There are only two drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series who have placed within the top 10 in all five of the 2021 NASCAR Playoffs race so far, and that’s about all they have in common statistically.
Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford) and Denny Hamlin (No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota) are the men in question here. Both of them have cranked out a top-10 finish at each of these playoff tracks: Darlington Raceway, Richmond Raceway, Bristol Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. Take a look.
|Darlington||5th (44 points)||1st (57 points)|
|Richmond||8th (32 points)||2nd (55 points)|
|Bristol||2nd (45 points)||9th (47 points)|
|Las Vegas||9th (34 points)||1st (58 points)|
|Talladega||8th (39 points)||7th (34 points)|
Hamlin is averaging a 4.0 finish in the postseason; that’s best in the field. Harvick’s average is a 6.4 mark, good for third best overall. Their average points reflect the same standings – Hamlin is No. 1 at 50.2 and Harvick is No. 3 at 38.8.
Their shared playoff success is where the strong similarities end. Looking at the 2021 season as a whole, the duo is rather split – though both did enter the postseason with surprisingly zero wins to their names after topping the win column in 2020 (Harvick with nine, Hamlin with seven). Harvick still remains winless through 31 races. Hamlin has cranked out two victories since the playoffs started.
Hamlin is stronger than Harvick in every statistical category: wins, top fives, top 10, average finish, laps led, stage wins, stage points and playoff points. Again, take a look.
Note: Rankings in parenthesis account for full-time competitors only.
|Wins||0 (N/A)||2 (tied for fifth-best)|
|Top 5s||8 (tied for ninth-best)||16 (tied for best)|
|Top 10s||21 (tied for third-best)||22 (tied for best)|
|Average finish||10.6 (third best)||8.3 (best)|
|Laps led||216 (10th best)||1,372 (second best)|
|Stage wins||0 (N/A)||10 (second best)|
|Stage points||146 (11th best)||361 (best)|
|Playoffs points||2 (16th best among playoff drivers)||30 (second best)|
Harvick is by no means performing poorly. That’s not the point here. The point is, for two drivers sharing such an impressive stat line – top 10 in every playoff race – they’re not on the same playing field. It’s kind of weird.
Another major difference: Hamlin is locked into the Round of 8, thanks to his win at Las Vegas in the Round of 12 opener. Harvick is not. He’s actually in danger of being removed from title contention, checking in ninth in the standings and nine points below the elimination line.
That means Hamlin can coast and Harvick must stress in Sunday’s Bank of America Roval 400 cutoff race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course (2 p.m. ET on NBC/NBC Sports App, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). BetMGM has Hamlin at 12-1 odds to win the Round of 12 finale, while Harvick’s odds are lower at 25-1.
Those odds have to be based heavily on 2021 performances because Harvick has a better track record at the Roval than Hamlin. There have been three NASCAR Cup Series races on the oval-road layout, dating back to its debut in 2018. Harvick has placed ninth, third and 11th in those, posting a 7.7 average finish. Hamlin has finished 12th, 19th and 15th for a 15.3 average placement.
In more ways than one, Harvick and Hamlin differ, leaving the top-10 trend as their strongest current connection. Only time will tell if even that continues.