Combined, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin won half of the regular season races. During the pandemic, they won 12 of the 22 races during it. That’s why they were the favorites to win the championship this November at Phoenix. It wasn’t necessarily because they had 57 and 47 playoff points respectively. That was a strong case, but they were the top two drivers in the series.
Hamlin has five top two finishes over the final eight races of the regular season. He and Harvick won four of the final eight races during that span.
Now that the postseason has started, Harvick and Hamlin are going in opposite directions.
Harvick won two of the three opening round playoff races. Hamlin has no top 10’s. Harvick, has 13 top five finishes in his last 16 starts. Two of the three were at Daytona, the other was a seventh place run at Richmond.
Hamlin, has one top 10 over his last five starts. Still, it’s not like he’s had slow race cars. He was third heading to his final stop at Darlington before getting run in the back of by Jimmie Johnson while trying to come to pit road. He went from third to 13th. A week later, he won the second stage at Richmond but had a pit road speeding penalty. He’d finish 12th. On Saturday night, he ran into the back of Martin Truex Jr. early.
Now, I don’t necessarily expect much out of him in the Round of 12 either. He has one top five in his last seven Vegas starts and no top 10’s in his two ROVAL starts. The middle race is Talladega. Hamlin may enter the Round of 8 quiet, but he can turn it on instantly too.
“That stuff can flip around and turn the other direction really quick,” Harvick said of Hamlin’s luck right now. “They all outran us — I felt like the Gibbs cars outran us at Richmond. We struggled at Darlington and figured out a great strategy and wound up capitalizing on a late accident there, and tonight probably had the best car.
“It can go either way. It’s just those days that you don’t have a really good car what happens and how you can rebound from that, and on the days you do have a good car, hopefully finding Victory Lane.
“It’s been a battle some weeks, and some weekends it’s been good, but we’ve been able to capitalize on the good weeks.”
Harvick, feels confident heading into the next round.
“Yeah, I think for us you just want to keep doing what you’re doing,” he continued. “You don’t want to get out of rhythm, you don’t want to start thinking about what could happen or what did happen. You just go and do what you do on a week-to-week basis, climb in the car drive it as hard as you can.
“The guys are going to put what they think is the best setup in the car for that particular week, and everybody wants to achieve the same goal, so nobody is trying to have a bad night or a slow car.
“Everybody is coming to the racetrack trying to do everything that we can, but the thing I can tell you is when things aren’t going 100 percent correctly on a race weekend, we’ve got a great group of guys on pit road, we’ve got a great group of guys back at home helping us and on the pit box and doing all the things that it takes to try to climb back in the race or strategize our way back in the race.
“Sometimes those weeks, and I think Darlington is a great example of that, we just kept ourselves in the race and wound up in a position that capitalized on winning the race so that we weren’t really in contention to win.
“You just want to stay in rhythm. It’s kind of like basketball or football and you look at the teams that get the first-week bye and then they go to the next week and it always makes me wonder if you wouldn’t just rather keep playing to stay in that rhythm because I know for us staying in the rhythm and just thinking the same way that we have all year is the best way to do it for us.”
Harvick says at this time of year, it’s only about paying attention to themselves and keep your head down and focused on the task at hand.
“I think for us, you just don’t want to read anything that’s happening in the sport, honestly, at this particular time of the year,” said Harvick. “You just want to keep your mind as clear as possible. “We’ve made a decision of how we want to think and what we want to talk about and pay attention to, and it’s us. I know that sounds selfish, but the thing that I can tell you is it’s way less mentally exhausting than worrying about where you need to have a good race and where you need to have a bad race.
“It’s how do we get the most out of this week, and once you start the race, it’s okay, what do we need to do to our car, are we good, are we bad, where do we need to work and just try to be productive and proactive of thinking towards what we need to do next.
“I don’t have the capacity to think more than one week ahead anyway, and trying to overthink things just takes way too much space in my brain for me to function during the week.