Kevin Harvick tosses his career-best season with nine victories upside down during the playoffs and ends his chance to run for the NASCAR Cup title.
COMMENTARY—The No. 4 team’s elimination was their fault, not NASCAR, not the points format, or the actions of any other team
The elimination of the NASCAR Cup Series regular-season champion Kevin Harvick after the Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway sure is sparking a lot of hand-wringing and discussion among NASCAR fans. NASCAR Twitter and Reddit saw a flood of posts on the subject ranging from well-reasoned analysis to outright ranting and raving.
The Format Wasn’t a Surprise
Every team knew the points format going into the season.
Ever since the first change from the season-long championship format following the 2003 season, there has been plenty of ‘what if’ type discussion. Fans of Jeff Gordon quickly point out that if the old points format was still in place, Gordon would be a seven-time champion.
The quick counter-point to that is the fact that the points system fundamentally changes how teams approach the races and how drivers conduct themselves on the track. Comparing race and season results through the lens of a different point format is an apple to oranges comparison.
The 2020 season has seen many challenges and changes for NASCAR to accomplish what no other professional sport has done this year. NASCAR has managed to run its full schedule of races during a time where every other professional sport has run an abbreviated schedule.
While this is an admirable and outstanding achievement by NASCAR, despite all the changes, the one point that hasn’t changed is that when the green flag drops, drivers still earn points in the same way as they did before the pandemic.
The No. 4 Team Knew What They Had to Do
Kevin Harvick and the No. 4 team came into Martinsville a comfortable 42 points above the cut line. All they had to do was perform reasonably well and their advancement to the Championship 4 was all but assured. They didn’t need to win. A few stage points are all they need to put their elimination out of reach.
Instead, the No. 4 car came off the trailer at Martinsville in less-than top condition and was slow all day. Early in the race, they became trapped a lap down after a tire failure, caused by hard racing with cars they should have been faster than.
It’s no secret that Chase Elliott and Martin Truex are both very good at Martinsville, and Alex Bowman and Kurt Busch are no slouches either. It was reasonable to assume there was a good chance of a driver below the cut line could win the race.
Other Drivers and Teams Did What They Had to Do
Much has been made about the No. 20 car of Erik Jones being instructed to not pass the No. 11 of Denny Hamlin.
NASCAR is a team sport, both for the individual car teams, as well as the larger organizations they drive for. Joe Gibbs Racing had the opportunity for one of their cars to advance to the championship, so it’s entirely reasonable that as an organization JGR did what was necessary for their contender to advance.
There has also been a lot of discussions that the No. 10 of Aric Almirola and the No. 14 of Clint Bowyer should have held back and allowed their Stewart Haas Racing teammate, Harvick to pass. While that was a viable option, for whatever reason these teams chose not to do it. That’s just fine too.
‘The Closer’ Simply Didn’t ‘Close‘
Throughout his Hall of Fame worthy career, Kevin Harvick has earned the reputation as ‘The Closer.’ The No. 4 team’s performance at Martinsville simply didn’t live up to that reputation. Instead, Kevin Harvick tosses his career-best season upside down.
They were in complete control of their destiny. It appears that they were simply caught looking ahead to Phoenix, and were not as prepared as they should have been for the cutoff race at Martinsville. It’s nobody’s fault but their own.
The points format didn’t change, and other teams, including their own, don’t owe them anything on the track. It’s a tough pill to swallow but that’s why racing is so exciting. Even ‘sure bets’ are sometimes not so sure.