While accidents and mechanical issues have impacted title contenders, nothing has had as great an impact on this Chase as late-race restarts.
For perspective, in the 12 races before the Chase started, only once did the winner take the lead for good on the final restart.
Harvick’s move Sunday means that he won’t have to worry about what happens this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway. He’ll be in the Round of 8 with Jimmie Johnson, who also took the lead on the final restart at Charlotte.
Although each circumstance can be different — how much of an advantage one lane has over the other, who is behind to push, if anyone spins their tires, etc. — success on restarts is not all about luck.
For Harvick and his team it was about working to be better.
“It was really about timing and going back and watching footage and trying to figure out what I needed to do as far as ratios,’’ Harvick told NBC Sports after Sunday’s victory. “What I had done in the past wasn’t really working for us. We had to change. We had to change how we approach restarts and it’s been a lot better for us over the past three months. The first part of the year wasn’t very good, so we worked hard at getting that stuff right.’’
At Atlanta in late February, Harvick was second beside Johnson on an overtime restart. Johnson had the preferred lane on the inside. Harvick didn’t get a good restart and finished sixth after leading 131 of 330 laps.
Three weeks later, Harvick lost at Auto Club Speedway when Johnson passed him for the lead. Harvick started second and Johnson was third behind Harvick. Denny Hamlin led and had Joey Logano behind him. Logano didn’t get a good start and couldn’t push Hamlin. Johnson pushed Harvick into the lead and then got by him in Turn 3. Harvick finished second after leading 142 of 205 laps.
Things improved for Harvick at New Hampshire, the second race in the opening round of the Chase. He restarted second to Matt Kenseth and passed Kenseth down the backstretch. Harvick led the final six laps to win that race.
Johnson victimized Kenseth at Charlotte. Johnson beat Kenseth in a drag race toward Turn 3 on the final restart. Johnson led the final 18 laps to score his first win since that Auto Club Speedway triumph.
This trend with restarts could continue.
Twice in the last five races at Talladega, there has been a lead change on the final restart.
— Matt Kenseth has led 269 laps in the last two fall Kansas races. That’s 50.1 percent of the laps run in those events. Despite leading all those laps, Kenseth finished 14th last fall and ninth Sunday.
— AJ Allmendinger’s eighth-place finish was his sixth top-10 finish of the season. He finished eighth in both Kansas races this season.
— Kasey Kahne’s 10th-place finish was his sixth top 10 in the last seven races. His 12 top 10s this season are his most in a year since 2013.
— Ford’s last win was 10 races ago when Chris Buescher won at Pocono. It’s Ford’s longest winless streak of the season.