NASCAR: A surprise driver has fallen out of the playoffs

Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images) /

If the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs began today, Kevin Harvick would be battling for 17th place as opposed to a second championship.

Of the 25 NASCAR Cup Series races contested between Sunday, May 17, 2020, and Saturday, September 19, 2020, only 16 were won by a driver other than Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick, giving Harvick more wins in a single season than any driver since 2008.

Since then, 58 races have been contested, and Harvick hasn’t won a single one. The 2021 season was his first winless season since 2009.

His ongoing 58-race win drought is his longest since he went 115 races without a win between the 2007 season-opening Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway and the April 2010 race at Talladega Superspeedway.

Two Sundays ago, Harvick finished in third place in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway after surviving the chaos of the longest race of the season, giving him just his sixth top three finish since his ninth and final win of 2020.

But a brake rotor failure late in this past Sunday afternoon’s inaugural Cup Series race at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway led to his third DNF of the season, his most through 15 races since 2002.

Harvick now sits in 13th place in the point standings. But four drivers below him in the standings have won this year, including one who has won twice, so they are all ahead of the driver of the #4 Ford in the playoff picture.

As a result, Harvick sits in 17th place in the playoff picture, putting him on the outside looking in with 11 regular season races remaining.

Richard Childress Racing’s Tyler Reddick currently sits in 12th place in the point standings and is the 16th and final driver above the cut line, two points ahead of Harvick. Sitting six points ahead of Reddick is Stewart-Haas Racing’s Aric Almirola.

Last year, Harvick was the 15th of 16 driver to qualify for the playoffs, and he started the playoffs as the 16th and lowest seeded driver. So it’s not like this season has been all that much different than last year for the 46-year-old Bakersfield, California native in terms of being near the cut line.

But despite going winless for the first time since the 2009 season, he still managed to finish in fifth place in the point standings last year, which is ironically the same place he finished when he won nine races in 2020.

If he fails to qualify for this year’s playoffs, he would finish, at best, in 17th place.

He hasn’t finished outside of the top eight since 2009, when he finished in 19th place. The 2009 season, when he was still with Richard Childress Racing, is the most recent season in which he did not qualify for the playoffs, and his 12-year playoff streak is the longest among all active drivers.

Fortunately for Harvick, he is a lot closer to breaking back into the playoff picture than he is to losing more positions. Sitting behind him is Petty GMS Motorsports’ Erik Jones, and Jones is 24 points back. Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Dillon is three points behind Jones.

But if more new winners continue to emerge, that battle may prove to be lot tougher for Harvick than making up just a few points on Reddick or Almirola and staying ahead of Jones and Dillon.

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Of course, he can eliminate that stress by winning himself. Even though a win wouldn’t necessarily lock him into the playoffs, the fact that he is ahead of three other single-race winners in points would bode quite well for him if there are more than 16 different regular season winners and a points tiebreaker is needed to determine who gets the final playoff spots.