Top 20 countdown: No. 4 Kevin Harvick

Jay Hart
Yahoo! Sports

(Photos: Getty Images)

2008 statistics

Finish Poles Wins Top 5 Top 10
4 0 0 7 19

The countdown
No. 20: Martin Truex Jr.
No. 19: Juan Pablo Montoya
No. 18: Kurt Busch
No. 17: Kasey Kahne
No. 16: Brian Vickers
No. 15: Tony Stewart
No. 14: Jamie McMurray
No. 13: Clint Bowyer
No. 12: David Ragan
No. 11: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
No. 10: Denny Hamlin
No. 9: Matt Kenseth
No. 8: Jeff Burton
No. 7: Greg Biffle
No. 6: Mark Martin
No. 5: Jeff Gordon
No. 4: Kevin Harvick
No. 3: Revealed Thursday

Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports is counting down the Top 20 drivers going into the 2009 season. The order was determined by a survey, which asked six NASCAR journalists – Ricky Craven, Jay Busbee and Jay Hart (Yahoo! Sports); Jenna Fryer (Associated Press); David Poole (Charlotte Observer); and Nate Ryan (USA Today) – to predict the final standings for the 2009 season. The countdown will conclude on Feb. 6 with the unveiling of the No. 1 driver.

2008 finish: 4th

2009 outlook: Contrary to popular belief, Dale Earnhardt's No. 3 still races every Sprint Cup weekend. It's there, tilted forward on the side of Kevin Harvick's car, albeit in miniature form, just to the right of Harvick's bigger No. 29.

It's worth mentioning because now more than any time since Earnhardt's death in 2001 the car he drove is a title contender again.

Harvick enters the 2009 season at his very best. Though he didn't win a race in '08, he finished the season with 13 top 10s in the final 16 races, a consistency matched only by Carl Edwards.

The lack of a victory kept Harvick mostly under the radar, but this should change in 2009.

The mourning of Earnhardt's death is over at Richard Childress Racing, and Childress' five-year plan to bring the organization back to prominence is beginning to mature.

In 2005, RCR didn't qualify a single driver for the Chase. In 2006, two of RCR's three drivers qualified. Two years ago, all three RCR drivers got in, including Clint Bowyer, who made a Cinderella run to a third-place finish. Last season, Harvick, Bowyer and Jeff Burton not only qualified for the playoff, but finished fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively, making RCR the only team with three drivers in the top six.

Now, the organization is looking to take the next step forward, and leading the charge will be the 33-year-old Harvick – the man Childress turned to eight years ago when he was forced to find a replacement for Earnhardt.

Harvick is no doubt thinking championship, which isn't necessarily new, except that now it's a realistic goal. And if he gets there, it will be a first for him and seventh for the No. 3.

What you need to know: First, that Earnhardt won seven titles, but only the last six came while driving the No. 3. As for Harvick, he hasn't had a DNF in 80 races and only one over the last 120.