The only guaranteed way to gain entry into the 16-driver 2016 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoff field is to earn it.
Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Busch Light Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), earned the first requirement for entry into the 2016 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in thrilling fashion when he scored a win in just the fourth race of the season at Phoenix International Raceway by .01 of a second over runner-up Carl Edwards. He can fulfill the next requirement to earn his Chase berth Saturday night in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Kentucky 400 at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta by becoming the first driver to officially secure a top-30 points finish.
The series points leader is 356 markers ahead of the 31st-place driver in the standings heading to Kentucky. If he leaves there with a 361-point advantage over the 31st-place driver, he would be guaranteed a place in the top-30 after the 26th and final race of the regular season at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway in September.
While Harvick will be one step closer to the 2016 Chase, he will not technically clinch a Chase berth unless he earns a win Saturday night in Kentucky. Eleven drivers have scored wins through the first 17 races of 2016. With nine races remaining before the start of the Chase following the race at Richmond, there is the potential for nine first-time Sprint Cup winners in 2016.
It is improbable that six or more new race winners will emerge in the next nine races, but it is possible. If more than 16 full-time Sprint Cup drivers secure wins, then points will determine the 16-driver Chase field.
Seventeen races into 2016, Harvick has earned a series-best 565 points with an average finish of 8.9. He leads several other statistical categories, including: 108.4 driver rating, 8.739 average running position, 586 fastest laps run, 14.5 percent of fastest laps run, 4,406 laps in the top-15, 89.3 percent of laps in the top-15, and average running position of 6.3, in addition to his average finish of 6.9.
The Bakersfield, California, native ranks second with seven top-five finishes, 13 top-10s, 701 laps led, 16.6 percent of laps led, 891.7 miles led, 4,822 laps run on the lead lap, 97.71 percent of laps run on the lead lap, and 20 bonus points.
If Harvick hopes to clinch his spot in the Chase with a win this weekend, he will have to do it at a racetrack where he has never won in NASCAR’s premier series. In fact, Kentucky Speedway is the only track on the current Sprint Cup schedule that Harvick has yet to lead a lap or score a top-five finish.
On June 13 and 14, Harvick and the No. 4 team attended the NASCAR open test to gain seat time and information at the newly repaved 1.5-mile oval in Sparta with hopes to better their performance.
Harvick hopes to lead his first laps at Kentucky Speedway this weekend en route to his second win of the season to officially earn his spot in the 2016 Chase field.