Harvick, Kurt Busch the latest of non championship eligible drivers running well when the intensity is ramping up, Harvick eyeing 5th place finish in standings now

It may be the time of year that the onus on the NASCAR season is on the championship, but one topic getting brought up more and more is how non playoff drivers race the current playoff drivers. It’s been a debate over the last few weeks as we’ve seen several run ins among the two varying groups of drivers. But, when looking at the overall picture, one could say some drivers not eligible for this year’s championship are out performing some of those that are.

Martin Truex Jr. hasn’t had a top five since the opening race of the Round of 12 in Las Vegas. That was his third top five in the first four playoff races. He’s had just one top 10 in the last four.

His teammate Kyle Busch has been 21st or worse in four of the eight playoff races including two of his last four being 27th or worse.

Joey Logano has one top five in his last six playoff races and only two in the entire postseason. They’re slipping which has allowed drivers like William Byron, Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell to shine through that open door.

Reddick, was bounced in the first round of the playoffs but has since been in the top 10 in three of the last five and should have in fact, three straight top fives. Texas and Kansas saw him running well inside of the top five before late race contact sent him back.

He and Byron had top three cars on the Charlotte ROVAL. They had top three cars in each of the last two weeks at that too.

Bell, now has four straight top eight finishes himself.

On Sunday, they got company via Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch. They finished third and fourth respectively in the Hollywood Casino 400 at the Kansas Speedway. At one point late in the race, the non playoff drivers were 1-2-3.

KANSAS CITY, KS – MAY 11: Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Busch Beer Ford, leads the field during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Digital Ally 400 at Kansas Speedway on May 11, 2019 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

For Harvick, he says that this finish in Kansas was one that has turned this season around. They’re finding more and more speed which is something they feel like they’ve been missing all of the year.

“We closed a huge gap at 1.5-mile racetracks, and everyone is doing a great job,” Harvick said after the race.

He had a shot again at a win at Kansas. Like last year though, the dirty air kept him from ending a 41 race winless streak.

“We were just getting tight at the end of the runs, and the 5, 9 and 1 cars could really hold it wide open,” Harvick continued. “I needed to get past the 5, so I was trying to hold it wide open and had a lot of wheel into it and got a little tight as we went to the last half of that run.

This was still his second straight top five and fourth of the playoffs. He had just two in the final 15 races of the regular season. As a result, he’s the top non playoff driver in the standings entering the final race of the semifinal round. Four more drivers are going to get eliminated on Sunday in Martinsville so Harvick has a new goal in his mind – the best of the rest.

“There is a lot to race for,” Harvick said. “As you look at it, there’s only four guys that are going to be locked into the  points, we want to finish fifth in the points, and if we can’t win a race, that’s our goal.

“We’ve done a good job throughout the playoffs, and just keeping up with the Chevrolets, in general, is a kind of a gain for us. Everybody has done a good job. Our Subway Ford Mustang was way better than it has been the last two weeks, and we made up some ground.”

The other thing he’d like to have is a win. He’s not done so this year and the timing now isn’t making it look very likely that he will. Martinsville isn’t likely the destination that will occur at and Phoenix could be, but without being in the Championship 4, will he be the first driver not of this era to win the final race and not be in the championship push?

No doubt about it though, Martinsville kept Harvick out of the Championship 4 last year. Yes, he was struggling from the other two races in the Round of 8 too, but all he had to do was manage on the Virginia paperclip and he’d still be in.

All those playoff points and nine wins should have been more than enough for him just snag a top five and advance on. Instead, Martinsville bit him. He just wasn’t good. In fact, he’s not been good there for a while.

In his last 18 Martinsville starts, Harvick has scored just two top fives. He was only 15th and 17th respectively a year ago and ninth in April. He’s only had two finishes better than fourth all season and is in danger of going winless for 2021.

It would almost be poetic justice if he could win this weekend though.

Then, it’s to Phoenix where he’s really good at but will likely play second fiddle to since he’s not in the Championship 4. All seven years of this championship format, a Final Four driver won the season finale.

He’s not won since Bristol last year (41 races ago). He’s won at least one race every season since 2010. He’s also won at least one playoff race every year over the last nine seasons. Both are is in danger of coming to an end.

That likely means Harvick will go into 2022 without a win over his final 43 starts. He’s only led 216 laps all season. By comparison, he led 1,531 last year. In fact, he’s led at least 850 laps every year since 2014 with four of those years him leading at the very minimum 1,384 laps.

He came into this year having won 22 times in a three year span. Now, he may go winless. Is fifth in the final standings a good year though considering how this season truly went? I think he’d take it.

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