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Stats back Kevin Harvick's title case

November 07, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com

Kevin Harvick can still take home title, but he'll have to be close to perfect

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PHOENIX -- The numbers suggest that it is a two-man race from here on out, with the 2013 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup to be decided between Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth.

That may indeed be the case, but with this weekend's Advocare 500 at Phoenix and next week's Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead remaining, nothing is set in stone. More than 700 miles and nearly 580 laps remain, providing ample opportunity for the unexpected to occur.

Officially, there are nine drivers still mathematically in the running for this year's championship -- from Johnson back to Penske Racing's Joey Logano, who trails the leader by 91.

But it's a two-man race, or so we've been told.

Kevin Harvick, third in points and who trails Johnson by 40 and Kenseth by 33, has been painted out of the picture. Is it unrealistic to think that the Richard Childress Racing driver could charge back into contention? Maybe. But could it happen?

Of course.

Harvick has gained 25 or more points on Johnson four times this season; he's outpointed Kenseth by 20 or more on three occasions. The possibility exists.

The probability is another matter. But the possibility? It's still there. And it's why they race.

Otherwise, why not just line up only the 48 and 20 teams and let them have at it for the next two weekends?

Last week's Texas race had barely ended when Johnson was reminded of what took place a year ago. His situation was identical, leading by seven points with two races remaining.

Uncharacteristic finishes in the final two races cost him a sixth championship, and eventually dropped him to third in the final points standings, so don't try to convince the Hendrick Motorsports driver that the Chase title is all but his to claim.

But how often does the No. 48 team, which has won five titles since 2006 with Johnson at the helm, have "uncharacteristic" finishes? Maybe not often, but it does happen. As recently as the pre-Chase string of races that included Michigan (40th), Bristol (36th), Atlanta (28th) and Richmond (40th) earlier this year.

Kenseth isn't immune to the occasional setback either, with the Joe Gibbs Racing driver finishing outside the top 25 five times in 2013.

Of course, for Harvick to race his way back into contention, he will have to do just that -- race his way back in. It sounds pretty simple, doesn't it? If Johnson and Kenseth stumble, Harvick needs to have major points days. Top 10s are out of the question; top-five finishes would help.

But wins are what the No. 29 team needs in the final two races.

And it's possible.

Harvick is a three-time winner at Phoenix, and the defending race champion. The dust-up between Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer got the airplay last November, but Harvick got the trophy.

Only Johnson has more career wins on the 1-mile track (4) while Kenseth has a single victory here in the desert.

At Homestead, where Kenseth is the only winner among the three, Harvick has an average finish of 7.9, Johnson 15.3 and Kenseth 17.6.

So, yeah, it's possible.

If Harvick and his team, led by crew chief Gil Martin, have an edge, it's that the No. 29 team has nothing to lose. Trying to catch up isn't the preferred position, but it often provides more opportunities.

Perhaps it's a two-man race, perhaps it isn't. Maybe it's still too soon to tell. Just as Harvick has enjoyed his share of better points days than Johnson and Kenseth, the opposite is also true. The points swing both ways.

There's no doubt that Harvick is the darkhorse in the points race, but he's in the race. And darkhorses have been known to come through.

Thankfully, statistics aren't guarantees. They don't tell us what will happen, only what has happened.

And we know what has happened. It's what we don't know that draws us back.

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