Welcome to From the Marbles' 2014 season previews. Here's how we think the Chase will shake out in this first year of 16 drivers and eliminations. Will we be right? Unlikely, but it's fun to think about our soothsaying possibilities until the green flag waves for the Daytona 500 on Feb. 23.
Driver: Kevin Harvick
2013 Finish: 3rd
2013 Highlight: Harvick won four races in 2013, just one off his career-high of five race wins in 2000 and last year tied the number of races he won in 2011, when he finished third to Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart in the points standings.
And last year, as you well know, Harvick was behind Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth. Is there something that lends himself to being the guy on the outside of two-driver duels for the title? (He was also third to Johnson and Denny Hamlin in 2010.)
If we're going to pick one of the race wins as a highlight, we'll take the Chase race at Kansas. Harvick had a rocketship all weekend and started from the pole. He led 138 laps and took home the checkered flag. It moved him to third in the standings and he never fell below fourth the rest of the way.
2013 Lowlight: Consistency was huge in his last year at Richard Childress Racing. Harvick didn't have a porous stretch at all, and the worst moment of the season could be a 20th place finish at New Hampshire in the second race of the Chase. It eliminated him from Chase contention despite no other finishes below 12th in the other nine races.
Why is Harvick here? We think this is his year to not be the tertiary member of a championship battle. Presuming Stewart-Haas Racing is as far along as they feel they are, and Harvick's feelings of confidence at the Charlotte test in December carry over, he's poised for the best season of his Cup career. After those third place finishes, it's time to bump it up a notch.
How could Harvick not be here? Stewart-Haas has growing pains, and Harvick struggles to mesh with new crew chief Rodney Childers. However, we don't think there will be any "Will Harvick miss the Chase?" drama. He'll get a win early with SHR.
Best Winter Olympic event: We'll take him in the slalom. He seems conniving enough to know when to go for broke at the bottom of the hill.
Worst Winter Olympic event: Would you want to ice dance with Cupcake?
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