Kevin Harvick has made the challenges of NASCAR’s pandemic protocols and its new racing format look easy. With nine wins heading into the Round of 12 in the Cup playoffs, Harvick is already having his best statistical year in the series.
The No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing driver added two victories to his record at Darlington and Bristol during the first round of the postseason, and he’s primed to check off his 10th win Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Harvick is the favorite to win the South Point 400, according to multiple sports betting sites, but there are a handful of drivers who could push a Harvick win off to another weekend.
While considered more of gamble, these are the five drivers the Observer would bet on to dethrone Harvick this weekend:
No. 2 Brad Keselowski
Keselowski will have to climb up from a 12th-place starting position, but he’s had strong runs at Vegas in the past, with three wins (seven top-fives) in 14 starts at the track in Cup. Keselowski has also been solid on intermediate tracks this season. He finished seventh at Las Vegas in the spring (pre-pandemic), and Las Vegas is a track where the Penske Fords typically run well. He enters the Round of 12 in the playoffs ranked third with 3,035 points.
No. 22 Joey Logano
Logano won at Las Vegas in February. A lot has changed since then, but Logano has not finished out of the top-10 in the last six races at intermediate tracks. Las Vegas is 1.5 miles, and all of those most recent intermediate tracks were slightly longer or shorter, but the Ford driver has an eighth-place average finish at Las Vegas with two wins (six top-fives) in 14 starts. Logano is ranked fourth in the standings with 3,022 points entering Vegas.
No. 48 Jimmie Johnson
Johnson had a rough Round of 16 and still hasn’t won a race this year, but he has an average finish of 11.6 at Las Vegas, a track where Chevrolets have historically been fast. Johnson’s teammate Chase Elliott might be the safer Hendrick pick since Elliott won the first two stages of the Vegas race in February and is coming off two top-10s (at short tracks granted), but Johnson has typically had better finishes at Las Vegas. This could be the weekend for the veteran driver, who is out of the postseason, to reverse his luck.
No. 18 Kyle Busch
Busch is another driver looking to turn the tide with a win this weekend. Busch is ranked 10th in standings with 3,004 points (tied with Clint Bowyer), and he said after finishing second at Bristol last weekend that he doesn’t expect to make it past this round of the playoffs. Vegas is a historically so-so track for Busch, who’s posted an average finish of 12.8 there, but there’s more on the line for the defending Cup champion this weekend since the following races will be at the unpredictable tracks of Talladega and the Charlotte Road Course. His No. 18 Toyota has shown more speed recently, so this could be the race for the Nevada native to break his streak. He is starting second on Sunday.
No. 3 Austin Dillon
Could be seen as a wild-card pick since he only has two top-fives in 10 starts at Las Vegas in Cup, but the No. 3 Chevrolet has been strong on intermediate tracks this season, particularly at tracks similar to Vegas. He finished fourth at Las Vegas in February, first at Texas (1.5 miles) and second at Darlington (1.37 miles) this year. Dillon has also demonstrated speed in the Round of 16 recently. If the Richard Childress Racing team hits it again this weekend, Dillon could end up in Victory Lane. He is ranked eighth in the postseason standings with 3,005 points.
Other drivers to watch:
Martin Truex Jr.
For pre-race reading and how to watch NASCAR at Las Vegas this weekend click here. And for live updates from the track for Sunday’s Cup race, follow NASCAR reporter Alex Andrejev on Twitter at @AndrejevAlex.
NASCAR CUP RACE AT LAS VEGAS STARTING LINEUP
Martin Truex Jr.*
John Hunter Nemechek
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.