Kevin Harvick Ace in the Hole

Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet, heads to Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway for Sunday’s CampingWorld.com 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race with an “ace in the hole” as the reigning Sprint Cup champion looks to advance from the Contender Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup into the Eliminator Round.

Harvick’s 2015 campaign has made him the favorite to retain his title with only five races remaining in the Sprint Cup playoffs. He heads to Talladega tied with Brad Keselowski and Jeff Gordon for fifth in the Contender Round of the Chase, seven points above the cutoff line to advance to the Eliminator Round of eight drivers. While the driver of the No. 4 Chevrolet will do everything he can to race to victory at Talladega to secure his place in the Eliminator Round, he’s also fortunate to hold the tiebreaker over the other two drivers thanks to his runner-up finish two weekends ago at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway.

After placing second at Charlotte, 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 at Charlotte also was Harvick’s 11th of the season, the most since Allison logged 12 runner-up finishes in 1972. Add three race wins for the No. 4 Chevrolet driver and Harvick now has 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.

Thirty-one races into this season, Harvick has been a model of consistency as he has 20 top-five finishes, and he’s also led a series-high 2,052 laps with an average finish of 9.1.

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 –Gordon led 2,320 laps in 2001, Johnson led 2,238 laps in 2009 and Harvick led 2,137 in 2014.

The reigning Sprint Cup champion leads several other statistical categories: 118.9 driver rating, 43 bonus points, 1,237 fastest laps run, 32.2 percent of fastest laps run, 23.0 percent of laps led, 2,492.48 miles led, 8,072 laps in the top-15 and average running position of 7.449.

Harvick and the No. 4 team have reason for optimism as the series returns to Talladega for the final race of the three-race Contender Round of the Chase. Harvick has scored 430 points in the last 10 races at the 2.66-mile oval – second only to Clint Bowyer’s 498. He also has one win, six top-five finishes and 13 top-10s with an average finish of 15.3 and 174 laps led in 29 career Sprint Cup starts at Talladega.

The reigning champions are hoping to advance to the Eliminator Round with a win at Talladega, but if it takes a tiebreaker to advance, it’s nice to know they hold the highest finish among the Chasers without a win in the Contender Round.

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Speedway Digest Staff

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