NASCAR has its third different points leader in four days

Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

Kevin Harvick is now sitting atop the NASCAR Cup Series point standings following the massive penalties issued to Hendrick Motorsports.

Entering Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Phoenix Raceway, Trackhouse Racing Team’s Ross Chastain was the points leader. Chastain, who had never led the standings until this year, looked poised to stay up top until he was intentionally driven into the wall by Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin.

As a result, Hendrick Motorsports’ Alex Bowman took the lead of the standings for the first time in his career, with Chastain sitting just six points behind.

But separating the two was Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick, who trailed Bowman by three.

Now Kevin Harvick finds himself atop the NASCAR Cup Series standings for the first time since 2020.

It was announced on Wednesday that Hendrick Motorsports had been penalized for illegally modifying the hood louvers on all four of their Chevrolets. All four cars were forced to replace the louvers after Friday’s practice session and therefore qualified and raced with new ones.

Performance was clearly not affected, as Kyle Larson took the pole position, William Byron won the race, and the entire team finished inside the top 10. But the penalties were still issued.

Among the penalties issued were 100-point penalties for Bowman, Larson, and Byron (not Chase Elliott because he is currently sidelined with a broken leg, and not his replacement, Josh Berry, because he is ineligible for Cup Series points as a full-time Xfinity Series driver).

As a result, Bowman fell from the points lead to 23rd place, Byron fell from fourth to 29th, and Larson fell from a fifth place tie to 32nd.

Harvick now leads Chastain by three points atop the standings, with Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell, who had been tied for fifth with Larson, in third, 11 points behind Chastain.

Harvick, who probably would have won Sunday’s race if not for a late caution flag bunching up the field, has had a solid start to the season, having not finished any one of the four races lower than 12th place.

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On the flip side, his Stewart-Haas Racing teammates all sit between 22nd and 24th place following the penalties to the Hendrick Motorsports drivers (and the same penalty to Kaulig Racing’s Justin Haley). None of them had been in the top 24 before these penalties were issued.