NASCAR Barometer: Harvick Sweeps Michigan Doubleheader

NASCAR Barometer: Harvick Sweeps Michigan Doubleheader

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Kevin Harvick dominated the weekend at Michigan International Speedway to win both races. The weekend started perfectly for him as he swept the stage wins and won the race on Saturday. Then on Sunday he came from 20th starting position to the front at the start of the second stage, and then went on to win that segment and hold off Denny Hamlin for the win again. Neither race finished easily, as Saturday went into overtime after multiple late cautions and a red flag, and Sunday's margin of victory was less than a second. Still, Harvick had the fastest car all weekend and has firmly taken hold of the standings with nine consecutive top-five finishes.

This week's race on the Daytona road course will be the first time the NASCAR Cup series teams race on the configuration. The unknowns of a first-time track could present an opportunity for drivers who haven't yet found their way into Victory Lane this season to pull off a surprise. The battle continues to heat up around the final playoff position and another first-time winner in 2020 could jumble that even more with just four races remaining in the regular season.

UPGRADE

Kevin Harvick – Harvick kicked off the Michigan double-header race weekend with a dominant performance, winning both stages en route to the race win in an overtime finish. He had the best car throughout the race and survived multiple late restarts to leverage that advantage to grab another victory. On Sunday, he cycled

Kevin Harvick dominated the weekend at Michigan International Speedway to win both races. The weekend started perfectly for him as he swept the stage wins and won the race on Saturday. Then on Sunday he came from 20th starting position to the front at the start of the second stage, and then went on to win that segment and hold off Denny Hamlin for the win again. Neither race finished easily, as Saturday went into overtime after multiple late cautions and a red flag, and Sunday's margin of victory was less than a second. Still, Harvick had the fastest car all weekend and has firmly taken hold of the standings with nine consecutive top-five finishes.

This week's race on the Daytona road course will be the first time the NASCAR Cup series teams race on the configuration. The unknowns of a first-time track could present an opportunity for drivers who haven't yet found their way into Victory Lane this season to pull off a surprise. The battle continues to heat up around the final playoff position and another first-time winner in 2020 could jumble that even more with just four races remaining in the regular season.

UPGRADE

Kevin Harvick – Harvick kicked off the Michigan double-header race weekend with a dominant performance, winning both stages en route to the race win in an overtime finish. He had the best car throughout the race and survived multiple late restarts to leverage that advantage to grab another victory. On Sunday, he cycled to the front in the second stage and dominated again. Anytime the No. 4 found himself in clean air, he was able to maintain a lead and keep himself in the top position. While he appeared slightly more vulnerable on Sunday, Harvick was still the dominant driver and went on to sweep the weekend. With two road course wins and a third on the Charlotte road course last season for Harvick, fantasy managers can rely on him again this week.

Denny Hamlin – Toyota has not shown the same outright speed as the other manufacturers this season, which makes Hamlin's strength at Michigan, a horsepower track, even more impressive. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has been battling Harvick for supremacy this season, and the pair were at the front again this past weekend. On Saturday, Hamlin finished sixth and led 17 laps. Hamlin went on to chase down Harvick in the final laps on Sunday but wasn't able to complete the job, pushing Harvick all the way to the checkered flag in a runner-up finish reminiscent of what we saw in the last double-header weekend. Despite the Daytona road course being a new track for the Cup series, fantasy players should expect Hamlin to be a firm contender.

Kyle BuschKyle Busch's team said the car they unloaded at Michigan was one of the best they've had this season. The improvement showed on track as Busch was racing solidly inside the top five on Saturday before close racing with Harvick sent him sliding up the track and out of a chance for the lead. He rebounded in the late restarts to capture a fifth-place finish and then went on to run in the top three on Sunday. He wasn't able to hold off teammates Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. and settled for a fourth-place finish in Sunday's race. Fantasy players shouldn't be wary of Busch this weekend, though. He has a pair of wins at both Sonoma and Watkins Glen and is no slouch on the road course circuits.

Clint Bowyer – Bowyer took advantage of the inversion of the finishing order and drivers moving to the rear to start Sunday's second race at Michigan. The track position he gained propelled him to the stage victory in a caution-free first segment. That ability to run up set up the potential for a top finish until an issue forced the team into an unscheduled stop and put Bowyer out of contention and left him to fend for himself in the middle of the pack. That dirty air made it difficult for him to move back to the front of the pack, stunting his hopes of converting Sunday's track position into a top finish. Bowyer is a former road course winner at Sonoma Raceway and also has two top-five finishes on the Charlotte road course.

Chase Elliott – Elliott may be starting to rediscover his form in the final races of the regular season. After back to back races at Michigan, Elliott now has three top-10 finishes in the last three races. Before this current run of top finishes, his last top-10 was back at Pocono more than a month ago. He won the All-Star race at Bristol, but that didn't push him right back into the mix at the front of the field. With a nice run of top-10 finishes, Elliott may be getting ready for a run deep into the playoffs. First he must tackle the Daytona road course, though. He has three road course wins, including two last season, and should be one of the early contenders for fantasy rosters this week.

DOWNGRADE

Brad Keselowski – Keselowski chased, but couldn't catch, Harvick on Saturday. He should have been in contention to win with the speed he had on Sunday, but while running close to teammate Ryan Blaney for the lead at the start of the final stage, he clipped the bottom of the banking. That bobble made Keselowski lose control and slide up the track, spinning Blaney and taking both cars into the outside wall and out of the race. Keselowski doesn't have a road course win, but did finish fifth on the Charlotte road course last season and will want to recover quickly after Sunday's huge mistake. The momentum was building for him as the playoffs approached, but the second Michigan race may put the brakes on that trajectory.

Alex Bowman – Bowman will be glad to move on from a tough Michigan weekend and will try again to build some confidence and momentum before the playoffs get underway. The Hendrick Motorsports driver started sixth on Saturday but finished a disappointing 21st after the flurry of late caution periods. Sunday wasn't better. After running most of the afternoon in the pack, Bowman suffered a rear-tire failure and smacked the outside wall. This week's road course race could give him a chance to recover, though. While he only has one top-10 at Sonoma, he has two top-five finishes on the Charlotte road course. That track may be more similar to what he will face this week at Daytona, which could offer a quick chance to put Michigan in his rear-view mirror.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Luck was not in Stenhouse's corner at Michigan. His fast car in Saturday's race allowed him to work his way forward from the 32nd starting place only to stumble and fall all the way back to that 32nd spot for the finish. He didn't have the same pace on Sunday and had a mostly anonymous afternoon, but he was able to claw his way to a 19th-place finish. Stenhouse has shown flashes of speed at some tracks this season, but fantasy players should hold off on selecting him until we visit the Daytona oval and Talladega. Stenhouse has never scored a top-10 finish on a road course in this series, and with things continuing to not go his way, it would be wise to not expect much this week.

John Hunter Nemechek – Nemechek had a Saturday to forget in Michigan. The rookie driver was seemingly involved in every caution period and ended up retiring for good in the final segment. While he wasn't a caution magnet on Sunday, he wasn't very fast in the backup car and was running well outside of the top 20 when the race moved into its final stages. It was a poor weekend for Nemechek and the team, and their situation may not improve dramatically this week either. Nemechek will start his first road course in the Cup series this week in Daytona, which will be a tall order for the young driver. He finished seventh in last year's Xfinity series visit to the Charlotte road course and had two other top-15 road course finishes that season.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Bubba Wallace – Wallace pulled one out of the hat Saturday by using track position to work his way forward to a ninth-place finish. It was an impressive performance from the Richard Petty Motorsports driver in which he put himself in position to challenge for the lead late in the race and walked away with one of his best finishes of the season. While Sunday's lack of cautions didn't present the same opportunities for Wallace to capitalize, it was still a weekend of progress for him and the team. Fantasy players probably shouldn't expect similar run this week on the Daytona road course, however. He has six Cup series starts on road courses with a best finish of 24th on the Charlotte road course last 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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