Kevin Harvick The King of Beers Reigns in Kansas City

Kansas City is a town where sports teams are considered royalty. The city’s home teams have drawn their names from leaders of all kinds, starting with the Kansas City Royals, who are currently competing in the Major League Baseball playoffs, and the National Football League’s Kansas City Chiefs. And the practice dates as far back as the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro National League, and the former Kansas City Kings of the National Basketball Association.

This weekend, Kevin Harvick will bring his No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet to Kansas Speedway in Kansas City for Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race with the “King of Beers” on the hood as the reigning Sprint Cup champion continues the defend of his 2014 crown.

Harvick’s 2015 campaign has made him the favorite to retain his title with only six races remaining in the Sprint Cup playoffs. He heads to Kansas ranked second in the Contender Round on the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup grid, 13 points above the cutoff line to advance to the Eliminator Round of eight drivers.

Thirty races into this season, Harvick has been a model of consistency with three wins and leads the series with 11 second-place finishes, 20 top-fives and 24 top-10s. He’s also led a series-high 2,031 laps with an average finish of 8.9.

Harvick is the first driver to lead 2,000 laps in consecutive seasons since Jeff Gordon in 1995 and 1996. The last three drivers to lead more than 2,000 laps in a single season have all gone on to win the Sprint Cup championship – Jeff Gordon led 2,320 laps in 2001, Jimmie Johnson led 2,238 laps in 2009 and Harvick led 2,137 in 2014.

After placing second last Sunday at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, Harvick became the 13th driver since 1972 to collect 20 top-five finishes in a season. The others include: Bobby Allison, Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Benny Parsons, Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Terry Labonte, Dale Jarrett, Bobby Labonte and Jimmie Johnson.

The runner-up finish was also Harvick’s 11th of the season, the most since Bobby Allison logged 12 runner-up finishes in 1972. The No. 4 Chevrolet driver boasts 14 top-two finishes this season, double the total of the next-best drivers in that category – Kyle Busch and Johnson, who each have seven.

The reigning Sprint Cup champion leads several other statistical categories: 119.3 driver rating, 42 bonus points, 1,218 fastest laps run, 31.7 percent of fastest laps run, 23.5 percent of laps led, 2,460 miles led, 7,856 laps in the top-15 and average running position of 7.482.

In 2015, the Bakersfield, California native led the 26-race regular season with 978 points prior to the Chase driver standings reset following the 26th round at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. Harvick’s point total through the first 26 races was the most under the current system that came into effect in 2011, surpassing the 914 regular-season points scored by Greg Biffle in 2012 and Jeff Gordon in 2014.

Harvick and the No. 4 team have reason for optimism as the series returns to Kansas for the second race of the three-race Contender Round of the Chase. Harvick has scored 512 points in the last 10 races at the 1.5-mile oval – more than any other driver. He also has one win, four top-five finishes and six top-10s with an average finish of 6.6 and 387 laps led. In 19 career Sprint Cup starts at Kansas, he has the second-best average finish of 9.4.

The reigning champions are hoping to continue their dominance in the Contender Round with a win at Kansas Speedway that would automatically advance the team to the Eliminator Round.