Is Harvick a legit title threat?
August, 28, 2013
By Matt Willis | ESPN.com
Jared C. Tilton/Getty ImagesKevin Harvick is looking for bigger reasons to celebrate.
Kevin Harvick sits fourth in the Sprint Cup Series standings with two races until the Chase, basically a lock to make the Chase for a fourth straight season and the seventh time in the last eight years.
He’s only one of five drivers in the series with multiple wins this season, joining championship favorites Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne.
However, a deeper look shows that he might not be quite the championship threat that his wins and points position make him out to be.
Inside the numbers
Two of the best measures of a driver’s performance are average running position, an average of where he’s been on the track for every lap, and fastest laps run, a count of the amount of times the driver was the fastest on the track on a given green-flag lap.
Harvick ranks eighth in both of these categories, which would put him firmly in the 12-driver Chase, but not among the favorites.
“Happy” has also rarely been found running at the front of the pack this season.
Despite winning a pair of races, he’s led just 51 laps in the 24 races this season, ranking 21st in the series. He led 28 of 400 laps in his Charlotte win in May, and only three of 400 for his win at Richmond in April.
Harvick is labeled “The Closer” for his ability to appear at the front of the pack late in race. The nickname is deserved, but also is a label for his inability to run up front consistently and dominate races.
Last year, Harvick led just 256 laps, 13th among all drivers. This season, seven drivers have already reached that mark and an eighth, Martin Truex Jr., is at 255.
But Harvick should never be ruled out of a race just because he didn’t lead early or much at all. In five of his 11 wins dating back to the 2007 Daytona 500, Harvick has led four or fewer laps.
In NASCAR’s modern era, going back to 1972, no other driver has more than three such wins, and only eight have won multiple races when leading four or fewer laps.
Despite Harvick’s high overall season points ranking, he has been sliding recently. Over the last five races, Harvick ranks 17th in points, behind drivers way outside of Chase contention such as Marcos Ambrose and Juan Pablo Montoya.
However, in that same span, he still has more points than the perennial championship favorite, Jimmie Johnson, who is 19th in that span.