NASCAR Barometer: Harvick Dominates Texas to Advance to Championship Finale

NASCAR Barometer: Harvick Dominates Texas to Advance to Championship Finale

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Kevin Harvick took command of Sunday's AAA Texas 500 after the competition caution early in the first stage to sweep the stages and claim his eighth win of the season. The win could be his most important of the season so far since it locks him into the final four championship contenders. He joins Joey Logano in assuring himself a spot to fight for the biggest trophy of the season, and he's building momentum with just two races remaining in the season. Next up is one of his best circuits in ISM Speedway at Phoenix. He has been the most dominant driver at that circuit and could very well take consecutive wins with him into the championship finale at Homestead Miami Speedway. He won at the circuit earlier this season, is primed to keep his momentum sky high with two races left to go in the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series season.

UPGRADE

Kevin Harvick – Harvick won the first, second and third stages of Sunday's race at Texas Motor Speedway after coming out of the pits from the early competition caution with the lead. He never looked back after that moment and dominated the rest of the distance on his way to claiming an assured spot among the final four championship competitors. His pace made it extremely difficult on the rest of the field, and only Ryan Blaney had the chance to fight head-to-head. Harvick has been a dominant force at Phoenix recently. His nine track wins are

Kevin Harvick took command of Sunday's AAA Texas 500 after the competition caution early in the first stage to sweep the stages and claim his eighth win of the season. The win could be his most important of the season so far since it locks him into the final four championship contenders. He joins Joey Logano in assuring himself a spot to fight for the biggest trophy of the season, and he's building momentum with just two races remaining in the season. Next up is one of his best circuits in ISM Speedway at Phoenix. He has been the most dominant driver at that circuit and could very well take consecutive wins with him into the championship finale at Homestead Miami Speedway. He won at the circuit earlier this season, is primed to keep his momentum sky high with two races left to go in the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series season.

UPGRADE

Kevin Harvick – Harvick won the first, second and third stages of Sunday's race at Texas Motor Speedway after coming out of the pits from the early competition caution with the lead. He never looked back after that moment and dominated the rest of the distance on his way to claiming an assured spot among the final four championship competitors. His pace made it extremely difficult on the rest of the field, and only Ryan Blaney had the chance to fight head-to-head. Harvick has been a dominant force at Phoenix recently. His nine track wins are twice as many as any current driver, with the most recent coming in the fourth race of the current season. He topped championship rival Kyle Busch to take that win.

Ryan Blaney – Blaney had a quick car at Texas, and put it to good use early by capturing pole for the race. He led the opening laps of Sunday's race but wasn't able to hold off Harvick beyond the competition caution. Still, he was one of the best cars on track and remained a contender inside the top five throughout the race distance. His runner-up finish was an excellent result for the team that has one driver still in contention to claim the season title. The entire organization is getting better and better, which bodes well for a strong start to 2019, too. Blaney has two top-10 finishes from five Phoenix starts and finished 16th there earlier this season.

Joey Logano – Logano continues to be one of the most consistent finishers among the top drivers late in the season. His Martinsville win puts him in the championship finale, and he was a consistent contender in the top five throughout the weekend at Texas. Even in the final laps Logano was in touch with the lead. Late racing with Aric Almirola may have added another enemy to his list, but the Penske Racing driver continues to be one of the fastest and most consistent drivers among the contenders with just two races remaining in the season. Logano's only win at Phoenix came in 2016, but he has started inside the top 10 in all of the last five visits. He finished 19th at the track in the spring.

Erik Jones – Jones continues to display the type of results that indicate greater things are yet to come. He seems to be a rising star of the sport, and his fourth-place run in Sunday's competitive race at Texas is a pristine example of that promise. He has seemed to gain momentum and knowledge that could carry him through the offseason into a very strong start to 2019. Fantasy owners should be excited about his prospects in Phoenix, too. In four career starts at the track he has three top-10 finishes and an average result of 10th. That is impressive from this young and rising star of the sport, and fantasy owners should make sure they have him on their lists this week.

DOWNGRADE

Martin Truex Jr. – Mistakes cost Truex another chance at clinching a spot in the championship finale at Miami. The Furniture Row Racing driver and team found themselves two laps behind with less than 70 laps remaining as a result of a loose wheel and a penalty on pit road. Both of those missteps proved too much to overcome for the championship contender, and he now looks to Phoenix as his last opportunity to seal a spot in the championship finale. The story could have been different for the team had they not had the issues, though. With just three top-fives from 25 career Phoenix starts, it could be a tight squeeze for Truex to advance to the finale, but two of those top-fives came in the two most recent visits to the desert oval.

Denny Hamlin – Contact with Clint Bowyer dropped Hamlin out of the front of the field and to the back of the pack on just the first lap last Sunday. That was just the start of a long afternoon for the No. 11 team. They were never able to regain their footing after the initial trouble and ended up finishing well outside of the top 20 (30th overall) in a terribly disappointing afternoon. Two races remain for this team to overcome their woes, but at this point they might have to be more focused on helping teammate Kyle Busch win the championship. Hamlin has one Phoenix victory and finished fourth there earlier this season, which was his fifth top-10 in the last six Phoenix races.

Clint Bowyer – Bowyer found himself behind early on Sunday after contact with Hamlin caused a tire rub. The team luckily had an early competition caution that allowed them to make the change before a failure could have taken them out of the race completely. The luck was short-lived, though. Late in the second stage, the team was tagged with a pit violation that kept him multiple laps behind after he was judged to have gone over the wall too soon. It was an afternoon to forget for the No. 14 team. One chance remains for Bowyer to get the job done, and one of Bowyer's seven Phoenix top-10 finishes came earlier this season. That was his first at the track since 2013.

Kyle Busch – Busch was another championship contender who endured a difficult afternoon in Texas. In the final stage he was a lap down to leader Harvick and was struggling to take advantage of being in position to get that lap back. Circumstances conspired against him making a comeback, and he was relegated to a very disappointing 17th-place finish. It was a disappointing day for the entire Joe Gibbs Racing organization, and Busch wasn't immune to the struggle despite being the championship contender. Like everyone else, he has one race left to book a spot in Homestead. Busch has one win in 26 starts at Phoenix and is on a run of six top-10 finishes at the track heading into this weekend's penultimate race.

Daniel Suarez – A driver looking for a full-time ride in the coming season needs a little luck to fall his or her direction to help alert potential employers to the prospect of success in the future. That has yet to transpire for Suarez. For every race he showed growing potential in his early career in the series he has equaled with bad luck and disappointment as his remaining races wind down. Suarez needs some luck to fall his direction soon or he will be driving his last races in the series now. Two opportunities remain for him to prove his potential. It didn't show through at Texas, but two top-10s in three Phoenix starts could indicate something may shine through this week.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Stenhouse and the Roush Fenway Racing organization haven't had a lot to be excited about in 2018, but every once in a while they have been able to grab a top finish. That is exactly what Stenhouse did at Texas when he came home with an impressive 10th-place finish. He topped the final practice ahead of Sunday's race, but not many would have expected him to remain among the top runners after 500 miles on Sunday. He did just that, though. Roush has endured a long slump of sub-par results, and everyone in the organization is working hard to end it. More results like Sunday's could help to turn that tide, and all will be looking ahead to an improved 2019.

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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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