NASCAR’s penalty stripping Kevin Harvick of his berth in the championship field dramatically alters the standings heading into the cutoff race at Phoenix (2:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC).
After celebrating his Texas win and what appeared a berth in the championship race for the fourth time in five years, Harvick faces the possibility that he could not race for a title Nov. 18 in Miami.
Along with not allowing the win to transfer Harvick to the championship race, NASCAR docked Harvick 40 points, his team 40 car owner points, suspended crew chief Rodney Childers the next two races (the rest of the playoffs) and suspended car chief Robert Smith two races.
The penalty leaves Harvick holding the final transfer spot to Miami but only three points ahead of Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kurt Busch.
Here is how the points look now:
WIN – Joey Logano (locked into title race with Martinsville victory)
4,128 points – Kyle Busch
4,125 points – Martin Truex Jr.
4,103 points – Kevin Harvick (last transfer spot for championship race)
4,100 points – Kurt Busch
4,086 points – Chase Elliott
4,068 points – Aric Almirola
4,052 points – Clint Bowyer
Three spots in the Championship 4 will be set this weekend.
If there was a track Harvick could all but count on a strong run, it is ISM Raceway (formerly Phoenix Raceway). He has nine career wins at that track, including six of the last 10. He has 14 top-10 finishes in the last 16 races there.
While the penalties are devastating, if this team runs the way it has at this track, Harvick still should advance.
But the playoffs have seen Harvick run strong and not score the win before Texas.
- He was running second in Las Vegas when he had a tire issue and hit the wall.
- He led 286 of 404 laps at Dover but didn’t win when a valve stem got knocked off and caused a flat tire, forcing him to pit again.
- He was leading at Kansas when he came to pit and was penalized for speeding.
- He was out of fuel and gave up third as the field came to take the green to begin overtime at Talladega.
Any issues like those this weekend could cause Harvick to lose enough points that he could fail to advance to the championship race.
Without such issues, it will be hard for Kurt Busch to make up his three-point deficit to Harvick. Kurt Busch has not scored more points than Harvick in the three races at Phoenix with stage points.
Chase Elliott, who trails Harvick by 17 points, might have a better chance to surpass Harvick but it still won’t be easy. Elliott has outscored Harvick in two of the three Phoenix races with stage points but never by 17 points.
Elliott outscored Harvick by 10 points in the March 2017 race and outscored Harvick by two points in last year’s playoff race there. Harvick outscored Elliott by 14 points in this past March’s race, which was only Elliott’s fourth with the new Camaro.
Almirola (35 points behind the cutoff) and Bowyer (51 points behind the cutoff) still must look at this weekend as a must-win situation since the chances of them making it on points remain slim.