NASCAR Barometer: Harvick Scores Back-to-Back Victories

NASCAR Barometer: Harvick Scores Back-to-Back Victories

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Kevin Harvick and his Stewart Haas Racing team sent a signal to the NASCAR Cup Series garage with their second win in as many weeks with just two races remaining before the championship playoffs commence. The win was a statement from the team that is now looking much more like a championship contender than they were just a few weeks ago. With 15 different race winners so far this season, there could still be more winners than playoff positions, and Harvick's win means the current scrap for the 16th and final playoff position remains a battle between Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. The two fought tooth and nail for points Sunday, but will have to sweat it out for two more races if neither can get into Victory Lane. 

The battle to make the playoffs is becoming a nail biter, and two tracks where anything can happen will decide who makes it and who falls short. Watkins Glen is next up, where Kyle Larson went to Victory Lane last season, but road courses have already produced multiple first-time winners this season. The final chance for drivers to punch their playoff tickets will come one week later at Daytona International Speedway. No one will want to unpack in Daytona with their spot in the playoffs depending on a good finish. So, the pressure is on to perform this week to get the job done and rest a bit easier with Daytona on the horizon.

UPGRADE

Kevin Harvick – Momentum has

Kevin Harvick and his Stewart Haas Racing team sent a signal to the NASCAR Cup Series garage with their second win in as many weeks with just two races remaining before the championship playoffs commence. The win was a statement from the team that is now looking much more like a championship contender than they were just a few weeks ago. With 15 different race winners so far this season, there could still be more winners than playoff positions, and Harvick's win means the current scrap for the 16th and final playoff position remains a battle between Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. The two fought tooth and nail for points Sunday, but will have to sweat it out for two more races if neither can get into Victory Lane. 

The battle to make the playoffs is becoming a nail biter, and two tracks where anything can happen will decide who makes it and who falls short. Watkins Glen is next up, where Kyle Larson went to Victory Lane last season, but road courses have already produced multiple first-time winners this season. The final chance for drivers to punch their playoff tickets will come one week later at Daytona International Speedway. No one will want to unpack in Daytona with their spot in the playoffs depending on a good finish. So, the pressure is on to perform this week to get the job done and rest a bit easier with Daytona on the horizon.

UPGRADE

Kevin Harvick – Momentum has shown its importance in the NASCAR Cup Series time and time again, and Harvick proved its worth again Sunday at Richmond as he won his second race of 2022 in as many weeks. Harvick started 13th and only moved into the lead in the final 100 laps as the team worked to improve the car through the race. That has been the missing ingredient for this team up until this point, but it now seems as though they have all of their struggles figured out. This team has been consistently improving since Charlotte. Putting their struggles in the rearview mirror could not happen at a better time with the playoffs approaching, too. Harvick won at Watkins Glen in 2006 and finished in the top 10 there in the last three races, which means he should be in line for a top finish again this week. 

Ross Chastain – Chastain qualified on the front row for Sunday's visit to Richmond, and then maximized that track position by sailing his car into turn 1 on the outside to grab the lead at the start. After that courageous move, he simply held station to capture his fifth stage victory of the season. He led 80 laps in total but lost the lead after the start of the second stage to Joey Logano. Things went downhill from there. Contact with Kyle Busch at the start of the final stage essentially ended any chance of him competing for the win, and the No. 1 machine finished two laps behind the leaders in 18th position despite dominating the start. Chastain has been excellent on road courses this season but only has a best finish of 12th at Watkins Glen. That shouldn't scare fantasy players, though, as Chastain has rewritten his past records all season so far.

Joey Logano – Logano leveraged a two-stop segment to stay out front in the second stage to capture his third stage win of the season. The Team Penske driver had great short-run speed, which propelled him to the front despite starting 17th. He led an impressive 222 laps as the race progressed but couldn't stay on top of his car's handling as the track evolved. As clouds gathered and cooled the racing surface, Logano lost his advantage and began to slip back in the running order. The team held on to grab a sixth-place finish, which was its third finish of sixth or better in the last five races. They are starting to find consistency, which will be vital as the playoffs get underway in three weeks. Logano won at Watkins Glen in 2015 but hasn't finished inside the top 20 there in the last four races.

Christopher Bell – Bell grabbed a runner-up finish Sunday, making it three top-five finishes from the last five races, locking himself into the playoff field. His car came to life in the final fuel run, and he used that speed to work his way forward, nearly catching Harvick before running out of laps. The No. 20 team have been scoring top-10 finishes frequently since March, and the victory at New Hampshire has only boosted confidence. Two races remain for the team to get ready to take a shot at advancing through the playoff rounds, and the final regular-season race venues should only increase its confidence. Last year's Watkins Glen race was a good one for Bell, as he started and finished seventh. Continuing to turn in performances like last week at Richmond may make Bell one of the more likely candidates to advance deep into the playoffs.

Kyle Larson – Despite not capitalizing Sunday at Richmond, Larson did enough to guarantee himself a spot in the playoff field. He started on pole, led 11 laps, and finished third and second in the first two stages to earn enough points to ensure his spot among the championship contenders with just one victory so far this season. Despite their early weekend pace, Larson and team didn't appear overly confident for their chances in the race. That sense proved out as Chase Elliott became the only Hendrick Motorsports driver to finish the day inside the top five and Larson finished 14th. However, after securing their playoff spot Larson and his No. 5 team will now be completely focused on preparations for the playoffs. A successful defense of last season's Watkins Glen victory this coming week would be an added boost as the playoffs approach.

DOWNGRADE

Martin Truex Jr. – A trip to Richmond seemed as though it was hand picked for Truex after he got bounced out of the playoff positions a week earlier. The former champion would have come into the week confident of a top result, potentially contending for the victory that would vault him back into championship contention. Instead, his car didn't have the handling characteristics he needed, and Truex missed out on stage points while his closest playoff rival extended the points gap. The former champion found a bit of footing in the final laps to finish ahead of Blaney, but the lack of stage points from the afternoon simply increased Truex's deficit to 26 points making a win in the final two regular-season races even more important.

Ty Gibbs – After impressive three races substituting for Kurt Busch, Gibbs tasted disappointment in the fourth. The full-time Xfinity Series competitor qualified well at 14th and was running a respectable race, even bumping Kyle Busch for a perceived slight. Unfortunately, his afternoon ended much earlier than expected, though. The No. 45 Toyota gave up 20 laps short of the halfway mark, and Gibbs became the first driver out of the race. It isn't clear yet when Busch will get back behind the wheel, but Gibbs has done a fine job filling in despite Sunday's mechanical failure. Fantasy players will have to stay tuned to know if Gibbs will be back again this week at Watkins Glen where he won the Xfinity race last season.

Erik Jones – Jones was recently confirmed for multiple seasons at Petty GMS Motorsports. He also learned last week that his new teammate next season will be Noah Gragson. The team took a large step forward in competitiveness this season, and Jones had been enjoying that success until just recently. Sunday he was caught in a tangle between other drivers, but Jones was the one who came off the worst and was forced to retire from the race with damage. The 35th-place classification was his worst of the season and ended a run of five consecutive races with finishes inside the top 20. The No. 43 team has the speed to contend for top-15 finishes each week, and now they need to figure out how to deliver those finishes consistently. 

Chase Briscoe – Despite having a win and a playoff position in hand, the pressure has not come off of Briscoe's shoulders quite yet. The team must continue to score points and separate itself from the bottom of the playoff standings to ensure a spot in the title fight. Instead, a fire and a poor finish is what Briscoe at Richmond. The No. 14 finished ninth in the second stage, but that was the only highlight. After already falling two laps down to the leaders in the final stage, Briscoe was forced to stop to extinguish a fire inside the wheel well. He ultimately finished the race three laps down in 23rd position. While his place in the playoffs isn't completely at risk yet, Briscoe and team will need to stay on their toes in the final two races to ensure they stay in control of their own fate and do not slip behind.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Chris Buescher – RFK Racing has shown its competitiveness multiple times this season. Sunday was another opportunity for Buescher to show his potential with the turn in form, too. After failing inspection twice and having a crew member ejected, the team made significant adjustments that gave Buescher the car he needed to be competitive, working his way into the top five with a chance to win the race. Unfortunately, Harvick just had too much for Buescher to find a way past, and the No. 17 was forced to settle for a third-place finish, his second top-five of the season. Fantasy players should remember that his other top-five finish this season came on a road course. So, don't count him out this week at Watkins Glen, where he has a best finished 11th.

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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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