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Playoff Preview: Ryan Blaney, Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott Among Those Looking to Overtake Championship Favorite Kyle Larson

After a grueling six months, 26 NASCAR Cup Series races, and a lot of surprises – some good, some bad — the regular season for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series has officially come to an end, and the 16 drivers eligible to hoist one of the most prestigious championships in professional motorsports have been decided. The qualified 16 drivers will now compete in a 10-race post-season, beginning this weekend at Darlington Raceway.

Of the eligible drivers, three – Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick and Michael McDowell — are set to make their first NASCAR Cup Series Playoff appearances, while other drivers are looking to further cement their place in NASCAR history with a second, or in the case of Kyle Busch, third championship at NASCAR’s top-level.

Each of the drivers have their own unique paths to the Playoffs, with some capturing their first career victories, some finding their groove with a new crew chief, and some finding success to a level they’ve never experienced throughout their career.

Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson, Tyler Reddick, Chase Elliott, Aric Almirola, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Christopher Bell, Joey Logano, William Byron, Michael McDowell and Alex Bowman are the 16 drivers that have qualified into the playoffs through a victory, or through their high point totals at the end of the regular season.


Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 Valvoline Instant Oil Change Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE celebrates capturing the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Regular Season Championship Saturday, August 28, 2021 during the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. Larson will be the leader to start the Playoffs that begin next week in Darlington. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)

No. 5 – Kyle Larson – Hendrick Motorsports – Seeded 1st

  • 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Regular Season Champion
  • 5 Wins (Las Vegas, Charlotte, Sonoma, Nashville, Watkins Glen)
  • 14 Top-5s
  • 18 Top-10s
  • 52 Playoff Points
  • 9.7 Average Finish (Rank: 2nd)

To the majority of people, I’d say it’s pretty obvious who the favorite to win the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Championship is. If you said Kyle Larson, then you would be correct. According to SportsBettingDime.com, Larson continues to lead as the favorite for the NASCAR Cup. Larson’s average odds shortened to +255 after capturing his fifth victory of the season at Watkins Glen. However, it’s not all flowers and cupcakes for Larson, as only twice in the seven seasons the NASCAR Cup Series has used this format, has the driver who visited victory lane the most times throughout the season, been awarded the championship trophy on the main stage.

Larson’s only potential downfall, is the second round of the playoffs, which includes events at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s “ROVAL” and Talladega Superspeedway, two races that have proven to be extremely unpredictable in years past. If the Elk Grove, California-native can work his way through the second round of the playoffs by surviving, or capturing a victory at Las Vegas, then there may be no stopping the Hendrick Motorsports driver in his quest to make it to Phoenix.


Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 Menards/Cardell Cabinetry Ford, celebrates in the Ruoff Mortgage victory lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 22, 2021 in Brooklyn, Michigan. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

No. 12 – Ryan Blaney – Team Penske

  • 6th in Regular Season Points
  • 3 Wins (Atlanta, Michigan, Daytona)
  • 8 Top-5s
  • 14 Top-10s
  • 24 Playoff Points
  • 11.8 Average Finish (Rank: 5th)

It’s been a career season for Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney, capturing multiple victories in the NASCAR Cup Series for the first-time in his career, including the final two regular season events at Michigan and Daytona. For the High Point, North Carolina-native, the sudden burst of strength comes at a fantastic time, as the departure of tenured veteran Brad Keselowski at season’s end will lend the 27-year-old to take on a leadership role in the organization, especially with rookies Austin Cindric and Harrison Burton joining the Team Penske network in 2022. With the best average finish of his career, Blaney looks to carry to strength he’s shown in recent weeks to the playoffs, in hopes of capturing Roger Penske’s third NASCAR Cup Series championship.

Thinking it’s going to be easy, is a mistake, as Blaney’s hot streak could easily come to a screaming halt in the first round of the playoffs, which features a pair of events at tracks that historically, have not been friendly to Blaney, collecting a single top-10 finish in his 19 NASCAR Cup Series starts between Darlington and Richmond, as well as an average finish outside the top-15 at both tracks. If the Team Penske driver can move through the first round of the playoffs, there are tracks in the second and third rounds that could help catapult Ryan Blaney to his first NASCAR Cup Series championship.


MARTINSVILLE, VIRGINIA – APRIL 11: Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Bass Pro Toyota, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway on April 11, 2021 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

No. 19 – Martin Truex Jr. – Joe Gibbs Racing

  • 7th in Regular Season Points
  • 3 Wins (Phoenix, Martinsville, Darlington)
  • 8 Top-5s
  • 13 Top-10s
  • 24 Playoff Points
  • 13.0 Average Finish (Rank: 7th)

Martin Truex Jr. started off the NASCAR Cup Series season with quite a bit of success, collecting three victories within the first third of the season, which provided the impression that the Joe Gibbs Racing driver would continue to be one of the dominant forces throughout the season. However, since capturing his third win at Darlington, the No. 19’s season has started to unravel, with only three top-five finishes in the last 14 races. The early season wins have allowed Truex to capture some playoff points, which will see him seeded third entering Darlington, with some breathing room over the cut line.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver sits in a wonderful position with his three victories happening at Martinsville, Darlington and Phoenix, all three of which are tracks that hold a race date in the Playoffs this season, which could potentially allow Truex to get back onto a more consistent path. If the No. 19 team can revert back to their early-season consistency, it should propel the team into a better position to advance through the rounds and have a shot at collecting his second NASCAR Cup Series title.


Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M’s Mini’s Toyota, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Explore the Pocono Mountains 350 at Pocono Raceway on June 27, 2021 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

No. 18 – Kyle Busch – Joe Gibbs Racing

  • 4th in Regular Season Points
  • 2 Wins (Kansas, Pocono)
  • 11 Top-5s
  • 16 Top-10s
  • 22 Playoff Points
  • 12.1 Average Finish (Rank: 6th)

It’s important to know that you can never, ever count out Kyle Busch. Never. Even more when he’s having the quiet and consistent season that he’s been having this year, with two wins, 11 top-five and 16 top-10 finishes. For a driver that is usually never that quiet, the calm, cool, and collected nature of his season thus far could be concerning for championship favorites like Kyle Larson. With a combined 14 victories at Bristol and Richmond, two of the three tracks that make up the first round of the playoffs, it’s not unreasonable to think that the Joe GIbbs Racing driver could collect a pair of victories, and establish himself as a newcomer to the legitimate title fight.

However, if Busch – or any of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates for that matter — want to try and dethrone Hendrick Motorsports at the top of the pile in the NASCAR Cup Series this season, they’re going to have to find some more speed, as the Chevrolets – and specifically Hendrick — look to have a stranglehold on the top-10 as of late.


ELKHART LAKE, WISCONSIN – JULY 04: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Jockey Made in America 250 Presented by Kwik Trip at Road America on July 04, 2021 in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

No. 9 – Chase Elliott – Hendrick Motorsports

  • 3rd in Regular Season Points
  • 2 Wins (COTA)
  • 11 Top-5s
  • 16 Top-10s
  • 21 Playoff Points
  • 11.0 Average Finish (Rank: 3rd)

After winning the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series title, Chase Elliott hasn’t had the season of dominance that a lot expected out of him, with only a pair of victories at COTA and Road America, two tracks added to the Cup Series schedule in 2021. In fact, Elliott has been outdone by first-year Hendrick Motorsports driver Kyle Larson all year, but has still been one of the most consistent drivers in the series, one of only four with 10 or more top-fives.

Throughout his NASCAR Cup Series career, Chase Elliott has been consistent in the fact that he improves throughout the second half of the season, with 10 of his 13 victories coming after the halfway point in the season, and six coming in the final 10 races of the year. If this trend can once again continue, the Hendrick Motorsports driver could be in line to secure back-to-back Cup Series titles, something that hasn’t happened since 2010. However, if he wants to end the year on the championship stage, he’ll need to figure out how to beat his teammates on the ovals.


Alex Bowman, driver of the #48 Ally Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE celebrates his victory Saturday, June 26, 2021, after winning the NASCAR Cup Series NASCAR Cup Pocono Organics CBD 325 at Pocono Raceway in Pocono, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)

No. 48 – Alex Bowman – Hendrick Motorsports

  • 12th in Regular Season Points
  • 3 Wins (Richmond, Dover, Pocono)
  • 6 Top-5s
  • 13 Top-10s
  • 15 Playoff Points
  • 14.1 Average Finish (Rank: 10th)

Alex Bowman should probably be in prison for the number of playoff points that he’s stolen this season. Starting at Richmond, the Hendrick Motorsports driver used a stellar late-race restart to take his first victory of the season, at the expense of Denny Hamlin, who led over half of the event to finish in second. His other two victories were at the expense of Kyle Larson, using a stellar pit stop to jump him on a caution flag pit stop at Dover, and taking advantage of a flat tire on the final lap at Pocono to claim his second and third wins of the year.

Further analyzing his season, everything other than the win column seems par for the course, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing per say, but considering the significant jump in performance that Hendrick Motorsports has made this season, that could spell trouble for the No. 48 team. The main issue, seems to be that the speed in car isn’t there every single week for Bowman, whereas it is for Byron, Elliott and Larson. If Bowman hopes to pull of what he has been all season and try to steal the title away, it’s going to be way more difficult, as the team will have to hit on something, and hit on something fast.


LONG POND, PENNSYLVANIA – JUNE 27: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, waves to fans on the grid prior to the NASCAR Cup Series Explore the Pocono Mountains 350 at Pocono Raceway on June 27, 2021 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

No. 11 – Denny Hamlin – Joe Gibbs Racing

  • 2nd in Regular Season Points
  • Best Finish: 2nd (Richmond)
  • 13 Top-5s
  • 17 Top-10s
  • 15 Playoff Points
  • 9.1 Average Finish (Rank: 1st)

One could argue that Denny Hamlin’s chances of winning the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series title are as good as they’ve ever been, but with Kyle Larson totally dominating the series this season, are they really? To this point, Hamlin’s season has been immaculate, completing all but four laps, while being one of two drivers to have an average finish better than 10th. The only thing missing from Hamlin’s incredible season, is a victory, something that’s eluded him all year long, despite having 13 top-five and 17 top-10 finishes.

By winning the 2019 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship, Matt Crafton proved that you didn’t necessarily need to win a race, in order to capture the championship under this format. However, considering the fact that each champion under this format has been the winner of the season-finale, Hamlin would likely have to win at least one race to capture his first championship. Additionally, the playoff points for any victories Hamlin earns throughout the playoffs would make it much, much easier to advance to Phoenix with a chance at the championship.


HOMESTEAD, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 28: William Byron, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on February 28, 2021 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

No. 24 – William Byron – Hendrick Motorsports

  • 5th in Regular Season Points
  • 1 Win (Homestead)
  • 9 Top-5s
  • 16 Top-10s
  • 14 Playoff Points
  • 13.1 Average Finish (Rank: 8th)

 

In each of his seasons as a NASCAR Cup Series driver, William Byron has shown immense progress through his results, race craft and on-track actions, with his biggest leap in overall performance coming this season. Through the first 26 races of the season, Byron has accumulated the same number of top-five finishes as he did in his first 108 NASCAR Cup Series starts. While part of it can likely be attributed to the overall rise of Hendrick Motorsports, there was a key change made over the off season that has sparked something in the 23-year-old.

The pairing of Rudy Fugle and William Byron in the NASCAR Cup Series this year, has proven to be electric, with the No. 24 team continuing to show the race-winning pace that the organization has held throughout the year. As the smaller pieces of the puzzle start to come together for Byron and Fugle in recent weeks, the prospect of them returning to tracks for the second time together, could see the Charlotte, North Carolina-native breakout at the end of the season approaches.


BRISTOL, TENNESSEE – MARCH 29: Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 29, 2021 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

No. 22 – Joey Logano – Team Penske

  • 8th in Regular Season Points
  • 1 Win (Bristol Dirt)
  • 8 Top-5s
  • 13 Top-10s
  • 13 Playoff Points
  • 13.5 Average Finish (Rank: 9th)

It hasn’t been the type of season that we’re accustomed to seeing from Joey Logano, ever since he joined Team Penske in 2013. With a single victory on the dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway, Logano hasn’t exactly been irrelevant, but also hasn’t been the post child for being competitive, either. As it stands, the 31-year-old’s streak of three straight seasons with more than 20 top-10s looks to be in danger, barring a late-season surge that sees the No. 22 inside the top-10 in seven of the last 10 races.

The Middletown, Connecticut-native currently sits on the other side of the fence as his Team Penske teammate Ryan Blaney, with Logano not having the finishes to build any momentum entering the playoffs, with only a single top-10 finish over the last seven NASCAR Cup Series races, and four consecutive finishes outside the top-20. If Logano is to become a two-time Cup Series champion, he’ll need to find a sudden shift of speed, similar to what the No. 12 has found in recent weeks.


TALLADEGA, ALABAMA – APRIL 25: Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 MoneyLion Ford, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 25, 2021 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

No. 2 – Brad Keselowski – Team Penske

  • 10th in Regular Season Points
  • 1 Win (Talladega)
  • 7 Top-5s
  • 10 Top-10s
  • 8 Playoff Points
  • 14.5 Average Finish (Rank: 11th)

In his final season for Team Penske, Brad Keselowski enters the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs feeling like a non-factor and looking to gain some of the speed that him and his teammates possessed in the early portion of the season, after both himself and teammate Joey Logano have fallen into a summer slouch, hurting the overall performance and points position of the No. 2 team.

One small bright spot for Keselowski and his Team Penske counterparts, is the organization has continued to perform better on tracks that utilize the 750-horsepower aero package, which the first round of the playoffs is exclusively made up of, as well as the final two races of the season. If the team can find some speed on those tracks, while advancing far enough in the playoffs to utilize that speed, Logano and Keselowski could come out of the woodwork to capture their second championships.


HAMPTON, GEORGIA – JULY 11: Kurt Busch, driver of the #1 GEARWRENCH Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart at Atlanta Motor Speedway on July 11, 2021 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

No. 1 – Kurt Busch – Chip Ganassi Racing

  • 14th in Regular Season Points
  • 1 Win (Atlanta)
  • 4 Top-5s
  • 9 Top-10s
  • 8 Playoff Points
  • 16.0 Average Finish (Rank: 14th)

Making his 15th appearance in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs this season, Kurt Busch is looking to give Chip Ganassi and Chip Ganassi Racing a proper send off, after the organization announced they would no longer be competing in the NASCAR Cup Series after the conclusion of 2021. A championship would be the first for the organization, while also making Busch the second active multi-time champion in the NASCAR Cup Series, joining brother Kyle Busch, who ironically, he had to hold off for his sole victory of the year.

Since holding off his brother at Atlanta, Busch and crew chief Matt McCall have found some speed in his No. 1 Chevrolet Camaro, allowing them to consistently compete for top-fives and, on rare occasions, wins. Over the last 10 NASCAR Cup Series races, Busch has scored the third highest number of points, behind only Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson. Staying true to his style, Busch’s victory came at a time when playoff aspirations were murky, at best. However, if he’s wanting the title of two-time champion, he’ll likely need to capture another victory or two during the playoffs.


Michael McDowell poses with the Harley J. Earl trophy after his 2021 Daytona 500 win. Photo Credit: Chris Graythen / Getty Images

No. 34 – Michael McDowell – Front Row Motorsports

  • 21st in Regular Season Points
  • 1 Win (Daytona)
  • 2 Top-5s
  • 5 Top-10s
  • 5 Playoff Points
  • 19.7 Average Finish (Rank: 21st)

It’s been a season of surprises in the NASCAR Cup Series, none of which have been bigger than the surprise triumph by Michael McDowell and Front Row Motorsports in the Daytona 500, making a move on Team Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano to capture his first career victory at NASCAR’s top-level.

Since the victory, McDowell and Front Row Motorsports have flown under the radar while working to improve on their results and build a notebook for the playoffs. With short tracks historically being one of the organizations strengths, it’s not out of the question for the No. 34 team to sneak a couple of top-15 results and advance to the second round if chaos breaks out around them, and who knows? If McDowell can get to the round with a superspeedway and road course, there’s no telling what we could see.


DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 21: Christopher Bell, driver of the #20 Rheem Toyota, celebrates in after winning the NASCAR Cup Series O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 at Daytona International Speedway on February 21, 2021 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

No. 20 – Christopher Bell – Joe Gibbs Racing

  • 15th in Regular Season Points
  • 1 Win (Daytona RC)
  • 4 Top-5s
  • 10 Top-10s
  • 5 Playoff Points
  • 17.0 Average Finish (Rank: 16th)

Entering his second full-time season of NASCAR Cup Series competition, and his first for Joe Gibbs Racing in the No. 20, many people expected Christopher Bell to find immediate success with the championship-winning organization, after an incredible tenure in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and a solid rookie season with Leavine Family Racing in 2020. Even though he found the success early on, winning the second race of the year at Daytona’s Road Course, he didn’t really keep it for that long and began to fade after recording five top-10s in the first nine races of the season.

Since that point, it’s been a struggle for Christopher Bell and Joe Gibbs Racing, ending the 26-race regular season with four top-five and 10 top-10 finishes and falling to 15th-place in regular season point standings. The struggles are similar to those that the organization has had with the No. 20 entry in recent years, with former driver Erik Jones, where the team can’t seem to produce consistent results like the team’s other three entries can, despite Adam Stevens moving over to crew chief the entry.

If Bell is looking to advance through the various rounds of the playoffs, he’ll need to really lean on his three Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, as well as his experienced crew chief Adam Stevens, who helped carry Kyle Busch to both of his NASCAR Cup Series championships in 2015 and 2019.


PC: Aric Almirola | Twitter

No. 10 – Aric Almirola – Stewart-Haas Racing

  • 23rd in Regular Season Points
  • 1 Win (New Hampshire)
  • 2 Top-5s
  • 3 Top-10s
  • 5 Playoff Points
  • 21.0 Average Finish (Rank: 26th)

For Aric Almirola, the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season has been one that defies all known characteristics about the Tampa , Florida-native. As a driver that is used to being discounted and flying under the radar while having a quiet, consistent season, a wreck-filled, dismal season is off-brand for Almirola, like a season without race-winning speed is off-brand for Stewart-Haas Racing. In reality, a berth into the playoffs this season was pretty much off the table entering New Hampshire, but a surprise burst of speed from SHR allowed the No. 10 team to rise to the occasion and lock themselves into the playoffs with a victory.

Almirola and SHR have shown the most strength on tracks utilizing the 750-horsepower aero package, with top-10 results at Richmond, Nashville, and New Hampshire, along with a general improvement in running position on tracks shorter than 1.5-miles. If the No. 10 team can continue to produce the speed they did at New Hampshire, the 37-year-old, widely thought to be an obvious first round elimination, could sneak his way into the ‘Round of 12’ and maybe even more if things go his way…

… but, horrible luck, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, walking under an open ladder while watching a black cat through a broken mirror, whatever you want to call it, it’s probably happened to Aric Almirola this season. Posting five DNF’s in the first 13 races of the season, the No. 10 team was unable to rebound from the huge points deficit that the team sat at midway through the season. While things have seemingly corrected themselves as of late, scoring eight top-20s in the last nine races, the Stewart-Haas Racing team will have to minimize their mistakes and work to the highest level possible to try and avoid some of the horrid luck that has plagued them in 2021.


PC: RCR | Twitter

No. 8 – Tyler Reddick – Richard Childress Racing

  • 11th in Regular Season Points
  • Best Finish: 2nd (Homestead)
  • 2 Top-5s
  • 13 Top-10s
  • 3 Playoff Points
  • 14.6 Average Finish (Rank: 12th)

In just his second full-time season of NASCAR Cup Series competition, Tyler Reddick has already established himself as a contender for top-10 finishes on a regular basis, which is largely the reason that he was able to clinch the final spot in the playoffs over Richard Childress Racing teammate Austin Dillon. The two-time Xfinity Champion has collected 13 top-10s this year, the most in a single season by an RCR driver since 2017. Although he hasn’t broken through for his first victory yet, you have to feel it’s coming soon after a noticeable step up in performance this season over last.

Over the course of the last month, Richard Childress Racing has been able to showcase some impressive speed in their cars, with Austin Dillon’s No. 3 running inside the top-five for much of the event at Michigan, alongside Tyler Reddick’s five top-10 finishes in the last eight NASCAR Cup Series races. Remembering last season, RCR brought impressive speed for Dillon in the opening round of the playoffs, finishing second at Darlington and showing potentially race-winning speed at Richmond. If the team can return to the playoffs with that speed, Reddick could find himself in the hunt for a berth to the Round of 12, and maybe with some luck, the Round of 8.

In reality, there shouldn’t be expectations for Tyler Reddick in the playoffs this season, as the second-year driver is continuing to learn every single week and build a mental notebook of what is needed to be competitive and win races at NASCAR’s top-level. While advancing deep into the playoffs would be everybody’s goal, there have to be realistic expectations for the 25-year-old. If Reddick is able to advance to the second round of the playoffs, or at least be in the battle to advance, that should be taken as a victory, with any additional advancements or a first career victory being considered a bonus.


LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MARCH 07: Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Mobil 1 Ford, waves to fans from the grid prior to the NASCAR Cup Series Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 07, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

No. 4 – Kevin Harvick – Stewart-Haas Racing

  • 9th in Regular Season Points
  • Best Finish: 2nd (Kansas)
  • 6 Top-5s
  • 16 Top-10s
  • 2 Playoff Points
  • 11.5 Average Finish (Rank: 4th)

It’s been a terrible season for Kevin Harvick and Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 4 team….

Okay, it hasn’t been that bad, but after winning nine races last season, it must be a bizarre culture shock to be winless after the first 26 races of the following season, and enter the playoffs as the lowest ranked driver, after accumulating the most playoff points in 2020. Collecting top-10s hasn’t been an issue for Harvick, he has 16 of those. It’s the top-fives that have escaped him, only collecting six so far this season, less than half of his lowest single-season total from his tenure at Stewart-Haas Racing.

Even though the race-winning pace hasn’t been present for Kevin Harvick in 2021, there is one thing that the tenured veteran and Rodney Childers, his crew chief, have put into practice throughout their relationship, consistency. Despite the fact that he’s only led 109 laps this season, which would be the lowest single season total of his NASCAR Cup Series career, Harvick’s 11.5 average finish ranks fourth amongst full-time drivers this season, something that could prove to be important for the 45-year-old when trying to advance through the various rounds of the playoffs.

While a second championship doesn’t look likely for Harvick this season, the No. 4 team will have to be scrappy if they’re looking to advance throughout the various rounds of the playoffs. Barring a surge of speed, a lack of playoff points will likely keep the team from advancing further than the second round.

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