Childress Racing driver has been largely absent since his win in the Daytona 500, but Sunday's was a different story, as he was fast enough to score his first top-five since Daytona despite a wheel issue in the final laps. The team has started to gain command of their Chevrolets, and that was evident as both Dillon and teammate Ryan Newman had the pace to run in the top 10. Dillon is focused on improving for the playoffs, and Michigan showed they are making progress. Dillon has run well at Bristol in the past, too. His nine career starts have given him two top-10s and a 15th-place run earlier this season.

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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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