NASCAR Barometer: Hamlin and Harvick Split Dover Wins

NASCAR Barometer: Hamlin and Harvick Split Dover Wins

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick upheld their new tradition of splitting the wins of another double-header weekend. Hamlin chased down and passed teammate Martin Truex Jr. for the win on Saturday while Harvick dominated the proceedings on Sunday to score his seventh win of the season, clinching the regular-season championship along the way. Harvick's win also was the 700th for Ford and puts Harvick in ninth on the all-time winners list.

While the action up front was a showcase of the season's two best drivers this season, the action in the pack around the final playoff positions was intense. The fight is now a three-way contest between Matt DiBenedetto, William Byron and Jimmie Johnson with just nine points separating the trio. The only race now standing between them and the championship playoffs is the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway where the racing is close and every single point in every single stage will have an impact on who progresses and who is eliminated. To make it even more tense, just getting enough points may not even get the job done if the Saturday night race produces another new 2020 winner. The pressure certainly will be on this week in the final regular-season race.

UPGRADE

Kevin Harvick – Harvick took his sixth and seventh stage wins of the season after a penultimate-lap pass on Ryan Blaney in the first stage of Sunday's Dover race and a dominant second segment. He dominated the race and went on to

Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick upheld their new tradition of splitting the wins of another double-header weekend. Hamlin chased down and passed teammate Martin Truex Jr. for the win on Saturday while Harvick dominated the proceedings on Sunday to score his seventh win of the season, clinching the regular-season championship along the way. Harvick's win also was the 700th for Ford and puts Harvick in ninth on the all-time winners list.

While the action up front was a showcase of the season's two best drivers this season, the action in the pack around the final playoff positions was intense. The fight is now a three-way contest between Matt DiBenedetto, William Byron and Jimmie Johnson with just nine points separating the trio. The only race now standing between them and the championship playoffs is the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway where the racing is close and every single point in every single stage will have an impact on who progresses and who is eliminated. To make it even more tense, just getting enough points may not even get the job done if the Saturday night race produces another new 2020 winner. The pressure certainly will be on this week in the final regular-season race.

UPGRADE

Kevin Harvick – Harvick took his sixth and seventh stage wins of the season after a penultimate-lap pass on Ryan Blaney in the first stage of Sunday's Dover race and a dominant second segment. He dominated the race and went on to claim his seventh win of the season. The points he earned Sunday were enough to crown him as the regular-season champion, which was the perfect way to end before he kicks off his fight through the playoffs in an effort to win another championship. Harvick has two Daytona wins but only one top finish in his last eight starts at the track. His fifth-place finish last fall ended a streak of seven consecutive finishes of 19th or worse at the circuit, but he primarily will be focused on making sure he is ready to start the playoffs in the best possible way.

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin won the first two stages Saturday to earn more valuable playoff points as his quest for a first championship continues in 2020. Then, in the final stage, he chased down teammate Martin Truex Jr. and passed him in the final 10 laps to score his sixth win of the season. The same success didn't follow the No. 11 on Sunday, however. While Harvick dominated the race out front, Hamlin failed to lead any laps and finished 19th after a loose wheel forced him to pit road unexpectedly in the final segment. It was the second loose wheel that cost the team after loose lug nuts earned the team a fine following Saturday's win. Hamlin has three Daytona wins including this season's Daytona 500, which he won from the 21st starting position.

Martin Truex Jr. – Truex used his speed on Saturday to put himself in position to win but didn't have the handling that would enable him to hold off teammate Hamlin. A loose condition saw Truex lose ground in the final laps and then lose the lead to finish second behind his teammate. Truex was also quick on Sunday, but Harvick's pace was so strong the Joe Gibbs Racing driver didn't even get in front to lead laps. Still, he finished second, which was his seventh consecutive top-three finish. That type of consistency likely should be enough to see Truex through to the playoff elimination rounds to be one of the final four drivers in Phoenix. Up next is Daytona, where he has not won in 30 career starts. His last five races at the track have ended with three crashes and one runner-up finish.

Jimmie Johnson – The master of Dover wasn't able to score a 12th career win at the track last weekend, but Johnson helped his playoff cause by taking two top-10 finishes from the visit. Johnson had the pace to race inside the top five and top 10 through both of the double-header races and reduced his deficit to the playoff cut line to just four points. His third-place finish on Sunday gives Johnson renewed confidence to go to Daytona this final regular-season race weekend and earn a playoff appearance in his final full-time season in the series. Johnson has three Daytona wins from 37 career starts. He crashed out of this season's Daytona 500 but finished third there last fall. This week is make or break for his championship hopes in his final season.

William Byron – Byron is now locked into a battle for the playoffs with veteran teammate Johnson. The pair have floated around the bubble in the standings for the past few weeks with Byron predominantly retaining control of the position. After Dover, the gap between the two is just four points, however. Johnson applied plenty of pressure to take advantage of a bad afternoon by Byron. After a slip on Saturday, he picked himself up to defend his position on Sunday with a fourth-place finish from the 23rd starting position. Performances like that are exactly what he needs to get into the playoffs and continue advancing to the finale. Byron has weathered the storm so far and only needs to hang on for one more race. Byron finished second last fall at Daytona but crashed out of three of his five series starts at the track.  

DOWNGRADE

Kurt Busch – A slight lift in the throttle on corner exit was all it took for Erik Jones to make contact with the rear of Busch on Saturday, sending him into the inside wall. That contact forced Busch to switch to a backup car on Sunday, which meant starting from the rear of the field. The loss of important track position left the former champion fighting to move forward through the pack for the entire race, and ultimately he finished 13th. The Dover weekend wasn't a good one for the No. 1 team, but Busch does head to the final regular-season race comfortable in the points with a playoff position secured. The good news for Busch is that he's one of the best superspeedway racers in the series, too. He won the summer Daytona race in 2017 and is a consistent top choice for fantasy rosters at the track.

Erik Jones – Early contact with Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman in Saturday's race put Jones in a hole for the rest of the weekend. Jones tapped the loose Busch and then was run into from behind by Bowman. That damaged the No. 20's rear fender, which made the rest of the race more difficult. He fought back to salvage a 12th-place position, though. The same couldn't be said Sunday where he retained the ninth starting position by avoiding a backup car but only raced to a 22nd-place finish, leaving him 50 points out of the playoff positions and facing a must-win weekend to save his season. Jones won at Daytona in the spring of 2018 and most likely needs a win this weekend to get into the playoffs to salvage his season and prove he should have a ride in the series next season.

Chase Elliott – Elliott leveraged the pole position to jump out to an early lead in Saturday's Dover race and then went on to finish fifth after not having the speed of the Joe Gibbs Racing teammates. Sunday's race was worse, however. Early in the running, Elliott ran into the rear of Kyle Busch as Ricky Stenhouse Jr. crashed further up the order. The contact heavily damaged Elliott's car and put him out of the race for the afternoon. While Elliott's playoff spot is secure with two wins on the season, his momentum and current pace remains in question. Next week is the final regular-season race before the playoffs commence, and Daytona is a difficult place to gain confidence heading into the championship fight. It may be especially difficult for Elliott, who has no top-10 finishes in his nine career starts at the track.

Matt DiBenedetto – Two difficult races at Dover evaporated DiBenedetto's points advantage in the playoff battle. His gap to Byron in the final playoff position is just five points. He also now only holds a nine-point lead over Johnson who sits just outside the playoff positions. DiBenedetto's 20th- and 17th-place finishes at Dover opened the door to a three-way fight for the final playoff positions in the final race of the regular season where anything could happen. The pressure is on after a strong season for DiBenedetto who needs to close the deal on the superspeedway this week. He finished 19th in the Daytona 500 earlier this year and has three top-10s from 10 career starts at the track. The three-way battle for the playoffs will be an entertaining one for fantasy players to watch, but an uncomfortable one for DiBenedetto to navigate.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Austin Dillon – After missing last week's race due to a positive COVID-19 test, Dillon made his return for the Dover race weekend after two consecutive negative tests. NASCAR granted him a waiver to retain his spot in the playoffs due to his win earlier this season despite missing last week's event. He returned with a vengeance at Dover, too. He started 32nd on Saturday but leveraged pit strategy and speed to cycle to the front and pull off an improbable 15th-place finish. That was enough to put him in the top 10 starters on Sunday, which he then used to race inside the top 10 all day and score a ninth-place finish. Richard Childress Racing has shown they have real speed this season, and the superspeedways are some of their best tracks. 

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:  AutoTrader EchoPark  Automotive 400
NASCAR DFS: AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 400
Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 Preview: New Date for Texas
Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 Preview: New Date for Texas
NASCAR DFS Trucks:  SpeedyCash.com 250
NASCAR DFS Trucks: SpeedyCash.com 250
NASCAR Barometer:  Byron Leads Hendrick 1-2-3 at Martinsville
NASCAR Barometer: Byron Leads Hendrick 1-2-3 at Martinsville