Dr. Diandra: Kevin Harvick – Slump or swan song?


In 775 races, Kevin Harvick has amassed one championship, 58 wins, 241 top-five finishes and 424 top-10 finishes. But he hasn’t won in his last 64 races — since fall Bristol in 2020. And he’s the oldest full-time driver in the Cup Series, turning 47 in December. Is Harvick’s recent performance a slump or a signal that it might be time to consider hanging up the firesuit?

The data

Modeling a driver’s career with the goal of predicting the future is impossible. There are simply too many variables.

Drivers change owners, crew chiefs and manufacturers. Tracks change. Schedules change. Add to that unexpected events like injuries or firings.

Although statistics cannot predict the future, they can help us understand the past so we can make more educated decisions.

Elite drivers’ careers follow a three-phase pattern.

  • The early career is often a ramp-up period with few or even no wins. The driver might be with a smaller team or just learning.
  • During the middle phase, which is usually the majority of a career, the driver wins regularly. The rate at which wins accumulate may change, but the number of wins goes up.
  • Unless a driver quits mid-career, his or her stats plateau as they near retirement. There are no more wins. Then the top-five finishes disappear. If they hang around long enough, they eventually stop finishing in the top 10.

The most straightforward example of the elite career pattern is Jimmie Johnson. He drove for the same team his entire career, and Chad Knaus was crew chief for all but his last two seasons.

The best way to see the drivers’ career is a plot of cumulative wins vs. year of competition, as I’ve done for Johnson below.

A scatter plot of cumulative wins vs. season for Jimmie Johnson

  • Johnson had almost no warmup period. He won three races his first full-time season.
  • I drew a line through the mid-career points. His average win rate is the line’s slope. The data points fit the line pretty well until about 2015. Subsequent points fall below where the mid-career line would predict them.
  • Johnson earned his last win in 2017. He ran another 131 races before retiring.

Harvick’s cumulative-win graph is a little more complex.

A scatter plot of Kevin Harvick's cumulative wins vs. season

He had a longer ramp-up phase, with stops and starts, compared to Johnson’s immediate rise.

Harvick won five races in 2006 and the Daytona 500 in 2007. Then he didn’t return to victory lane until the ninth race of 2010. That’s a slump of 115 races.

Of course, the problem with slumps is that we can only identify them as such once they’re over.

Harvick’s career took off in 2010, and the wins continued at a steady rate despite changing owners and crew chiefs in 2014.

The last three data points on Harvick’s graph look a bit like Johnson’s plateau. The difference is that most drivers’ win total tapers to its final value. Harvick’s just stopped.

That’s unusual. But the last two years have been unusual — especially for Ford.

In 2021, a change in NASCAR’s inspection procedures forced Ford to modify their rear wheel well shapes. Rodney Childers told SiriusXM NASCAR radio that the change removed 70 counts of aerodynamic downforce from the car. More importantly, it upset the car’s balance.

With a freeze on all R&D for the soon-to-be-extinct Gen-6 car, Ford teams had to try to re-balance the car without any wind-tunnel data.

This year, of course, the Next Gen car shook up everything. It doesn’t make sense to treat the last two years on par with the years before.

Once more piece of data: Although Harvick had no wins in 2021, he had only one fewer P2-P5 finish than he had in 2020. Historically, after wins plateau, top-five finishes follow. That’s not the case at present.

I thus interpret the flatline in Harvick’s cumulative-win graph as a slump.

The diagnosis

Harvick’s season-at-a-glance graph shows rank and finishes. He’s had three DNFs: Daytona, World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway and the Bristol dirt race.

Kevin Harvick's year-at-a-glance graph, showing rank and finish for each race.

The graph also shows some recent improvement relative to earlier in the season. Before becoming collateral damage in the Denny HamlinRoss Chastain feud at Pocono, Harvick was on track for his fifth top-10 finish in the last six races.

The only way for Harvick to secure a playoff spot is to win in the next five races. His crew chief, Rodney Childers, is optimistic.

“Maybe we haven’t been the strongest all year,” Childers said, “but you’ve seen that year after year that people have been able to get it together at the end of the year and come on strong, and I know the guys here at the shop are working hard.  All of the people at Ford and the engine shop have really made some good gains, and I feel like we’re definitely headed in the right direction.”

Although winless, Harvick’s team has a lot of positives:

  • Harvick is 10th in points, just one point below William Byron. That doesn’t help him with the playoffs, but it does show he’s competitive, even in a very challenging season.
  • He ties for fourth in top-10 finishes with 11 with Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson. The drivers ahead of this trio are Chase Elliott (15 top-10 finishes), Ross Chastain (14) and Christopher Bell (12).
  • In top-five finishes, Harvick ties for eighth with Joey Logano, Daniel Suárez and Kurt Busch. Chastain has the most top-five finishes with 10.
  • Kyle Busch has the most lead-lap finishes with 19, but Harvick is tied for second with 18.
  • Despite those three DNFs, Harvick has a 13.3 average finishing position, tied for fourth with Larson and Martin Truex Jr.

The problems separating Harvick, who has a contract through 2023, from the checkered flag revolve around speed and starting position.

  • Out of a possible 5,433 laps, Harvick has led just 13. That puts him in 26th place relative to other drivers. He’s not even close to being on pace to match last year’s season total of 217 laps. In 2020, he led the most laps of anyone in the series: 1,531.
  • Kyle Busch leads the fastest lap total with 325. Harvick has 108, which puts him 16th.

I would approach the slump versus swan song question differently if the other three SHR cars — or even other Fords — were outrunning Harvick. But Ford is behind the curve in 2022. Chevy has 12 victories this year (57.1%). Toyota, which fields only six cars, has won five races (23.8%), while Ford has won only four (19.0%).

Among Fords, only Ryan Blaney beats Harvick’s finishing position average, but not by much. Blaney comes in at 13.14, compared to Harvick’s 13.28. The graph below compares top Ford drivers’ finishing positions to that of Elliott, who has the best average finish at 9.95.

A graphic comparing the finishes of top fords vs. Kevin Harvick

The final graph highlights Harvick’s biggest weakness: average starting position. Starting back in the field not only creates more work to get to the front, it increases the chance of getting caught up in an accident.

A graphic comparing the qualifying of top Fords vs. Kevin Harvick

Poor qualifying is a new problem: Harvick’s average starting position this year is 19.0, compared to 9.7 last year. Harvick has the worst qualifying average of any of the SHR cars, but the best finishing average. Improving qualifying is critical to ending the current slump.


COTA Truck race results: Zane Smith wins

NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series XPEL 225
Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images

Reigning series champion Zane Smith won Saturday’s Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas for the second year in a row.

The victory is Smith’s second of this year.

MORE: COTA Truck race results

MORE: Truck points after COTA

Kyle Busch finished second and was followed by Ty Majeski, Tyler Ankrum and Ross Chastain.

The key moment came when Parker Kligerman‘s truck came to a stop on the frontstretch at Lap 28. Smith, running second, made it to pit road before it was closed. Busch, who was leading, had already passed pit road entrance.

Smith gained the lead with the move, while Busch had to pit under the caution and restarted 16th. Smith was able to build a lead and beat Busch by 5.4 seconds.

Stage 1 winner: Christian Eckes

Stage 2 winner: Kyle Busch

Who had a good race: Ty Majeski’s third-place finish is his best of the season. … Tyler Ankrum’s fourth-place finish is his best of the year. … Corey Heim has finished sixth two races in a row. … Rookie Nick Sanchez finished seventh, giving him back-to-back top 10s.

Who had a bad race: Parker Kligerman was running third when electrical issues forced him to stop on track just after the end of the second stage. … After winning the first stage, Christian Eckes had mechanical issues and had to pit for repairs, costing him several laps.

Notable: Front Row Motorsports has won the Truck COTA race all three years. Todd Gilliland won the race in 2021 and Zane Smith has won it the past two years.

Next: The series races April 1 at Texas Motor Speedway (4:30 p.m. ET on FS1).

NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series XPEL 225
COTA winner Zane Smith’s truck catches fire after he did his burnout on the frontstretch. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

COTA Cup starting lineup


Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron, who has won two of the first five races of the season, will lead the Cup field to the green flag Sunday at Circuit of the Americas.

Byron will be joined on the front row of the starting lineup by Tyler Reddick, the only driver to win multiple races at road courses last year.

MORE: COTA Cup starting lineup

Austin Cindric starts third and is joined in the second row by Jordan Taylor, who is filling in for the injured Chase Elliott in the No. 9 Hendrick car.

Taylor’s performance is the best qualifying effort by a driver making their Cup debut since Boris Said started second in his Cup debut at Watkins Glen in 1999.

William Byron wins Cup pole at COTA


William Byron will start on the pole for Sunday’s Cup race at Circuit of the Americas.

Byron won the pole with a lap of 93.882 mph around the 3.41-mile road course Saturday. He becomes the first Cup driver to win a pole at four different road courses: Charlotte Roval (2019), Road America (2021), Indianapolis road course (2021) and COTA (2023).

MORE: COTA Cup starting lineup

Byron will be joined on the front row by Tyler Reddick, who had posted the fastest lap in Friday’s practice and fastest lap in the opening round of qualifying Saturday. Reddick qualified at 93.783 mph.

Austin Cindric (93.459 mph) qualified third. Former IMSA champion Jordan Taylor, substituting for an injured Chase Elliott in the No. 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports, qualified fourth with a lap of 93.174 mph. AJ Allmendinger (93.067) will start fifth.

Taylor’s performance is the best qualifying effort by a driver making their Cup debut since Boris Said started second in his Cup debut at Watkins Glen in 1999.

Ross Chastain, who won this event a year ago, qualified 12th. Former world champion Kimi Raikkonen qualified 22nd, former world champion Jenson Button qualified 24th, seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson qualified 31st and IndyCar driver Conor Daly qualified 35th.

Sunday Cup race at Circuit of the Americas: Start time, TV info, weather


Is this Toyota’s weekend?

Chevrolet won the first four races of the season. Ford won last weekend with Joey Logano at Atlanta. Is it Toyota’s turn to win its first Cup race of the season? Or does Chevrolet return to dominance?

Chevrolet drivers have won 11 of the past 12 Cup races on road courses. The exception was Christopher Bell‘s win for Toyota at the Charlotte Roval in last year’s playoffs. Chevrolets have won the two previous Cup races at COTA: Chase Elliott in 2021 and Ross Chastain in 2022.

Details for Sunday’s Cup race at Circuit of the Americas

(All times Eastern)

START: Brendan Hunt, who plays Coach Beard in “Ted Lasso” on Apple TV+, will give the command to start engines at 3:38 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:49 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at 12:30 p.m. … Drivers meeting at 2:45 p.m. … Driver introductions at 3:05 p.m. … Invocation will be given by Sage Steele, ESPN broadcaster, at 3:30 p.m. … Jaime Camil, actor from “Schmigadoon” on Apple TV+, will perform the national anthem at 3:31 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 68 laps (231.88 miles) on the 3.41-mile, 20-turn road course.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 15. Stage 2 ends at Lap 30.

TV/RADIO: Fox will broadcast the race at 3:30 p.m. Pre-race coverage begins at 2 p.m. on FS1 and moves to Fox at 3 p.m. … Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. and will also stream at goprn.com; SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.


FORECAST: Weather Underground – Mostly cloudy with a high of 80 degrees and a 2% chance of rain at the start of the race.

STARTING LINEUP: COTA Cup starting lineup

LAST YEAR: Ross Chastain scored his first career Cup win in a physical battle with AJ Allmendinger on the final lap. Alex Bowman finished second. Christopher Bell placed third.


Friday 5: What to do about lack of respect on the track?

Dr. Diandra: With Chase Elliott out, these are the best Next Gen road racers

Drivers to watch at COTA

North Wilkesboro’s racing surface will prove challenging to drivers 

NASCAR Power Rankings: Christopher Bell is new No. 1