Stats & Info: Kevin Harvick

Projections favor Jeff Gordon

March, 28, 2015
Mar 28
8:58
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Here are the projections for Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Martinsville. Our projection system takes into account, among other factors, drivers’ past performances at the current track, pre-race on-track activity (practices and qualifying) and probability of finishing the race. All of the data is then adjusted for the track type (in this case, a .526-mile oval short track) and time of year.

Kevin Harvick improved his streak to eight consecutive top-two finishes after passing teammate Kurt Busch for second place last week at California. Harvick has tied the fifth-longest such streak in NASCAR Cup Series history. Only Richard Petty has had a longer streak, the most recent of which came in 1975 (a record 11 straight). In NASCAR’s modern era (since 1972), there has been only two streaks of at least eight straight top-two finishes: Harvick’s current run and Richard Petty’s record 11 straight in 1975. Harvick has actually led a higher percentage of laps during his current run than Petty did during his. However, Harvick has traditionally struggled at Martinsville. In 27 starts, he has just three top-five finishes with an average finish of 16.4.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the most recent Cup race at Martinsville, but it’s Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson who are among the best all-time at the track, with each winning there eight times. Gordon has never won nine races at a single track, and Johnson is looking to become the sixth driver to win at least nine times at multiple tracks (he has also done so at Dover).

A fifth Hendrick Motorsports driver will be on the track Sunday, as Chase Elliott will make his Sprint Cup Series debut. Elliott is the defending NASCAR XFINITY Series champion and the only teenager to win a title in NASCAR National Touring Series history. If Elliott finishes poorly, it’s not a big cause for concern. Both Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon wrecked in their Cup Series debuts driving for Hendrick Motorsports and finished outside the top 30.

Three drivers have started this season with five straight top 10s. From 2011-14, no driver started a season with six straight top 10s, and it has happened only twice in the past 22 seasons. Most notably, Martin Truex Jr. has started with five top-10s in a row. He has already equaled his last season totals of one top-five and five top-10s.

Comparing Harvick's streak to Petty's 11

March, 24, 2015
Mar 24
3:41
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Kevin Harvick finished second Sunday at Fontana, California, extending his run of top-two finishes to eight consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup races. Only one other driver in Cup Series history has a longer streak: Richard Petty.

Petty’s series record is 11 consecutive top-two finishes in 1975. He also has several others longer than Harvick's, whose streak dates to the 2014 season. David Pearson (1968) also has a streak of eight top-two finishes.

Comparing Harvick’s streak to Petty’s run of 11
Depending on one’s viewpoint, Harvick’s streak could be considered more impressive than Petty’s 11 in a row.

Petty paced the field for 33 percent of his laps during that streak, whereas Harvick has been leading for more than 37 percent of the laps during his past eight starts.

Moreover, the competition at the top of the field is possibly tighter. During Petty’s run, an average of 2.3 cars finished on the lead lap each start. During Harvick’s streak, that average is 25.5 cars on the lead lap.

In Petty’s streak he had six victories. Harvick has four among his last eight races.

Why Harvick might stretch it to nine
Harvick’s statistics in the past eight races make a convincing case. He has four wins (second-best is two wins). He has led 836 laps (second-best is 367 laps led). The next-most consistent finisher in these eight races has an average finish of 6.8 compared with Harvick’s average finish of 1.5.

Harvick has accomplished this on a variety of tracks, ranging from intermediates (from 1 to 2 miles) to Daytona (2 miles).

Harvick has run 301 fastest laps in five starts this season, 201 more than anyone else. That’s good for 27.7 percent of the laps run under green this year.

Why the streak might end
The next stop on the NASCAR Sprint Cup tour is Sunday in Martinsville. Harvick was involved in a wreck there in the fall and finished 33rd – the race preceding the start of his streak.

Last fall’s Martinsville race was the most recent event Harvick has run on a short track. He has won at the track once, but he has finished out of the top five in 24 of 27 starts there.

His average finish in at Martinsville is 16.4. He has paced the field for one lap in his past five starts there.

Homestead: Best of four wins

November, 15, 2014
11/15/14
6:42
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Patrick Smith/Getty Images Denny Hamlin (from left), Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Ryan Newman
Here are the projections for Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Homestead. Our projection system takes into account, among other factors, drivers’ past performances at the current track, prerace on-track activity (practices and qualifying) and probability of finishing the race. All of the data is then adjusted for the track type (in this case, a 1.5-mile oval) and time of year.

After last week’s eliminations, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Ryan Newman remain in the hunt for the title. Everything is on the line Sunday as the best finisher among the four will win the Sprint Cup Championship. All odds are according to Westgate Las Vegas Superbook.

The case for Harvick (5-4 odds)
Harvick eclipsed 2,000 laps led for the season in his win at Phoenix last week, joining Jimmie Johnson (2009) in reaching that milestone in the Chase Era. Harvick also leads all drivers this season in fastest laps (1,196) and driver rating (109.9). With 35 races in the rear-view mirror, Harvick turned it on last week when it mattered most, and perhaps the biggest factor in his favor Sunday is the performance of the No. 4 car in prerace workouts at Homestead: He finished first, second and eighth in practice, and he rolls off fifth.
Best career Homestead finish: second, twice. Projected season finish: Champion (projected race finish: first).

The case for Hamlin (7-2 odds)
Hamlin finished second in points in 2010, the only driver among the four remaining to have finished second or better. Despite a win at Homestead last season, his track history is uneven: He finished outside the top eight in each of the previous three races. Hamlin should be a strong contender Sunday, however, as the No. 11 car was on average seventh-fastest in prerace activity, and Hamlin’s average Homestead finish since 2005 is nearly three spots better than his average running position (14.0).
Best career Homestead finish: first, twice (defending race winner). Projected season finish: second (projected race finish: third).

The case for Newman (6-1 odds)
Newman could become the first driver to win a Cup championship without winning a race during the season, and he would be the first driver since Kurt Busch in 2004 to win a Cup Series title after finishing outside the top 10 in points the previous season. Historically, Homestead is not his strongest track, and his average running position since 2005 (13.8) reflects his on-track activity this season: an underwhelming 12th-fastest on average, including 12th in final practice in race trim.
Best career Homestead finish: third, 2012. Projected season finish: third (projected race finish: seventh).

The case for Logano (9-4 odds)
At 24, Logano would be the third-youngest driver to win a Cup Series championship and the youngest since Jeff Gordon in 1995. Logano leads the series in wins (two) and average finish (6.5) on 1.5-mile tracks this season, and he has improved at Homestead in each of his last few tries: from 39th in 2010 (crash), to 19th in 2011, to 14th in 2012, to eighth last season. Despite the positive trend, with 267 laps until a champion is crowned, Logano might not improve quickly enough to contend for the title.
Best career Homestead finish: eighth, 2013. Projected season finish: fourth (projected race finish: 11th).

Harvick projected to win at Phoenix

November, 8, 2014
11/08/14
6:51
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Robert Laberge/Getty ImagesKevin Harvick (right) and Brad Keselowski (left) are projected to finish first and second respectively at Phoenix.


Here are the projections for Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Phoenix. Our projection system takes into account, among other factors, drivers’ past performances at the current track, pre-race on-track activity (practices and qualifying) and probability of finishing the race. All of the data is then adjusted for the track type (in this case, a 1-mile tri-oval) and time of year.

This is the third and final race of the Eliminator Round, and none of the four spots in the Championship Round have yet been clinched. According to our projections Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin will advance (can clinch with finishes of 11th or better), Ryan Newman will advance (can clinch with a ninth-place finish or better) and Kevin Harvick will advance (by virtue of winning). The other four Chasers could advance with a win.

Kevin Harvick is eighth out of the remaining eight Chasers, but he’s heading to his best track. He’s won three of the last four Phoenix races and his five career wins there is most among all drivers (for context, the other seven remaining Chasers have a combined seven wins). Earlier this season Harvick led 72 percent of the laps en route to winning at Phoenix.

Brad Keselowski has drawn the ire of his fellow drivers but there’s no questioning his performance in elimination races. Keselowski finished second at Dover and won at Talladega, in a situation in which he needed a win to advance to the Eliminator Round.

Last week, Jeff Gordon went from battling for the lead to a 29th-place finish after cutting a tire following contact from Brad Keselowski. The good news for Gordon is following his five prior finishes outside the top 25 this season, he has four wins and a 1.2 average finish.

Projections for Sprint Cup race at Kansas

October, 4, 2014
10/04/14
5:16
PM ET

Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesNobody has led more laps in the Chase than Kansas pole-sitter Kevin Harvick.

Here are the projections for Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Kansas. Our projection system takes into account, among other factors, drivers’ past performances at the current track, pre-race on-track activity (practices and qualifying) and probability of finishing the race. All of the data is then adjusted for the track type (in this case, a 1.5-mile tri-oval) and time of year.

• Kevin Harvick, who looks to win from the pole on Sunday, has led 42 percent of the laps in the Chase - the highest percentage among championship contenders and nearly double that of the next closest driver (Brad Keselowski, 23 percent). Harvick has been strong so far this week, finishing first or second in three of the four pre-race workouts.

• Jeff Gordon is the defending Kansas winner and is also fresh off a win at Dover. He’s also a driver to watch for again this weekend; his three wins here are most all-time, and he’s seeking back-to-back Kansas wins for the second time in his career (won the first two events here in 2001 and 2002). Earlier this year at Kansas, Gordon posted the fastest average speed during the last 25 percent of laps run since a pit stop.

• Kyle Busch would likely rather skip his visit to Kansas. It’s the only track in his Cup career where he doesn’t have a top-five finish, and in his past four starts there he’s averaging a finish of 29.5. He’s led just two laps at Kansas in his previous five starts.

• Chasers beware, your afternoon could end early if you’re not careful. Over the previous two Chase seasons, Kansas has been the most dangerous track with 16 accidents, easily the most of any Chase track in that time. No other venue has more than 10 wrecks during the 2012 and 2013 Chase.

• Teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano should once again be a threat this weekend. Kansas is another 1.5 miler, and the duo have combined to win 4 of 7 the races on 1.5-mile tracks this season. Of Keselowski’s five wins this year, three have come on 1.5-mile tracks.

Jimmie Johnson is hard to beat at Dover

September, 27, 2014
9/27/14
5:33
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AP Photo/Nick Wass
Jimmie Johnson has had unprecedented success at Dover, winning a Series-high nine races there, including two in a row and six of the last 11.

Here are the projections for Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Dover. Our projection system takes into account, among other factors, drivers’ past performances at the current track, pre-race on-track activity (practices and qualifying) and probability of finishing the race. All of the data is then adjusted for the track type (in this case, a 1-mile oval) and time of year.

• Jimmie Johnson will be the driver to watch this Sunday at Dover. In the past 11 starts there, Johnson has won six of them, while no other driver has won more than once. His nine wins there are most in series history and his most at any track, and since the start of 2009, Johnson has led 2,339 of 4,400 laps at Dover, good for over half (53 percent). Johnson’s ninth win at the track came earlier this year, matching the most by any team here aside from his team, Hendrick.

• Kevin Harvick could also be a strong contender at the Monster Mile. Harvick has been up front often lately, leading 32 percent of laps in this year’s Chase, the highest percentage of any Chaser. Harvick can ensure he advances to the Contender Round with a 34th-place finish, regardless of what anyone else does. He can also finish worse and advance, but it depends on where other drivers finish.

• We will very likely be seeing a 2014 Chaser claim Dover this weekend, meaning someone could secure a place in the Contender Round automatically using the win provision. Nine of the 10 Dover winners during the Chase era are also 2014 Chase drivers, the lone exception being Jeff Burton in 2006. What's more, the Chase edition at Dover has been won by a Chaser in all 10 seasons.

Kevin Harvick is driver to beat at Michigan

June, 14, 2014
6/14/14
4:12
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Here are our projections for Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Michigan.

Our projection system takes into account, among other factors, drivers’ past performances at the current track, prerace on-track activity (practices and qualifying) and probability of finishing the race. All of the data is then adjusted for the track type (in this case, a 2-mile D-oval superspeedway) and time of year.

Harvick’s driving a rocket
Kevin Harvick's No. 4 Chevrolet has looked more like a rocket ship than a stock car this week. Harvick finished fourth, third, third and first in prerace workouts, and rolls off from the pole.

According to Jayski.com, Harvick is running chassis No. 842 this weekend. He last raced this car at Kansas, where he won the pole and finished second.

Before that, the car led 224 of 312 laps en route to winning at Phoenix. Combined with the fact that Harvick finished second in both Michigan races last year makes him the driver to watch.

Earnhardt looking for back-to-back wins
Dale Earnhardt Jr. picked up the win last week at Pocono, passing Brad Keselowski with five laps to go when trash on Keselowski’s grill threatened to overheat his car.

Now, Earnhardt will try to do something he’s never done in his Cup career: win back-to-back races. Michigan could be his best bet. Two of his four wins since joining Hendrick Motorsports have come at Michigan.

Hendrick Motorsports going for fifth straight
Hendrick Motorsports has won the last four Sprint Cup Series races -- one apiece by Jeff Gordon and Earnhardt, and two by Jimmie Johnson.

Dating back to 1970, there have been only three win streaks of at least five races by a single NSCS team. Hendrick itself did it twice in 2007 and Petty Enterprises did it in 1971, when Richard Petty won five straight on his own.

Expect drama late in the race
Late-race drama is always in play at Michigan, as six of the last 12 races here have been decided by a lead change in the final 10 laps, including in the fall race here.

In that race, Joey Logano passed Mark Martin with four to go to pick up his third career Cup Series win.

Harvick projected to win at Charlotte

May, 24, 2014
5/24/14
6:40
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Here are the projections for Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Charlotte. Our projection system takes into account, among other factors, drivers’ past performances at the current track, pre-race on-track activity (practices and qualifying) and probability of finishing the race. All of the data is then adjusted for the track type (in this case, a 1.5-mile Quad-Oval) and time of year.

• Projected winner Kevin Harvick has won two of the last three Coca-Cola 600s. Harvick’s projection is influenced heavily by his past history in this race as his car appears to be top-five capable, but not quite elite - he qualified sixth and finished sixth in the final practice.

• Kurt Busch will attempt to become the fourth driver to start both the Indianapolis 500 and the 600-mile race at Charlotte in the same day. John Andretti, Robby Gordon and Tony Stewart have done it before, but only Tony Stewart in 2001 completed all 1,100 miles. It’s important for Busch to make it to Charlotte in time for the start of the race because only the driver who starts a Sprint Cup race receives points for the race.

• Jimmie Johnson is still looking for his first win of the season, and on the surface, Charlotte looks like a good site for that to happen. He’s tied with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip for the most career wins there with six. However, Johnson has just one win in the last 16 Charlotte races, after winning five of the previous six.

• Jeff Gordon leads the points, but it was his win two weeks ago at Kansas that all but locked in his Chase berth. But don’t expect an encore this week, as drivers this season have a 21.6 average finish in the next race following a win, with more DNF’s (three) than top-10 finishes (two).

• In the last points race at Kansas, Danica Patrick finished a career-best seventh, the best Cup finish by a woman since Janet Guthrie finished sixth at Bristol in 1977. However, Patrick has averaged a 32nd-place finish in the races following her previous three best finishes. After her 8th-place finish in the 2013 Daytona 500, her only other career top 10, she was 39th the following week at Phoenix after being in a wreck.

Harvick projected to win at Kansas

May, 9, 2014
5/09/14
8:31
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Here are the projections for Saturday's Sprint Cup race at Kansas City. Our projection system takes into account, among other factors, drivers’ past performances at the current track, pre-race on-track activity (practices and qualifying) and probability of finishing the race. All of the data is then adjusted for the track type (in this case, a 1.5-mile D-Oval) and time of year.

• Kevin Harvick led 138 laps en route to winning the last race at this track after finishing 12th in the spring race last season. Kansas prerace ratings peg Harvick’s No. 4 and Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 as the class of the field, with a sizable gap between them and the No. 99 of Carl Edwards.

• Johnson is still winless 10 races into the season for just the third time in his Sprint Cup Series career. However, Kansas has been a slump-buster for him in the past, as he snapped a career-long 21-race winless streak here in 2011. Johnson should have a top-three car and contend for the win Saturday night.

• Kyle Busch has struggled at Kansas –- it’s the only track where he’s raced and failed to record a top-five finish. He’s also wrecked out of each of the last three races here, giving him a 23.3 career average finish at the track, his worst anywhere on the Cup circuit.

• Busch’s teammate Denny Hamlin is coming off a win at Talladega, but that momentum might not carry over to Saturday. This season on the two restrictor-plate tracks (Daytona and Talladega), Hamlin has finished second and first, plus wins in two non-points events (Sprint Unlimited, Budweiser Duel). But he has yet to record a top five in seven races on the other tracks, with an average finish of 15.7.

• Kansas native Clint Bowyer is making his 300th career Sprint Cup Series start this weekend at Kansas. Last week at Talladega, Denny Hamlin won in his 300th career NSCS start. Only five drivers in series history have won in their 300th Cup start, but it’s now happened in each of the last three seasons.

Harvick projected to repeat in Richmond

April, 25, 2014
4/25/14
6:52
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Robert Laberge/Getty ImagesKevin Harvick looks to win back-to-back Richmond races.

Here are the projections for Saturday's Sprint Cup race at Richmond. Our projection system takes into account, among other factors, drivers’ past performances at the current track, prerace on-track activity (practices and qualifying) and probability of finishing the race. All of the data is then adjusted for the track type (in this case, a ¾-mile D-Oval short track) and time of year.

Kevin Harvick, defending race winner and wins leader this season, is projected to win again Saturday. Harvick has posted a stellar average driver rating of 102 over the last three races at this track while finishing 11th or better each time.

Kyle Busch has won four of the last five NSCS spring races at Richmond. With a win Saturday, he’d join Jeff Gordon and Richard Petty as the only drivers to win at least 30 Cup Series races before turning 30. Despite an excellent track record, Busch finished 19th and 20th in the two practices this week, which slightly reduced his value in the projections (to eighth).

Denny Hamlin is winless this season, but Richmond could be a good place for the Virginia native to pick up his first win. Since the start of the 2008 season, Hamlin has led 1,323 laps at the track, more than twice as many as any other driver.

Jimmie Johnson also remains winless eight races into the season. In each of his six championship seasons, Johnson won within the first eight races of the season. Although he’s a three-time winner at Richmond, his 17.3 career average finish at the track is his worst at any active track. Our method projects Johnson to struggle to crack the top 10, as he finished 40th and 12th here last season.

Kevin Harvick among best to never win title

November, 13, 2013
11/13/13
3:42
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Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
Kevin Harvick won at Phoenix last Sunday to stay mathematically alive for a Sprint Cup title.
Kevin Harvick’s win last week at Phoenix was his fourth of the season, just one off his Sprint Cup career high, set in 2006. It also kept him in championship contention, albeit as a longshot, entering Sunday’s season finale at Homestead (3 p.m. ET, ESPN and WatchESPN).

Harvick has the best career numbers at Homestead among the three drivers still in championship contention (Harvick, Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth). His 7.9 average finish at the track is the second-best mark there all-time among drivers with multiple starts, trailing only Carl Edwards.

To compare, championship leader Jimmie Johnson has a 15.3 career average finish at the track, and Matt Kenseth has a 17.6.

A title seems out of reach for Harvick, as Johnson needs to finish 32nd or better to mathematically eliminate Harvick. But a top-five points finish seems like a safe bet, given that Harvick has a 46-point cushion over sixth place entering the weekend.

Sunday's race could very well be Mark Martin’s final Sprint Cup Series race. Martin, despite 40 Cup Series wins and five runner-up finishes in points, never won a Cup championship. Harvick is quickly joining him on the list of the most-accomplished drivers to never win a title.

If Harvick finishes in the top five in points, it would be the sixth time in his career that he has done so, including three times in the past four seasons after finishing third in both 2010 and 2011. He would become the fourth driver in Cup Series history, dating back to 1949, to finish in the top five in points at least six times without ever winning a title.

What the other three have done that Harvick has yet to do is finish runner-up in points. However, Harvick could change that by gaining at least seven points on Kenseth at Homestead.

Harvick has some big wins on his resume. Besides being a two-time Nationwide Series champion, he also won the 2003 Brickyard 400 and the 2007 Daytona 500 in a thrilling side-by-side finish with Mark Martin.

Overall, Harvick has 23 wins in his Sprint Cup Series career, making him one of eight drivers to win that many Cup races without ever having won a championship. Among the other drivers on the list are Martin once again, and Kyle Busch, who is fourth in points this season but mathematically eliminated from title contention.

What makes Harvick’s performance noteworthy this season is he and his team have been doing it with the knowledge that this is Harvick’s final season with Richard Childress Racing, as he made the decision to move to Stewart-Haas Racing starting in 2014.

Harvick will then try to replicate Kenseth’s performance this season, his first with Joe Gibbs Racing. But history won’t be on his side, as only one driver in the modern era (since 1972) has won a championship in his first season with a team: Darrell Waltrip in 1981 driving for Junior Johnson.

Who has the edge: Kenseth or Jimmie?

October, 11, 2013
10/11/13
6:13
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Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR/Getty ImagesThrough four Chase races, Matt Kenseth leads Jimmie Johnson by three points.
After Saturday’s race at Charlotte, the 2013 Chase will be half over, and the story through the first four races has been Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson separating from the pack.

Those two are separated by three points, with Kenseth holding the edge entering the weekend, with Kevin Harvick 25 points back in third place.

But who has the edge the rest of the way?

The Case for Matt Kenseth
Kenseth has a three-point lead over the five-time champion through four races, and historically, that pencils him in as the favorite.

Over the previous five seasons, the leader at this point went on to win four of the five championships. The exception was Kenseth’s former teammate Carl Edwards, who lost the 2011 title on a tiebreaker to Tony Stewart.

Also in Kenseth’s favor are the tracks remaining on the schedule. Three of the final six races will be held on 1.5-mile tracks (Charlotte, Texas, Homestead). This season, six of the eight races on 1.5-mile tracks have been won by drivers from Joe Gibbs Racing, including four by Kenseth.

The other two were won by Richard Childress Racing’s Kevin Harvick, meaning Johnson and the rest of the powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports organization have been shut out in such races this season.

The Case for Jimmie Johnson
This is the fifth race of the 2013 Chase, and races 5-7 of the Chase have been Jimmie’s time to shine.

In the nine previous Chases, Johnson has 10 wins in 27 starts in races 5-7 of the Chase, with a 5.6 average finish. To compare, Kenseth has won two of those races with a career average finish of 14.5.

And despite Kenseth holding the points lead, Johnson has an edge over Kenseth in average finish, laps led and fastest laps run during the 2013 Chase. In fact, Johnson leads all drivers in those three areas during the 2013 Chase, with Kenseth ranking second in all three.

The Case Against Jimmie Johnson
Looking at the overall numbers, Johnson seems like a favorite for Saturday night’s race at Charlotte. His six wins at the track are the most among active drivers, and tied with Hall of Famers Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip for the most all-time. His 11.9 average finish is the best in track history among drivers with more than 10 starts.

But five of those six wins came in a six-race span from 2003-05, and he has just a single win in the last 15 Charlotte races, and an average finish close to 20th in the seven races there over the past four seasons.

Dating back to 2007, Johnson’s average finish at Charlotte is 17th, his third-worst mark at any of the 23 tracks on the current schedule in that time.

Value of 1st race to Chase is significant

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
8:23
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John Harrelson/Getty ImagesMatt Kenseth won the Geico 400 at Chicago Sunday night, his sixth Sprint Cup win of the season.
How important was Sunday’s Chase opener in Chicago in previewing the whole Chase?

For Matt Kenseth – A Win at Chicago Bodes Well for a Title
This is the third time that there’s been a Chase race at Chicago.

All three times it’s been the Chase opener.

In each of the previous two years, the driver who won the Chicago race went on to win the title.

In the previous seven Chases, the opener was held at New Hampshire, and only one of the seven winners went on to win the title: Kurt Busch in 2004.

Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick
Should Feel Good Too

The top six finishers Sunday were all Chasers. In seven of the previous nine Chase openers, the eventual Chase champion finished in the top six.

The only driver to recover from a finish outside the top six in the opener to win a Chase championship was Johnson, who did so in 2006 and 2010.

It Doesn’t Look Good for Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Joey Logano
NASCAR’s most popular driver and the driver with the chance to become the youngest Cup Series champion both struggled, finishing 35th (Earnhardt Jr.) and 37th (Logano) after having engine issues.

Both are more than 50 points off the lead.

Since the Chase field expanded from 10 drivers for the 2007 season, the six Chase champions have a combined one finish outside the top 25 in 60 combined races.

That was a 38th-place finish by Jimmie Johnson at Texas in 2009, a race he entered with a lead bigger than the amount of points a driver could make up in a single race.

In fact, no Chase champion has had more than one finish outside the top 20 since the field expanded from 10.

Is Harvick a legit title threat?

August, 28, 2013
8/28/13
8:48
AM ET
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.

What's the key to a Sunday victory?

May, 25, 2013
5/25/13
3:48
PM ET
Sunday is arguably the biggest day of auto racing of the year, with the F1 Grand Prix of Monaco, the IZOD IndyCar Series Indianapolis 500 and the Sprint Cup Series 600-mile race at Charlotte filling the day.

Winning any of these three races will check an item off a driver’s to-do list, but what are the keys to getting to victory lane?

Grand Prix of Monaco –- Qualify Up Front
The Grand Prix of Monaco is like no other Formula One event. Held on the twisty streets of Monte Carlo, overtaking is exceedingly difficult, meaning pole position is crucial. The winner has come from pole in eight of the last nine Monaco Grand Prix.

Mercedes has flashed its qualifying pace this year, but has struggled to keep speed during longer runs. Monaco's emphasis on downforce rather than speed, however, should make Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg appealing choices.

But the safer bet may be Red Bull, which has had an immense edge at Monte Carlo, leading 91.9 percent of laps in the last three trips. This year, Red Bull will look to join BRM (1963-1966) and McLaren (1988-1993) as the only constructors to win at least four straight at Monaco.

Mark Webber has struggled this season, but he should not be overlooked, having won two of the last three here. He and Fernando Alonso are the only two active drivers with multiple Monaco wins.

Webber's teammate, Sebastian Vettel, has continued his torrid pace. His 230 points since Singapore last season are 59 more than any other driver. In that span, he's won six of 12 Grand Prix.

Indianapolis 500 – Running Second the Best Bet?
If recent history holds true, the 2013 Indianapolis 500 should be a thriller. Since 1995, 10 races had the final lead change within the final 10 laps.

By comparison, in the first 78 Indy 500s (1911-94), there were just nine races in which the final lead change was in the final ten laps.

The best place to be late has proved to be second place, instead of the lead. In 2006, Sam Hornish Jr. trailed Marco Andretti heading down the frontstretch on the final lap,but he slingshot his way around Andretti to score the victory.

Five years later, Dan Wheldon was beneficiary of race leader JR Hildebrand’s Turn 4 crash. Wheldon navigated around Hildebrand and registered his second 500 victory. Those were the only time a driver won the Indy 500 with a last-lap pass.

Expect to see the lead swapped many times. When the current chassis made its 500 debut last year, it set the event record for lead changes with 34. The previous record (29) had stood since 1960.

NSCS at Charlotte – Survive the Day, Thrive at Night
Since 1960, the spring race at Charlotte has been 600 miles, making it the longest race on the Sprint Cup schedule, a test of endurance for driver and machinery.

The key to the 600 has been to stay in contention early, not peaking or using up equipment, and then hit the set-up for the stretch run.

Last year, race winner Kasey Kahne had the fifth-fastest average green-flag lap time over the first quarter of the race. It was the fourth-fastest in the second quarter, second-fastest in the third, and the fastest in the final 100 laps.

Compare that to 2011, when Kevin Harvick won in a wild finish. Harvick was only the 20th-fastest in the first 100 laps, and still outside the top 10 in average lap time in the second and third quarters.

But in the final segment, Harvick’s lap time improved to the fourth-fastest in the field, putting him position to take advantage of Dale Earnhardt Jr. running out of gas on the last lap.

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