2012 Chase Prospects: Can Kevin Harvick be a contender?

Quick, can you remember who finished third last year?

Yeah, OK, the headline of this post gives it away, but it was Kevin Harvick, who finished 58 points behind Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards.

Last year, Harvick entered the Chase tied for first with Kyle Busch thanks to four wins, including one at Richmond. This year, he enters tied for last after going winless in the first 26 races of the season. Quite the contrast.

Before he led 101 laps at Atlanta over Labor Day Weekend and finished fifth, the last time Harvick led a lap was at the Coca-Cola 600. And the last time he had led multiple laps was at Richmond in the spring.

After having Shane Wilson as his crew chief for the first 23 races of the season, Gil Martin, Harvick's crew chief last year, has been atop the box the last three races. In those three races, Harvick has finished 15th, fifth and 10th.

Best Chase Track: That's Homestead, where he's finished in the top 10 nine times in 11 starts. It's a nice comfort to have... assuming he's in contention going into the final race.

Worst Chase Track: The stats say Charlotte, but Harvick has had four straight top 10s there. We'll say Talladega, where in Harvick's last 10 races, he's had three top fives and seven finishes of 20th or lower. Not much in the middle.

NB's Prediction: 12th. Someone has to finish last, and Harvick's season performance gets him the nod. (After all, I picked him to finish third before the season.) If the results with Martin in charge are a sign of things to come, then Harvick should be solidly in the top 10. If they're instead an outlier, Harvick may be one of the two drivers to not get a banquet invite.