Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice? NASCAR’s Final 4 By The Numbers

Did You Notice? Kevin Harvick could put an exclamation point on one of the better seasons of NASCAR’s modern era? After a second-place result Sunday at Phoenix he now has 19 top-three finishes in 35 starts. That’s a number not soon to be repeated in an era where 20 to 25 cars are capable of winning every week.

While Harvick should have cashed in more on Victory Lane – only three of those podium finishes are wins – it’s still an impressive achievement. One more top-three brings him to 20 and means that 56% of the time (better than once every two races) Harvick was guaranteed to run third or better in 2015.

Should he win the title Harvick will set a record for top-three finishes by a champion this century. Here’s a look at how big the difference is compared to his peers.

Champion (Top-Three Finishes)

2000*: Bobby Labonte (12)

2001: Jeff Gordon (15)

2002: Tony Stewart (10)

2003: Matt Kenseth (7)

2004: Kurt Busch (3)

2005: Tony Stewart (12)

2006: Jimmie Johnson (12)

2007: Jimmie Johnson (17)

2008: Jimmie Johnson (13) – runner-up Carl Edwards had 17

2009: Jimmie Johnson (12)

2010: Jimmie Johnson (14)

2011: Tony Stewart (9)

2012: Brad Keselowski (9)

2013: Jimmie Johnson (10)

2014: Kevin Harvick (12)

2015: Kevin Harvick? (19? 20?)

* – Schedule was 34 races, not the current 36

As you can see, even during Johnson’s five-year championship streak he couldn’t come close to matching what Harvick has accomplished in 2015. Harvick would be leading the regular season standings comfortably without a Chase (post-Logano incidents) and has 2,248 on the year. That’s almost 900 higher than second place in that category (Joey Logano); Keselowski is the only other driver over 1,000 laps led.

Harvick’s 22 top-five finishes are a record in the Chase era and the most since Dale Jarrett in 1999 (24). His average start of 8.2 is second to only Logano and he’s won a series-high $8.4 million entering Homestead. It’s hard to find a weakness for Harvick, honestly outside of failing to close the deal on Victory Lane; just think of how this year would be viewed if half of those second- and third-place finishes will turn into wins.

Of course, some people will never accept Harvick winning the title this year after those fateful final laps at Talladega. That’s fair. But the fact the incident has overshadowed what should be a season to remember for the No. 4 team is a real shame. What Harvick has a chance to do, going back-to-back in an era where only Johnson gets to have such domination, is pretty incredible.

Did You Notice? Harvick’s not the only one in position to set some statistical records surrounding the championship.

Martin Truex Jr.: He’d be the first champion from a single-car team since Dale Earnhardt won back in 1994. How ironic considering Richard Childress Racing, Earnhardt’s former employer gives the No. 78 team chassis and engine help, right?

Truex, even if he finishes fourth will also be the highest-placing single-car team ever in NASCAR’s Chase era. The last time a single-car team finished fourth or better in points was also Earnhardt, fourth in 1996 before RCR felt a second team was necessary to stay competitive. A victory by Truex considering the uphill battle Furniture Row Racing faces would be incredible; marketed right, it could potentially get new owners at least sniffing around the sport after several seasons where virtually no one has jumped on board.

Gordon: If he wins the title running second or worse Gordon would become the first one-win champion since Kenseth back in 2003 (the same could also be said for Truex). That would be a nice tie-in considering it was that Kenseth triumph, the one based on consistency caused the Chase format, that has arguably robbed Gordon of at least two additional titles over the past decade.

Gordon would also go 14 years between championships (his last occurred in 2001). It would be a new NASCAR record eclipsing his former teammate, Terry Labonte, who won his two titles in 1984 and ’96, respectively. Gordon would also be the first driver to pull a John Elway in the sport’s 67-year history; no Cup driver has ever won the big prize and then immediately retired.

Kyle Busch: Busch’s big storyline revolves around those pesky Daytona injuries. The subsequent recovery cost him 11 races, a sore spot sure to pop up again if the No. 18 does the unthinkable and wins. Not since Richard Petty in 1971 – the year before the schedule was cut from 48 to 31 races – has NASCAR had a Cup champion who’s missed even one event during the season.

Would fans accept Busch as champ? Those four victories scored over the summer should make it easier. But a titlist who’s missed almost a third of the season will set an intriguing precedent, one that could hurt the sport long-term if drivers who clinched Chase spots choose to sit out certain races in the name of safety. After all, why risk injury when you know NASCAR’s going to grant an exemption?

Did You Notice? Quick hits before taking off…

  • Sunday also marks the finale for both full-time efforts run by Michael Waltrip Racing. The two-car team is poised to end the year with just two top-five finishes, easily their worst effort since 2008. The regression from team on the rise to team on the auction block has been stunning when you consider pre-Spingate Clint Bowyer was once a trendy title pick.
  • What if Dale Earnhardt Jr. was a touch ahead of Logano at Talladega? Would Earnhardt be competing for a championship at Homestead? He certainly looked strong the past three weeks after being eliimintated, winning Phoenix and flexing the muscle he showed earlier this year. Amazing how much one call can make a difference.
  • Yes, Matt Crafton didn’t succeed in his quest to sneak underneath and steal one from Erik Jones at Phoenix. But that pass, my friends success or fail is how the championship in any racing series should be fought for… and won.

About the author

The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.

You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.

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I find it interesting that what Harvick did (which the hubris has died down from Dega) and maybe it should not have, as it apparently had all sorts of implications.


Sorry didn’t finish….

Harvick 3 wins 22 top 5’s 27 top 10’s 1 pole….19 top “3’s” (or 20)
Logano 6 wins 21 top 5’s 27 top 10’s 6 poles…13 top “3’s”

….and we can break down further the top 5’s as to their finishing
order of who got most fours and so on. We can do that with top
10’s who has the most top six, sevens etc. If it helps, but that is
not the point. All, I am sure to make Tom’s point. However, Harvick isn’t
that lone island you make him out to be, another driver is very close to his shores, if
not damn well camping on the other side of the island.

Pardon the sailor lingo.

These are the numbers and others that should be competing a whole
season long, these are the numbers that count. But it is a dog and pony
show…I want a season long Champ, if that means a tweak or two to the old system
fine. But this cannot go on, it is insanity, and anybody with a brain who watch’s despite the
15 minute attention crowd hates it. And I said this last year too. Sorry if it is a broken record, I am
trying, hoping somebody at Castle Daytona may one day read this..and have an epiphany.

…And what is sad is the fact the Logano with mirror image stats is not allowed to compete at Homestead
because of a move that wasn’t cool and clearly intentionally by Matt, and well Harvick with the golden horseshoe around his neck and sticking Teflon, the likes I have not seen since John Gotti, get’s to go for the Homestead Cup.

“But the fact the incident has overshadowed what should be a season to remember for the No. 4 team is a real shame”. HMMMMMM. I was on the fence as to Dega, but I have since re-watched it and I say the audio said the obvious..another gift from Nascar to “the team”.

I say Logano’s accomplishments are overshadowed a 10 fold by Mental Matt, not Harvick demonizing at Dega by fans more astute than I was at that point. Harvick still has the opportunity to ride on Sunday in the gimmick know as the Homestead Cup. No tears for him.

Seriously Tom?


I bet he became mental Matt the day he traded in his Ford for a Toyota. Right kb.


No Davey Dipshiz, saw him in action for years with a BIG PRESS PASS OF SILENCE. Why would YOU blame Toys for his obvious problems…Idiot…as usual. Pounce and make no sense. OOOHHHH what are you going to make up next time? My opinion of course, don’ t get your self shriveled over me like you usually do.

J. Smith

Once again there is no mention of Childers. It’s no coincidence that Harvick’s stats went through the roof immediately when he teamed with Rodney. His history at RCR showed he was consistently better than his teammates and a contender but only now he is dominate. Give credit where it’s due. I wonder if BZF will show the quintessential ‘Dega clip at the Banquet if Harvick wins it all. I wish Harvick would come clean, admit his mistake, and withdraw entry to Homestead. Is this chumpionship really worth a person’s honor and credibility? I can’t think of any sport other than NASCAR & WWE that would accept his actions. I CAN think of some that would banish you for life.


Honor? Credibility? Harvick? NA$CAR? Really?

Carl D.

As much as I think Harvick is a punk, can anyone really blame him for the move he made at Talladega? Sure, it was unsportsmanlike, but it got him into the championship round. I’m sure he gets a nice of a bonus for making the final four and a whole lot more if he wins the championship. I ain’t saying what he did was right, just that when it comes down to business, Harvick did what he had to do.


There are lies, damn lies and statistics. I believe that anyone who thinks numbers don’t lie never took a bookkeeping course.


kb, Gordon’s 2007 season — 6 wins, way ahead of Johnson in the points during the “regular season”. Finished 2nd to him in the chase because of the points reset – even though Gordon set a modern-era record of 30 top-10 finishes.

Many of us have bones to pick with the Chase system.


Yes, but why does that make his one win basically by default “good” and “just” this time when he really didn’t look like he had a prayer if the gift of the MATJI didn’t happen? Fair question. Seems fans are thrilled even though if he wins the Homestead Cup it is a BS win, but one that fans think he is owed. I find it interesting and a tad hypocritical.


kb, I don’t really care if you think it is hypocritical or not. You are a fan of Logano and therefore you are mad about the way this season worked out.

I’ve been a Gordon fan for years and quite honestly have been ticked off a fair amount by the way he’s been raced in the past few years.

You may think if he wins at Homestead it is a BS win and that’s your prerogative. As his longtime fan, I plan to enjoy it.


I see there’s a movie A Cookie Cutter Christmas. Why would I immediately think of it as Brian’s and Jimmie’s favourite movie?

It makes me wonder how much the loss of fans has cost Brian in Christmastime sales?


it would be interesting to see those numbers. For the past several years I’ve bought very few things. I used to buy a new hat every year but with the “cookie cutter” stuff on sale by NASCAR, I got bored and stopped doing it. Plus with all the “special” paint schemes for die cast, that got to be silly IMO, too and that went out the door.

Somewhere in an interview at one of the tracks, Gordon made a comment about how the overkill on some items has impacted the sales of souvenirs. Sounds like the way NASCAR has approached everything – drive it into the ground until people walk away.

Tim S.

Sounds familiar. I can remember how I just had to have as much of my first favorite driver’s stuff as I could possibly buy. Even the packaging from all the different die cast licensees was exciting. Dealers from three states used to call me every time they got something new or different in because I was the “Ernie Irvan Guy.” But then they started with the chrome chase this and platinum that, and it was hard to keep track of, much less afford. And that was in the days of full-season sponsors. I still have all my old stuff, but I’ve bought very little since then.


I have no problem with Busch as the champion despite the missed races. Look at the teams that were just outside the Chase cutoff. Busch did a lot more despite missing 11 races (4 wins) v. those other teams that had a full 26 races to work with. I like to look at “classic points” but this year makes the point that teams would have raced differently under the old system. Case in point, going into Martinsville, Logano would have had a commanding lead, and I doubt Kenseth would have hunted down if not for all the stuff surrounding the Chase. Now, Harvick would have a solid 20 point lead going into Sunday. Just interesting.

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