If things keep going the way they are for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kevin Harvick, his win at Phoenix International Raceway, the second race of the 2014 season, may not be enough to get him into the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship post season. After all, the new procedure for getting into the Chase does stipulate that a driver has to be in the top-30 in the points standings.
Prior to the start of the current season, NASCAR changed up both the Chase format and the procedure for determining who gets in. For now, the Chase format is beside the point. Right now the focus is just getting in. The new system places higher emphasis on winning, with winning drivers getting first crack at berths in the 16-driver Chase. Points only come into play if the points leader after Richmond (the Chase cut-off) doesn’t have a win and/or if there aren’t enough race winners to fill-out the 16-driver field. Oh and points are reverted back to if there are more than that number of winners and there needs to be a tie breaker or two to decide who gets in.
But there’s one catch where points also come into play. A win doesn’t help your case if you’re not in the top-30 in points. Of course, most race winners who compete full-time aren’t generally worried about falling outside the top-30. For most of them, staying in the top-20 isn’t even an issue. It’s usually not a concern for Harvick but, right now, it has to be.
After Monday’s rain-delayed Texas Motor Speedway race near Fort Worth, Harvick dropped down the list even more to 26th and a whopping deficit of 121 points to the leader, Jeff Gordon, in only seven races. That’s a deficit that averages out to a little over 17 points lost per race. He’s a lot closer to David Gilliland, the first driver outside the top-30 in 31st, who is 31 points behind Harvick.
In just five races since his win at Phoenix, Harvick has finished outside the top-35 three times, two of those times outside the top-40. And, remember, only 43 drivers start each race. He was next-to-last at Texas. The only driver behind him was Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose car hit the wall and caught fire just a few laps after the race went green.
The season is quite young, and anything can happen. Harvick could pull out another win, or two or three, and that would go a long way in increasing his points position. Even without another win before the Richmond cut-off, he could turn in some strong, solid finishes to move up the standings. One of those two things is what I expect to happen. After all, his streak of bad luck — and that’s what this all seems to be — has to end sometime. For Harvick’s sake, maybe it’ll end sooner rather than later.
The new system is to Harvick’s benefit, though, considering his current situation. As long as he does turn things around at least enough to stay in the top-30, or at least be in the top-30 by the fall Richmond race, his win will go a long way in getting him in. Under the previous system, his string of poor finishes would far outweigh the win, and he’s in such a big hole now, that he could probably almost already kiss Chase hopes goodbye.
As I mentioned before, the season’s still young. There are still 19 races before the Chase cut-off. I expect Harvick to recover enough to, at least, be in the top-30 at that cut-off. Good thing, though, NASCAR changed the rules and he has one of those coveted wins. Otherwise, he’d probably already be screwed.