Kevin Harvick was a sure bet to make the NASCAR finale and likely close out one of the most dominant seasons of the decade.
Instead, he’s been eliminated and the hyped head-to-head matchup between Harvick and Denny Hamlin has been scrapped. For better or worse, NASCAR’s title-deciding format knocked the strongest team this season from contention for Sunday’s winner-take-all final four at Phoenix Raceway.
Harvick won a series-high nine times, had a whopping 20 top-five finishes and led nearly every statistical category this year. It was a back-and-forth between Harvick and Hamlin that most assumed would go down to the finale.
But Harvick had a poor third round of the playoffs and his season collapsed. He’s out of the way and Hamlin will race Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano for the Cup Series championship.
It’s a much cleaner path to the title since Harvick is a nine-time winner at Phoenix, which is hosting NASCAR’s championship weekend for the first time.
Hamlin, a seven-race winner this season, believes the champion has to win Sunday. But he also knows Harvick has nothing to lose.
Keselowski is in the championship round with a chance at his own second crown.
Logano raced his way into the finale as the only playoff driver with a third-round victory. Since clinching his berth three weeks ago, his Team Penske crew has been focused on a plan for Phoenix and doesn’t much care about Harvick’s fate.
Elliott, racing in the final four for the first time in his career, has somewhat shielded himself from the dramatics of the season and focused only on his Hendrick Motorsports effort. He’s taken a break from social media over the closing months of the season and didn’t focus on Harvick’s season.