NASCAR Barometer: Harvick Wins Second Consecutive Brickyard 400

NASCAR Barometer: Harvick Wins Second Consecutive Brickyard 400

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin picked up their duel right where they left off. The pair battled and split the wins last week at Pocono Raceway, and then found themselves battling again for the win in Sunday's Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Hamlin appeared to have the edge in the final miles with a faster car and favorable track position, while Harvick was in full chase mode trying to capitalize on lapped traffic to make his move for the lead. When a right-front failure sent Hamlin into the turn 1 wall, it was up to Harvick to survive an overtime restart to win his second consecutive Brickyard 400. The win again moves him level with Hamlin with four for the 2020 season as they march toward what is increasingly looking like a championship battle between the pair.

Next up is Kentucky Motor Speedway. Only nine NASCAR Cup series races have been run at the circuit, and Kurt Busch is the defending winner. Neither Hamlin nor Harvick have won at the circuit, but Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch have all won multiple times there. Only eight races remain before the playoffs commence and pressure will continue to rise for those hoping to claim their spot in the championship elimination fight.

UPGRADE

Kevin Harvick – Harvick played the strategy game early in Sunday's Brickyard 400. He opted to pit just before the first caution of the race and then saved fuel to maximize his

Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin picked up their duel right where they left off. The pair battled and split the wins last week at Pocono Raceway, and then found themselves battling again for the win in Sunday's Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Hamlin appeared to have the edge in the final miles with a faster car and favorable track position, while Harvick was in full chase mode trying to capitalize on lapped traffic to make his move for the lead. When a right-front failure sent Hamlin into the turn 1 wall, it was up to Harvick to survive an overtime restart to win his second consecutive Brickyard 400. The win again moves him level with Hamlin with four for the 2020 season as they march toward what is increasingly looking like a championship battle between the pair.

Next up is Kentucky Motor Speedway. Only nine NASCAR Cup series races have been run at the circuit, and Kurt Busch is the defending winner. Neither Hamlin nor Harvick have won at the circuit, but Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch have all won multiple times there. Only eight races remain before the playoffs commence and pressure will continue to rise for those hoping to claim their spot in the championship elimination fight.

UPGRADE

Kevin Harvick – Harvick played the strategy game early in Sunday's Brickyard 400. He opted to pit just before the first caution of the race and then saved fuel to maximize his track position for the rest of the distance. That work put him out front at the end of the second stage, which he went on to win. He used that same approach to maximize track position throughout the 400 miles, which set up a battle with Denny Hamlin just like two weeks ago at Pocono. With Hamlin's crash, Harvick just had to survive overtime to claim his second consecutive Brickyard victory and fourth win of 2020. Kentucky is one of the few racetracks where Harvick has not yet won, but you get the feeling that could change this week with his current momentum. 

Aric Almirola – Almirola's third-place finish in Sunday's Brickyard 400 was his fifth consecutive top-five finish and by far his best finish at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Stewart Haas Racing driver had found his footing in the 2020 season and has been climbing the playoff standings with his impressive run of top finishes. Continuing to race like he is now will put him in position to win races before the season concludes, which is a role Almirola has not played often in his Cup series career. At Kentucky he has one top-10 finish from seven career starts. While his average finish of 19.1 would scare away fantasy owners, his current trajectory without practice and qualifying more than makes up for it. Fantasy owners should feel confident choosing Almirola every week until this trend stops.

Matt Kenseth – Kenseth's runner-up finish to Kevin Harvick at the Brickyard on Sunday was his best finish since returning to the series to replace Kyle Larson. The former champion's results were starting to improve with consecutive top-15 finishes at Pocono Raceway after a string of three straight finishes of 23rd or worse. While Kenseth may still be looking for more speed and consistency, he could be a valuable fantasy option depending on his price each week. Consistent top-15 finishes each week can be more valuable than taking a gamble on a more risky play. More time is needed to see if this streak continues, but Kenseth is moving more into regular fantasy consideration now than he was a month ago.

William Byron William Byron took advantage of a hectic and chaotic start to the Brickyard 400 to capture the first stage win of the afternoon. He navigated multiple caution periods and one red flag to get that segment victory, which adds to his current upward swing in momentum. Unfortunately, his race ended with a bang late in the second stage when a tire failure caused significant damage and put him into the outside wall. His hopes of going on to win the race were gone after that incident, and his quest to get his first race win in the series continues. Byron's two prior Kentucky visits in the Cup series have been lackluster, though. He has a best finish of 18th from his two series starts at the circuit.

DOWNGRADE

Ryan Blaney Sunday was an afternoon to forget for Blaney. He was racing well in the early laps but was an innocent bystander as cars collided next to him during the first round of pit stops. The accident injured his rear tire changer and damaged the right side of his car in the process. After returning to the race he was in traffic and lost control entering the problematic turn 3 and spun into the outside wall and completely out of contention. While Sunday was unlucky for him, he remains one of the fastest cars in the series. At Kentucky, he has two top-10 finishes from four starts including a runner-up finish in the 2018 edition of the race.

Martin Truex Jr. – Indianapolis has not been good to Truex, and last week's race did nothing to reverse that trend. Early in the running, Truex received engine information on the dash that left him concerned for reliability and falling through the field, losing track position that would prove detrimental to his afternoon. Shortly after the issue, under caution, as the field was coming to pit road, Truex was caught in a chain-reaction crash that left him with front-end damage in addition to his engine suspicions, putting him out of the race. Kentucky could be better for the No. 19 team, and fantasy owners choosing him, however. Truex has won twice at that track and led 373 laps in his nine career starts. His average finish in that time is 11.1 with five top-10 finishes.

Ryan Newman – Former Indianapolis winner Ryan Newman's afternoon was ruined before the first stage was complete on Sunday. While entering turn 3, Newman suffered a tire failure that sent him careening into the outside wall, bringing out the caution and sending him straight to pit road for repairs. Newman has shown speed this season, but he hasn't been able to translate that pace into top-10 finishes. He has just one so far. At Kentucky, he has three top-fives and four top-10s from nine career starts. While that may make him appear as a nice fantasy selection this week, his current trend would say that choosing him comes with risk. Newman has the capability to end his slump, but fantasy owners are left guessing when that time will come. 

Erik Jones – Jones suffered a failure entering turn 3 at high speed during the second stage of Sunday's race. He clouted the outside wall and came sliding to a halt in the short chute between turns 3 and 4. The damage was extreme and meant his race was completely done at that point. The issue had big championship implications as Jones was on the playoff bubble heading into Sunday's race. He needs to be scoring top-15 or top-10 finishes each and every week. Not finishing races is the last thing he needs as he clings to his playoff hopes. Kentucky offers an opportunity, though. In three series starts he has taken home three top-10 finishes. A finish like that this week could reignite his playoff charge.

Jimmie Johnson – After nearly 700 consecutive starts, Jimmie Johnson missed his first series race last week at Indianapolis Motor Speedway after testing positive for Covid-19. The veteran in his final season had been showing consistent top-10 speed and was in the frame for a win at some point this year. Instead, despite being asymptomatic, Johnson tested positive for the virus that originally put the brakes on the entire NASCAR season. As part of NASCAR's protocol, he must now produce two negative tests before being able to return to racing. Justin Allgaier filled in for Johnson on Sunday, but was caught up in a chain-reaction crash on pit road before even 20 laps were in the books. It was a weekend to forget for the No. 48 team that is now left wondering when their main driver will return.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Cole Custer – Custer earned his first series top-five finish with an impressive and consistent race in Sunday's Brickyard 400. While the Stewart Haas Racing Fords all performed well, Custer showed the poise of a veteran and future star of the sport with his consistent race craft on Sunday. His previous best finish this season was a ninth-place finish at Phoenix before racing paused for the pandemic. He is part of one of the most impressive rookie classes the series has seen in recent seasons but has been mostly in the shadows of his competition thus far. That may change with the boost from his race at Indianapolis. It was not a lucky finish, he was racing in the top 10 all afternoon, and he will only continue to build experience and pace as the season charges onward.

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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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