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.


NASCAR Awards to air at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock


NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Joey Logano didn’t need much time to answer the question.

Who would the two-time Cup champion want to introduce him at the NASCAR Awards?

Racing icon Mario Andretti, Logano immediately said. 

And there was Andretti on the stage at the Music City Center introducing Logano, the 2022 Cup champion. Watch that and the rest of the night’s festivities at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock. You can order Peacock here.

MORE: See the red carpet scene

MORE: Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards

NBC Sports’ Marty Snider and Kim Coon co-hosted the show along with Fox Sports’ Kaitlyn Vincie. The Cup, Xfinity and Truck champions were honored. Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, whose father died hours after Gibbs won the Xfinity title last month, received a standing ovation and thanked the industry for its support.

The highlight of the night for Logano was having Andretti on stage to introduce him.

“He’s just been a great role model for me, not only as a racer, but as a person for so long,” Logano said afterward. “I had his picture on my wall. I looked at Mario Andretti before I went to sleep every night as a kid. I thought it was the coolest thing that he signed it to me.”

NASCAR Awards and Champion Celebration
Cup champion Joey Logano on stage with racing icon Mario Andretti during the NASCAR Awards in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Logano and Andretti have gotten to know each other through the years. Logano ran a throwback car that honored Andretti at Darlington Raceway in 2015 and 2021.

But none of that compared to being on stage with Andretti.

“That’s still like a pinch-me moment,” Logano said. “It’s Mario Andretti. He’s the man. The fact that he knows my name I think is really, really cool.”

Catch the NASCAR Awards at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock

Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards


NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The NASCAR community showed its support Thursday at the NASCAR Awards for the Gibbs family, grieving the death of Coy Gibbs on Nov. 6. 

During his interview on stage, car owner Joe Gibbs thanked the NASCAR industry for its support. (The NASCAR Awards show airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock).

Coy Gibbs, son of Joe Gibbs and father of Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, died hours after seeing Ty Gibbs win the series title last month at Phoenix Raceway. Coy Gibbs, 49, was the vice chairman and chief operating officer at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR chief operating officer, introduced Ty Gibbs at the NASCAR Awards and noted that “everyone gathered tonight is all a part of the NASCAR family, and I know I speak for everyone that the entire NASCAR family is 100% percent behind this young man.”

Ty Gibbs received a standing ovation.

“Thank you,” he told the crowd, “that means a lot.”

Ty Gibbs spoke for less than a minute, thanking his team, sponsors, fans and the NASCAR community.

He closed his speech by saying “And thanks to my family. I love you. I hope everybody has a great offseason. Enjoy it. Thank you for all the support. Thank you for all the claps. I really appreciate it.”

Ty Gibbs spoke to the media earlier Thursday. Asked how he was doing, he said: “I’ve been doing good. Thank you for asking and definitely appreciate you guys. We’ve been doing good, doing a lot of stuff this week. … It’s been fun to experience this stuff.”

Asked about Joe Gibbs addressing the organization after Coy’s death, Ty Gibbs politely said: “For right now, I’m not going to touch on any of that subject at all. I’m just going to stick with all the racing questions and go from there.”

Cup champion Joey Logano said he spent time with 20-year-old Ty Gibbs on Wednesday at the champion’s dinner.

Logano said he told Ty Gibbs that “we’re here for you. You need something reach out.”

Brennan Poole joins Bayley Currey at JD Motorsports for 2023


Brennan Poole will join Bayley Currey at JD Motorsports for the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity season, the team announced Friday.

Poole will drive the No. 6 car for the full season. Currey returns to the team’s No. 4 car for the season. Currey scored five top-15 finishes last season for the organization.

JD Motorsports is planning to run the No. 0 car next season. No driver or sponsor has been announced for that ride.

“We’re full throttle here and getting ready to go,” Davis said in a statement from the team. “Bayley and Brennan are signed on and looking forward to chasing races and points next year. We’re actively moving along looking for sponsor commitments and for drivers and sponsors for the No. 0 car.”

“We’ve always taken the approach here that we want to go after the series with multiple cars, and that’s how we’re looking toward 2023. The new schedule is very interesting and provides new challenges to our drivers and team members.”

The 2023 Xfinity season begins Feb. 18 at Daytona International Speedway.

Friday 5: Will Kyle Busch become NASCAR’s Tom Brady, Peyton Manning?


NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The weight of an unfulfilled season, deciding where he’d race in 2023 and the impact on his Truck Series team are off Kyle Busch.

It’s back to racing for the two-time Cup champion, who seeks to reignite his career at Richard Childress Racing this season.

Busch performed his final duty representing Joe Gibbs Racing at Thursday’s NASCAR Awards (show airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock) and it’s now all about helping RCR win its first Cup championship since 1994.

MORE: NASCAR Awards red carpet scene

Busch will be with Richard Childress Racing this weekend at Circuit of the Americas for World Racing League endurance events. Busch said the team has turned an old Cup car into an endurance car for the event. Last year, RCR won an eight-hour endurance race there with Austin Dillon, Tyler Reddick and Kaz Grala.

Busch seeks better fortunes at RCR than what he’s had recently at Joe Gibbs Racing.

He has one Cup win in his last 53 starts — 14 drivers have won more races than Busch in that span, dating back to the July 2021 race at Road America.

His 17 top-10 finishes this past season were his fewest since scoring 16 top 10s in 2015. 

He was running at the finish in 29 of 36 points races — the first time he’s been running at the finish in fewer than 30 races since 2015. Two blown engines in the opening round of the playoffs led to failing to advance to the second round for the first time in his career. 

“It’s obviously been a challenging, not just this year, but the last little while,” Busch said Thursday at the Music City Center. “So, it’s kind of maybe a blessing in disguise, honestly, where it might just be time for a fresh start, time for something new, time for something different.”

He looks to future NFL Hall of Fame quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning for inspiration.

Brady won six Super Bowls with the New England Patriots before  joining Tampa Bay and winning a Super Bowl in his first season with the Buccaneers.

Manning won a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts before joining the Denver Broncos and winning a Super Bowl there in his final season in the NFL.

“I’m kind of looking at it as a Tom Brady, Peyton Manning aspect where they left great teams, great organizations where they won championships and they were able to win a championship somewhere else,” Busch said. “I’d like to think I still have that opportunity to be able to do that at RCR.

“I look at the opportunity with the new Next Gen race car as an easier move to make now with that vs. years past with previous generation cars.”

He says that because with the previous generation of cars, there was a greater separation between teams because NASCAR did not regulate as much of the car. With the the Next Gen car, teams have the same parts. Two-time Cup champion Joey Logano that his team still has much to learn about the car and maximizing setups. 

Even with his struggles at the end of his tenure at Joe Gibbs Racing, Busch says he doesn’t go to RCR with a chip on his shoulder. 

“I don’t think I have anything to prove or I need to have a chip on my shoulder,” Busch said. “I just want to go out there and run well again. … I felt like we had a lot of strong runs this year. There were like six races I can count that we could’ve, would’ve, should’ve won and we didn’t whip is very frustrating. 

“We were so good at giving them away that I need to get back to I’m so good at stealing them and earning them.”

2. Special delivery 

Among the perks with winning a Cup title is getting the Champion’s Journal. Jimmie Johnson started the tradition after his 2010 championship. The existence of the journal remained a secret until 2017 when Johnson posted a picture on social media of him handing the journal to Martin Truex Jr.

The journal passes from champion to champion with the current champion holding on to it for a year and adding an entry for the next champion before handing it to them. Logano will receive the journal from Kyle Larson. 

“I can’t wait to read it again,” Logano said before Thursday’s NASCAR Awards. “I’m telling you, it’s probably one of the coolest things. Jimmie deserves all of the credit for coming up with the idea. 

“I wish it started sooner. It’s so interesting. Some drivers are very detailed what they write to the next champion and some are kind of quick and simple. It’s very interesting to read it. It’s cool. It’s a real secret. It’s kind of like an unwritten rule, you can’t take pictures of it and post it. It’s a thing that only the championship drivers know and have read and seen.

“Every time I get it, I’m so nervous. I’m like don’t spill anything on this thing, don’t lose it. It would suck to be the guy that loses that. That would be bad. I’m putting it right in the safe.”

Logano won his first Cup title in 2018. He then gave the journal to Kyle Busch, the 2019 series champion.

“It’s something you put a lot of thought into, at least I did,” Logano said of what he penned. “I wrote a letter to Kyle. You put a lot of thought into it. It’s something that will be there as long as our sport is around. I hope so at least. It’s a really great tradition.”

3. Fun factor 

The day of last year’s NASCAR Awards, William Byron said he wanted compete in more races outside NASCAR in 2022. 

Byron, who seeks to make Sunday’s prestigious Snowball Derby Super Late Model race, has fulfilled his goal, winning, gaining confidence but also having fun.

“What I got out of it was immediate fun, sort of relief,” Byron said of racing various Super Late Model races this year. “It was not racing the Cup car. It was different. It was not as stressful working with the team and things like that because there’s not as much on the line. There’s still prize money and things, and honestly you’re there to have fun. I enjoyed that.

“As I got going in it, I realized how productive it really was for me to do it, how much I was learning. As I did it more often throughout the season, I learned little nuances that were helping me get back in the Cup car with a better skill set.”

That element of fun stood out to Byron. Cup racing is full of pressure with the multi-million dollar sponsors, expectations to win and all the people at the shop relying on the car’s performance. That’s significant pressure, on top of what any driver puts on themself.

“There’s a lot of guys that you are trying to provide for and do a good job for,” Byron said of Cup racing. “There is a weight to that. You want to perform for those guys that work non-stop at the shop. There’s just a much broader net that you are casting as a driver. Whenever you go to the short track level, it’s you and six to 10 guys working on the car. … There’s natural pressure with what we’re trying to do at the Cup level because it is the No. 1 motorsports in the U.S.”

4. Looking for a ride

Ross Chastain says he’s been “trying for years” to get a ride in the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway without success but that hasn’t deterred him.

“I’ve met with the president of IMSA,” said Chastain, who finished second to Joey Logano for the Cup title this season. “I’ve met with team owners. I’ve talked to drivers. I just can’t find my way in yet. I haven’t found the right person yet to either tell me how to do it or give me the opportunity. I could show up with sponsorship and get a ride, but how do I get in as a race car driver? I haven’t found that spot yet.”

Chastain said he’s reached out to some this offseason with no luck. 

He said the prestige of the season-opening IMSA event (Jan. 28-29, 2023) draws him but he also wants to gain more experience racing on a road course — even with his win at Circuit of the Americas this past season. And Chastain is not picky on the type of ride he’d like to have for that race.

“I’m not even looking to be in the top class. I want to find a mid-pack Xfinity team of the Rolex and go run there and experience it and then just to be around those road racers that do it year around. I know I could learn something. … I just want to race.”

5. Indy 500-Coke 600 double

It has been eight years since Kurt Busch competed in the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day, the last time the feat has been accomplished. 

Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson are among those who have expressed interest in running both races in the same day but don’t appear to be in a position to do so in 2023 because of the limited IndyCar rides available. 

Roger Penske, owner of the IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said he could see Jimmie Johnson attempting it this year, and others as soon as next year. 

“It’s about having the car and the manufactures, whether it’s Chevy and or Honda,” Penske said, referring to the IndyCar manufacturers. “All would be interested to see somebody run the double. Maybe Jimmie is going to do it, which would be great. 

“He has the experience. He did very well on the ovals. … It’s my understanding that he’s going to run potentially the 600 as one of his races (with Petty GMS). We’ll see.”