By Jerry Jordan, Editor
Kevin Harvick has started outside the Top 10 just seven times all season, racked up nine wins and still, he didn’t advance to the Championship 4 at Phoenix Raceway but he gave it a valiant, albeit controversial, attempt on the final turn of the final lap as he intentionally wrecked Kyle Buch to gain a single point at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday.
With the laps winding down, Harvick was left with a choice, take a chance on moving Busch out of the way or not contending for the championship next week. He chose the latter and ended up spinning himself out and losing seven more positions. Busch also spun 360-degrees but was able to get back in the gas and make it across the finish line.
“I tried to drive into the door of the 18 to get that last point to make it and spun him out,” Harvick said. “I don’t usually drive like that, but you’re trying to make it to the Championship 4 and doing everything you can. Just came up short. Just not the night we needed.
“It was just a move I had to try knowing that I needed one point. I needed to hit him square in the door, but at that point, I was too late and wound up hitting him in the back. It was just a Hail Mary that didn’t work out.”
Some media outlets have reported that Harvick actually “locked-up” the NASCAR Championship after this past week’s race at Texas. His points total would have been so great “under the old system” that no one could catch him and all other drivers were racing for runner-up but that is false and misleading. Why? Because the “old system” is obsolete and which “old system” would those outlets be referring to?
The points system in NASCAR has been changed 15 times since the sanctioning body was created in 1949 and 10 of those changes came before the playoff system, which was first implemented in 2004. The playoff system has been altered five times since then and Harvick even has one of those changes attributed to him – The Harvick Rule.
In 2014, Harvick suggested that the fifth place in the season-ending standings be determined by the Chase drivers eliminated in each of the rounds during the final races. In other words, throughout the rounds, drivers’ points reset and they arrange back to where they would outside the Championship 4, giving drivers in 13th through 16th a reason to try and contend for a higher finish position in the overall season points total.
“Look, these championships aren’t like winning like Petty and Earnhardt used to win them,” Harvick said. “You have to put them together three weeks at a time and it comes down to one race and it came down to one race for us tonight and came up short. We had a great year. Like I said earlier, they aren’t won the same way that Earnhardt and Petty did. You have to put together a few weeks and we didn’t put together these last few weeks like we needed to and just came up short.
“That’s the system that we work in and it’s obviously skewed more towards entertainment than the whole year, so it’s exciting to watch and has that format that goes with it and you take them as they come and we race within the system that they give us and do our best. It just didn’t work out for us. The last three weeks didn’t go exactly how we needed them to and you’ve got to be right when you get to this Round of 8.”
Harvick won the NASCAR Cup Series Championship in 2014 and has been a contender in the Championship 4 playoffs six times, including 2020. In 2018, he lost the championship to Joey Logano in the final race of the season, when Logano won at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Harvick had eight wins going into the final race, as did Kyle Busch, but the winner-take-all scenario left them, and Martin Truex Jr., just a few spots short.
Asked Sunday night if this was hard to take and whether he considered it a “gut punch,” he replied, “No, I’ve been punched in the gut a lot harder. We won nine races, had a great year, and like I said, the championship is kind of a bonus. It would be great to win it, obviously, but I’d rather go through the year and win races and do the things that we did and just came up short.”
Logano, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott, the Martinsville winner, will faceoff next week for the title in the Arizona desert.