NASCAR Barometer: Harvick and Hamlin Split Double-Header

NASCAR Barometer: Harvick and Hamlin Split Double-Header

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

The NASCAR Cup series ran its first double-header weekend in multiple decades at Pocono Raceway last weekend with Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin taking turns chasing one another to the checkered flag. Harvick took Saturday's victory with a comfortable margin over Hamlin in the final fuel run, while Hamlin reversed the tables Sunday to move back atop the winner's list with four wins on the season. The back-to-back races were originally part of the 2020 schedule that was announced last season,  but seemed almost normal after the series returned to racing after the pandemic to run multiple races at multiple tracks. While both races were delayed due to weather, which has become another familiar trend this season, all miles were run as scheduled and continued to solidify the playoff contenders as the regular season begins making its way to conclusion.

Another unique weekend is on tap for this week's race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the Brickyard 400 sharing a co-headlining weekend with IndyCar. NASCAR's Xfinity series and the Indycars will race on the speedway's infield roadcourse while the Cup series takes center stage for its annual 400-mile race on the oval. Kevin Harvick won last year's visit from pole to score his second win at the track.

UPGRADE

Kevin Harvick – Harvick tuned his car to be the fastest in the final stage on Saturday to earn his first career win at Pocono Raceway. He held off Denny Hamlin to win his third race of the season to equal

The NASCAR Cup series ran its first double-header weekend in multiple decades at Pocono Raceway last weekend with Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin taking turns chasing one another to the checkered flag. Harvick took Saturday's victory with a comfortable margin over Hamlin in the final fuel run, while Hamlin reversed the tables Sunday to move back atop the winner's list with four wins on the season. The back-to-back races were originally part of the 2020 schedule that was announced last season,  but seemed almost normal after the series returned to racing after the pandemic to run multiple races at multiple tracks. While both races were delayed due to weather, which has become another familiar trend this season, all miles were run as scheduled and continued to solidify the playoff contenders as the regular season begins making its way to conclusion.

Another unique weekend is on tap for this week's race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the Brickyard 400 sharing a co-headlining weekend with IndyCar. NASCAR's Xfinity series and the Indycars will race on the speedway's infield roadcourse while the Cup series takes center stage for its annual 400-mile race on the oval. Kevin Harvick won last year's visit from pole to score his second win at the track.

UPGRADE

Kevin Harvick – Harvick tuned his car to be the fastest in the final stage on Saturday to earn his first career win at Pocono Raceway. He held off Denny Hamlin to win his third race of the season to equal the No. 11 driver this season and then turned around to battle Hamlin again on Sunday to finish second in a huge points weekend for he and the team. Fantasy owners probably couldn't have asked for much more from him last weekend and will have continued optimism for his results in the coming weeks. Harvick has two wins at the Brickyard, including last season's race. Saturday's win at Pocono leaves just two racetracks on the schedule that Harvick has yet to win at and further solidifies him as one of the top choices to win the championship.

Denny Hamlin – In a reversal of Saturday's finish it was Hamlin who maintained a gap back to Kevin Harvick to win his sixth Pocono race. Hamlin arguably had the fastest car each day of Pocono's double-header weekend, but it was traffic and pit strategy that allowed him to change right-side tires and exit pit road ahead of Harvick to grab the win on Sunday. It was Hamlin's fourth win of the season as he continues to build momentum as the regular season edges closer to the playoff rounds. Hamlin has never won at Indianapolis but has been a consistent figure in the top 10 there in recent seasons. We haven't had a back-to-back winner yet in 2020, so fantasy owners may want to view Hamlin as more of a top-10 contender this week.

Kurt Busch – While the finish results may not reflect it, Busch actually has a lot of positives to take away from the two races at Pocono Raceway. He finished 18th in Saturday's race, which gave him the starting position advantage he needed to lead every lap on his way to the first stage victory of Sunday's race. While Chevrolet-powered teams largely struggled Saturday, Busch led the contingent back to the front on Sunday. No Chevrolet drivers finished in the top 10 Saturday but three made it there on Sunday while Busch grabbed stage points in the first two segments. He is now 10th in the playoff standings, just one point behind Aric Almirola. Busch has six Indianapolis top-10 finishes from 19 career starts. It hasn't been the best track for him, but he will have something to build upon following his Pocono outings.

Clint Bowyer - Bowyer entered Pocono's race weekend on a four-race run without a top-10 finish. His last top result was when he finished runner up in Bristol nearly a month ago. He drove consistently at Pocono to bag two top-10 finishes from the two races, bringing his total for the season to five. His eighth-place finish Sunday evening was actually earned by a gritty wheel-banging run to the finish line with Alex Bowman where he just edged out the Hendrick Motorsports driver. The top-10s this past weekend should give fantasy owners confidence that Bowyer has put his recent slump behind him. With one of Pocono's turns modeled after those of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway we should see more good form from the No. 14. He finished fifth in the last two races at the Brickyard.

Christopher Bell – Bell put together a great race Saturday at Pocono and earned his first top-five finish in the series. The finish was his fourth top-10 finish of the season and his second in the last three races, and was made all the more remarkable considering he passed Martin Truex Jr. and held off Kyle Busch to be the second-highest placing Toyota on Saturday. That success vanished Sunday after he crashed out before even 50 laps were complete. Bell has not disappointed this season but continues to carry some risk for fantasy owners. This will be his first race in the Cup series at Indianapolis, a track he finished seventh and 29th at in his two Xfinity series starts. This weekend will be a test for him, but his Pocono effort on Saturday shows that he could outperform this week on another 2.5-mile track.

DOWNGRADE

Erik Jones – Jones had the pace on Saturday that could have earned him a top-10 finish until contact with Tyler Reddick shortly before the end of the second stage put him out of the first race of the double-header weekend. The damage forced him to a back-up car for Sunday's race, which meant starting at the rear for that race. He overcame that starting position and leveraged Saturday's track time to get a much more competitive car ready for Sunday when he finished third. The past weekend's results show that as long as the series continues to race without practice Jones will be a step behind the competition. In three visits to Indianapolis Motor Speedway Jones has crashed twice and finished second once.

Kyle Busch – Busch has been outspoken all season that the lack pf practice and qualifying has been limiting his race results. That should have set him up for a season-best result Sunday in Pocono. As expected, he ran well right up until contact with Ryan Blaney sent him spinning into the inside wall and out of the race. His fifth-place finish on Saturday turned out to be his best result of the weekend. The good news is that the seat time on back-to-back days should give him and his team a bit more data to use this week at Indianapolis, another 2.5-mile circuit. Busch won there in 2015 and 2016 and had a three-race run of pole positions at the track from 2016 through 2018. He suffered an engine failure in last year's race.

Tyler Reddick – Reddick entered the Pocono race weekend on the verge of a spot in the playoffs. Two more top-15 finishes probably would have been enough to put him into the top 16 in the standings, too. Instead, he leaves the weekend with finishes of 30th and 35th. It was a very frustrating weekend for the rookie who is now 26 points behind the playoff positions and 12 points behind Austin Dillon in 17th. Reddick now must play catch up, and that journey begins this week at Indianapolis where he crashed out of two of his three Xfinity starts. While he finished second in 2018's edition of that race, he has also only had one top-15 finish in the last five races. Reddick is in the midst of a slump and fantasy owners should take a wait-and-see approach before selecting him again.

Joey Logano – Not much went right for Logano at Pocono. He suffered a tire failure and damaged car on Saturday. He won the first stage of that race, but the tire issue doomed the remainder of his weekend. He finished 36th on Saturday and was forced to start at the rear of the field on Sunday after having to move to a back-up car from the damage. He had another frustrating day after that and failed to get into the top 10 for any stage points. When the race was over he was a lap down and now has a run of four races of finishes 17th following him to the Brickyard. While Pocono is a weekend to forget for the No. 22, Indianapolis should give him a chance to reverse his slide. He finished second there last season and has seven top-10s from 11 starts at the track.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Aric Almirola – Not many people would have given Almirola a chance of scoring consecutive top-five finishes in the two Pocono races last week. That is exactly what he did, though. In Saturday's race he led 61 laps on his way to a third-place finish and then led four more on Sunday when he finished fifth. Those top-fives now give him a streak of four top-five finishes in a row and pushed him into the top spot in the standings among non-winners. It has taken Almirola a bit to get off the ground in 2020, but he is truly flying now. This weekend could prove to be a similar situation for him, too. He has yet to finish in the top 10 at Indianapolis but is on one of the best runs of form in the garage. Fantasy owners should weight his current trend heavier than his past track statistics this week.

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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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