Race Weekend Central

Fact or Fiction: Has Kevin Harvick Replaced Denny Hamlin as the Man to Unseat Jimmie Johnson?

FICTION: Denny Hamlin needs to be worried about his Chase hopes

While many people didn’t think Denny Hamlin would be able to duplicate his 2010 magic, no one expected such a terrible start to 2011. After engine problems relegated him to a 39th-place finish on Sunday (March 27), Hamlin finds himself 21st in the standings with only one top 10. It hasn’t been due to bad performance however – just bad luck. A late-race accident at Daytona eliminated him from a potential win, while an early wreck at Bristol didn’t even give him the chance to run competitive. Now, an engine failure at Fontana ruined another race after Hamlin was running in the top five all day.

If the bad luck continues, then Hamlin’s worries should grow. Remember though; last year after five races, he was sitting 19th in the points standings with a best finish of 19th, so there is plenty of time to turn it around. With Martinsville and Texas the next tracks on the schedule – venues that Hamlin swept last year – the next two races may prove to be the couple wins needed to make the Chase with the new rules NASCAR implemented this year.

FACT: Auto Club Speedway isn’t so bad after all

Auto Club Speedway has left a bad taste in the mouths of many fans ever since it took away the Southern 500 from Darlington. Has the on-track product really been so bad though? Even before Kevin Harvick’s dramatic last-lap pass on Jimmie Johnson in Sunday’s race, the racing has really improved in recent years in southern California.

Sure, Kyle Busch didn’t have much competition until five laps to go, but that happens at any track. The drafting is really enjoyable to watch at the 2-mile oval and the multiple grooves certainly add to the interest (I don’t know, maybe I just enjoy watching cars going around in circles). Just because the leader is ahead of the field by five-plus seconds doesn’t necessarily make for a bad race.

FICTION: Ryan Newman will maintain his early-season success

After five races, Ryan Newman is off to the best start of his career, sitting second in points with three top fives and four top 10s. The entire Stewart-Haas organization seems to be strong, with teammate and car owner Tony Stewart off to a competitive start as well. Unfortunately, the 2008 Daytona 500 winner will not be able to carry his hot start throughout the entire year.

The fact is, Newman hasn’t really been the same driver fans saw in 2003 when he won eight races. Since then, he has won just five races and has never finished in the top five in the final points standings. Newman is more of a streaky driver and this hot streak he is on now won’t last much longer.

FACT: Kevin Harvick has established himself as Jimmie Johnson’s biggest threat to win the Sprint Cup

Carl Edwards may be the early-season points leader and Kyle Busch has looked the most dominant so far, but Harvick proved with his win on Sunday he is the man to beat Johnson. No driver appears to be hungrier to dethrone Mr. Five-Time than Harvick himself. With his “horseshoe” comments about Johnson after this race last year, along with his frustration losing to the man who has dominated the Nationwide Series for the past several years this Saturday as well, it’s clear Harvick is tired of losing to the same people.

His victory at Fontana was the perfect way to establish himself as the man to beat Johnson not only in the races to come, but for the title as well. His “Mr. Where Did He Come From” nickname will apply to later in the season when everyone is still looking at Edwards and Busch to knock Johnson off.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Share via