What is the best frame of reference for how good Kevin Harvick has been in the Sprint Cup Series?
The most accomplished driver in NASCAR history.
Harvick’s run of seven straight top-two finishes (including consecutive victories at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway) is the longest since Richard Petty during his 1975 championship season.
“When you said the Richard Petty part, that gives me chills,” Harvick said to a NASCAR moderator after being told of the statistic during the news conference for his 30th victory in Sprint Cup.
Petty, the all-time leader with 200 wins, set a modern-era record (later tied by Jeff Gordon) with 13 wins in ’75 while notching 24 top 10s in 30 starts. Petty finished first or second in 11 consecutive races, winning at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Riverside International Raceway, Daytona International Speedway, Michigan International Speedway (the second of two annual races), Dover International Speedway and North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway. The seven-time champion also was a runner-up at Michigan, Nashville Speedway, Pocono Raceway, Talladega Superspeedway and Darlington Raceway.
Here are some other stellar streaks during the past 30 years in NASCAR’s premier series:
- Jeff Gordon, 1998: His third championship season remains the other benchmark against which all others are measured in NASCAR’s so-called “modern era” (which began in 1972 with the arrival of R.J. Reynolds as title sponsor and a revamping of the schedule). The Hendrick Motorsports driver scored 13 victories and kept improving in the second half of the 33-race season. Over the final 19 races, Gordon finished first or second 15 times (his other results: third, fifth, fifth and seventh). Starting at Sonoma Raceway, he won seven of nine races (including four consecutive).
- Jimmie Johnson, 2004: One of the greatest stretches in the six-time champion’s illustrious career came on the heels of one of his worst. After opening the inaugural Chase for the Sprint Cup in 2004 with one top 10 in four starts (and consecutive finishes outside the top 30), Johnson ripped off four wins in five races. He still came up one spot short of a championship, falling eight points shy of Kurt Busch when he finished second to Greg Biffle in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
- Johnson, 2007: This was the run that cemented his status as a legend. After consecutive Chase wins at Talladega Superspeedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway, the ’07 title seemed Jeff Gordon’s championship to win. Then Johnson broke his Hendrick Motorsports teammate’s spirit with a streak of four straight victories at Martinsville Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway. “It’s over,” Gordon conceded, a week before Johnson officially sewed up his second title with a seventh at Homestead.
- Kyle Busch, 2008: After effectively being fired by Hendrick (in favor of hiring Dale Earnhardt Jr.), Busch had much to prove in his first season at Joe Gibbs Racing. During his first 22 races in the No. 18 Toyota, Busch scored eight victories while rarely passing up the opportunity to shove it in his former employer’s face (flashing an obscene gesture at a Hendrick team member during driver introductions at Darlington Raceway). But things quickly went south after a win at Watkins Glen International in August (which clinched the top seed in the Chase nearly a month ahead of time). Busch didn’t win again in ‘08, finishing 10th in points with only two top fives in the Chase.
- Tony Stewart, 2011: Few were more surprised by Stewart’s surge to his third championship than the No. 14 driver himself. A month after claiming his team wasn’t worthy of a Chase bid, “Smoke” opened the 10-race playoff with consecutive victories at Chicagoland Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He closed the Chase with three victories in the final four races, setting a mark for victories in the title run despite working with lame-duck crew chief Darian Grubb, who knew of his imminent firing over the last six races.