Have yourself a day, Kevin Harvick.
The lame-duck, beer-and-sandwich-stealing vulture turned NASCAR’s Chase on its head when he tamed the unpredictable Kansas Speedway last weekend, something you were warned about, by leading over half of the race as his competition spent the weekend executing more triple axels than you’d see at a figure-skating event.
This weekend, he heads to Charlotte Motor Speedway as the track’s most recent winner. He ranks seventh in Charlotte PEER — a measure of a driver’s production in equal equipment — and is a two-time victor in the CoT/Gen-6 era, but has never won a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at the 1.5-mile facility outside the month of May. He’s not an outright favorite, but he’s favorite-ish. If he can enact his plodding ways in a more expedited process — Saturday night’s race is 100 miles shorter than the mammoth Coca-Cola 600 — he could be reckoned with in a late-race scenario.
5.2 The difference in Harvick’s clean average finish — his average result of races in which he did not suffer a race-altering accident or mechanical failure — in the CoT/Gen-6 era between May’s Coke 600 and October’s Bank of America 500 is 5.2.
His seventh-place clean average finish in the 600 is stout; his 12.2-place average in the 500 isn’t quite impeccable, but in five-race snapshots, Harvick is five positions worse in the fall. Does this mean fans of the 29 team should panic? Not necessarily, but it might mean that Harvick’s keen passing ability is a slow-burn process. With 100 extra miles, it makes sense that a good passer like him will obtain more spots.
53.7% With a 53.7 percent mark, Harvick is the most efficient passer in the Sprint Cup Series.
The next-best passer is Kasey Kahne (52.63 percent), leaving Harvick in a percentile by himself. He’s a tremendously efficient passer and one fun to watch navigate through traffic, but with 100 less miles to pull off his game plan, he’ll have to speed up the position-earning. A fast car could aid in that effort. So could restarts, as was the case in this year’s 600.
90% and +11 Harvick retained his position 90 percent of the time on double-file restarts in the spring race at Charlotte, and used them to gain a total of 11 positions.
He cemented the win when he turned Kahne, a relatively poor restarter, to a disheveled mess on the race’s final restart, passing for the lead out of the non-preferred, low groove. Double-file restarts were created to artificially inflate the sport’s passing numbers, but for a driver like Harvick who is both an elite passer and a superb restarter, the statistically imbalanced concept fits firmly in his wheelhouse. He could take advantage on Saturday night, and likely will have to go through Kahne once again.
5.273 Kahne, with a PEER of 5.273, was the most productive driver in Charlotte races dating back to 2008.
Kahne, who has won a total of four points-paying races at Charlotte and finished eighth or better in each of the last four events, is the most reliable frontrunner at the track since Jimmie Johnson was neutralized following the most recent repave. Like Harvick, Kahne is a good passer (mentioned above). Also like Harvick, he’s been more victorious in the 600 (three wins) than the 500 (one win, 2006). In desperation mode four races into the Chase, there might not be a better place for Kahne and the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team to swing for the fences.
787 Kyle Busch has led a series-high 787 laps across the last 11 races at Charlotte, but has failed to win a Cup Series race there.
Amazing, right? He ranks second in Charlotte PEER, thanks mostly to seven top-5 finishes in the aforementioned span. With two DNFs omitted— a crash in the 2011 spring race and a blown motor earlier this year — he averaged a fourth-place finish in the nine remaining races. Why hasn’t he sealed the deal? The two Charlotte races are both heavy in length, 600 and 500 miles, and only six of Busch’s 28 Cup Series victories have come in 500-mile races. The better explanation might have to do with dumb luck. It’s difficult for any driver to win any race, but when a television camera falls from the sky and lands on Busch’s car, like it did during this year’s 600, it sure doesn’t make life easier. Charlotte Cup races are just an odd thorn in Busch’s side. Eventually, he’ll crack the code that unlocks the gate to victory lane.
0.100 Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a replacement-level producer at Charlotte with a PEER of 0.100, which ties him with Dave Blaney for 39th out of 50 drivers with three or more starts there since 2007.
Earnhardt claimed Charlotte victory in his first All-Star Race attempt in 2000, and that turned out to be his best day at the track. The presence of Steve Letarte has been a boost to his results-padding ways — he finished seventh in the 2011 600 and sixth in 2012’s fall race — but outside of two finishes, he scored results of 19th or worse in seven of his last nine races there. He isn’t a lost cause, though. His 39th-place effort this spring was the effect of being a blown-motor casualty, a rare hiccup from a Hendrick powerplant. With a smart setup and a capable motor, he could finish comfortably in the top 20. Still, those looking to place race-win bets on the most popular driver in the sport this weekend would be better suited to take their money elsewhere.
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.