Harvick Penalty Drastically Alters Playoff Scenarios
Kevin Harvick won last week at Texas, but his car was found to have an illegal rear spoiler after the race. NASCAR responded with harsh penalties, taking away the automatic playoff advancement that came with the win and penalizing him 40 points. Harvick went from locked into a chance to race for his 2nd career Cup Series championship to just 3 points ahead of his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, Kurt Busch.
Harvick not racing for the championship at Homestead would be an upset, as he leads the series in many major categories, including 8 wins and 21 top-5 finishes. Those 21 top 5's are tied for the 3rd-most in the Cup Series dating back to 2000.
With the penalty, Harvick dropped from the championship favorite to the 2nd-favorite behind Kyle Busch. Kurt Busch was the big mover in the other direction, going from 50-1 to 25-1 to win the championship.
If there was any track where Harvick could use a good run, Phoenix is a good choice. He's a 9-time winner at the track, 5 more than any other driver has, and in the last 10 races at the track, he has 6 wins and no finish worse than 6th.
Harvick is having the best season of his career, setting a career-high in wins at 42 years old. In series history, only 2 other drivers have at least 8 wins in a season in which they were 42 or older.
Breaking Down the Championship Round Scenarios
With Harvick's penalty, it makes the road to the playoffs a lot clearer for Kyle Busch and defending series champion Martin Truex Jr. Both now can control their destiny, even without a victory. For Harvick and the 4 drivers outside looking in, the only way they control their destiny is with a win.
Joey Logano is the only driver locked into the Championship Round. Harvick and Kyle Busch are both looking for their 4th appearance in the Championship Round in the 5 years of this format, while Truex is looking for his 3rd, equaling Logano's number. The other 4 drivers still alive, outside looking in, all have never made a Championship Round appearance.
Logano Putting Together One of the Best Postseason
Despite the great regular seasons by Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch, it's Joey Logano who has been the most consistent in the playoffs. His 6.0 average finish is the best over the 8 playoff races so far, and on pace to be one of the best playoff performance in the 15 years of the playoffs.
Favorites Need Help in XFINITY Series
The XFINITY and Truck Series will also set their Championship Four lineups this weekend at Phoenix. After winning last week at Texas, Stewart-Haas developmental driver Cole Custer punched his ticket, but the main story was that the 2 favorites entering the playoffs, Christopher Bell and Justin Allgaier, are outside looking in.
The 12 XFINITY Series playoff drivers had a combined 14 wins entering these playoffs - 11 of them were by Bell or Allgaier. (Note: Ross Chastain had a win, but has been eliminated from contention.)
Bell, the defending Truck Series champion, has already broken the rookie record for wins in a XFINITY Series season, breaking the mark shared by drivers who went on to have a lot of success in the Cup Series.
Who's Hot and Who's Not - Phoenix
• Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas): 9 wins at Phoenix is 5 more than any other driver all-time; trying to join Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip, Jimmie Johnson, David Pearson and Dale Earnhardt as only drivers with 10+ wins at a track
• Kyle Busch (Gibbs): 3.7 Avg finish in last 6 Phoenix races is 2nd-best behind Kevin Harvick's 3.2
• Chase Elliott (Hendrick): 6.8 career Avg finish at Phoenix is 2nd-best all-time to Alan Kulwicki's 5.2
• Martin Truex Jr. (Furniture Row): back-to-back top-5 finishes at Phoenix (1 in first 23 career races at track)
• Aric Almirola (Stewart-Haas): back-to-back top-10 finishes at Phoenix (1 in first 13 career races at track)
• Clint Bowyer (Stewart-Haas): 0 top-5 finishes in last 20 Phoenix races (2 in 26 career Phoenix races)
• Joey Logano (Penske): finished 31st, 12th, 19th in 3 races at Phoenix since winning 2016 Playoff race
• Kurt Busch (Stewart-Haas): finished 25th, 21st, 10th in last 3 Phoenix races after finishing 5th-7th in previous 5; has not won at Phoenix since April 2005
--- ESPN Stats & Info ---