Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: Is Michigan the Best Opportunity for Kevin Harvick to Win?

Chris Buescher has two wins in the past 12 months while teammate Brad Keselowski has none. Is Buescher actually better with the current NASCAR Cup Series car than the former champion?

Luken Glover: The NBC Sports broadcast booth had excellent insight into the performance of RFK Racing. Both Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher run very similar to each other, which is a good thing when their cars are strong. If you look at their stats since Keselowski came over, they nearly mirror each other. Buescher was a little better in 2022 with a win, three top fives to Keselowski’s one, 10 top 10s to Keselowski’s six and a 17.9 average finish to Keselowski’s 19.2. This year, they have the same amount of top fives and top 10s. Keselowski is higher in points (11th, while Buescher is 13th) and has led more laps. However, Buescher has a better average finish by one position. What the No. 17 team has done is close the deal at both Bristol Motor Speedway last year and Richmond Raceway last week. Keselowski had a shot to win in both, but a flat tire and pit road issue derailed him in both. Buescher is a future champion, and Keselowski’s win is coming soon. The No. 17 team has just been a little better overall.

Frank Velat: Buescher is a better driver than his win record might lead one to believe. He’s become a threat on short tracks and finishes close to the front on road courses more and more lately. Buescher could finally land a multiple-win season, especially with Daytona International Speedway and the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL still on the schedule. That said, Keselowski didn’t just forget how to win. His on-track production actually mirrors his teammate quite closely. The  No. 17 may have gotten to victory lane first, but the No. 6 could be in the mix in several of the season’s remaining events.

Andrew Stoddard: There is no question that Buescher has figured something out with the Next Gen car that Keselowski has not, especially on the short tracks. In addition to the 2-to-0 advantage in wins, Buescher has two more top fives and four more top-10 finishes than his boss since Keselowski arrived at RFK and the Next Gen car was introduced at the start of the 2022 season. With his success in the Next Gen, Buescher has evolved from a forgotten mid-pack driver into a legitimate contender, and he will be a dark horse to watch during the Cup playoffs.

Steve Leffew: Buescher is a talented driver. A NASCAR Xfinity Series champion. He is entering his prime. Keselowski is on the back end of his prime. It does seem like Buescher has been in the mix to win more than Keselowski since they became teammates. 

Mike Neff: Based on comparison of their performance over the last two years, Buescher has been slightly better. Not just more wins but more top fives and more top 10s. They both seem to be performing better over the schedule this year than last, but Buescher is doing the better of the two.

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Did You Notice?: Chris Buescher Who? No Respect for 3-Time NASCAR Winner

Kevin Harvick has won five of the past seven races at Michigan International Speedway. Is this weekend his best shot at winning in his final season?

Leffew: Michigan is up there, for sure. But you have to think Kevin Harvick will also be a factor at Bristol, Martinsville Speedway and Phoenix Raceway. 

Glover: Not necessarily. Harvick may not have a win so far, but he has had his share of competitive races. Despite Stewart-Haas Racing’s struggles, Harvick is still racing inside the top 10 and is still dangerous at the age of 47. Michigan definitely has to be one of the favorites for him to get that victory. However, given Ford’s struggles on bigger tracks, there is a short track where I will keep my eye on Harvick: Bristol. His stats in Thunder Valley may not be as impressive as Michigan, but in the past four races, he has three top-three finishes, including a win in 2020. If he and Rodney Childers can dial the car in to run the unique line he runs there, he will be extremely likely to find victory lane. 

Stoddard: Michigan is easily Harvick’s best remaining opportunity at a win in his farewell season. Harvick has definitely hit on something at MIS over the past few years. In addition to his five wins, Harvick has only finished outside the top 10 once at Michigan since 2018. Harvick’s resounding recent success at Michigan is part of a bigger trend for Ford. The blue ovals have won the past eight races in their own backyard, going back to 2018. Furthermore, both Ford and Harvick are trending upward at the right time. Ford has the most recent race winner in Buescher, and Harvick is on a three-race top 10 streak. Harvick and the No. 4 team are among the favorites to reach victory lane.

Neff: Harvick is good at Michigan, but we still have a race at Phoenix. His record in the desert is tremendous. It would be good for him to notch a win in the regular season, but Phoenix is still his best shot at a win.

Velat: For a while it seemed as if Harvick had found a four-leaf clover in the Irish Hills, because he was almost unbeatable. The armor isn’t as impenetrable as it once was, but Harvick still has to be the odds-on favorite. We’ve seen from his stranglehold on Phoenix that just when you think there’s no way he could possibly win again, he goes out and does exactly that. Michigan isn’t the last track on the schedule that he could win at, but on paper, I don’t know of any that seem more likely for Harvick to do one final burnout.

NASCAR is looking at offering driver incentives for promoting NASCAR that could include rankings. Should Cup drivers be ranked based on how positively they promote the sport?

Leffew: Absolutely not. This is a terrible idea. There can be some kind of incentive for promoting the sport, but ranking them as drivers overall based on it? No thanks. 

Neff: What? Are we selling Amway now? The racers’ job is to race and promote their sponsors. They need to interact with the fans to promote their own brands, but there isn’t a need to incentivize them to promote the sport. That is NASCAR’s job.

Velat: I can’t decide which this reeks of more: desperation or a lack of effort. So the teacher’s pet is going to get some kind of kudos, but this will likely confuse fans even more. In every other sport that ranks participants (NCAA, golf, tennis, etc.), No. 1 is considered the best. So here’s yet another thing that the TV booth is going to have to explain every single broadcast because it doesn’t make any sense without an explanation. How about we rank NASCAR marketing strategists based on who comes up with the most competent ideas?

Stoddard: NASCAR definitely needs to give the drivers some encouragement or a kick in the pants to go out and market the sport. Chase Elliott, the sport’s most popular driver, appears reluctant to put himself out there, and many other drivers are following his lead. Over the past few years, it feels like driver cameos in movies or TV shows have declined significantly. That could be worth a lot of incentives or points in these new promotion rankings.

Glover: I’m on the fence with this one. One of the glaring holes in NASCAR today is the lack of star power. We don’t have names that almost everyone knows like Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Bill Elliott or Jimmie Johnson. More promotion from drivers could be a step in achieving that, though results have to match it, too. Conversely, should NASCAR force its drivers to do so and rank them based on their promotion of the sport? That’s not a great look. Partiality would be a potential threat in that scenario, plus it doesn’t necessarily cure the problem that NASCAR doesn’t do a great job at promoting drivers. Drivers should be encouraged to promote the sport, and an incentives program would be fair. I just don’t agree with ranking them based on it, nor should it overshadow the needed improvement for NASCAR to better its marketing. 

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Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus & Donnie Allison to Be Inducted Into NASCAR Hall of Fame

With Sam Mayer winning last weekend at Road America, the NASCAR Xfinity Series is up to eight full-time winners. Is getting to 12 feasible with six regular season races left?

Neff: Feasible for sure, considering you have Josh Berry, Brandon Jones, Daniel Hemric, Sheldon Creed, Parker Kligerman and Riley Herbst all looking for wins. Two road courses and Daytona absolutely give a great number of drivers a shot. Getting to 12 does not seem to be that difficult.

Glover: There are a few winless drivers who have a legitimate shot at winning before the year ends. Berry is still winless so far after winning three in 2022. He nearly won at Pocono Raceway before a late incident and he sits fifth in points with 12 top 10s. He will be a factor in more races, and I would be surprised if he doesn’t win. Hemric is still a bit off from having consistent, front-running speed, but he has also earned some strong finishes by being there at the end. He could definitely sneak a win in. Outside of them, it gets murky. Creed has contended for wins in his Xfinity career, but he has been unable to avoid trouble, a theme for him in 2023. Herbst could steal a win, but he hasn’t proven that he can close the deal. We know Jones can win races, but that team has looked anything but a winning team so far. From there, an upset win at a road course or Daytona could happen, but 12 winners is unlikely.

Velat: Had you told me in February that Berry, Jones, Hemric and Creed would all be winless going into August, I’d have taken that bet. That said, I just don’t see 12 winners happening. I have always felt that it does get a little easier for Xfinity drivers to get a win as the season goes on, with Cup drivers not meddling as often and team relationships hitting their stride. But crossing four drivers off of the winless list in a six-race span is a little too much to anticipate.

Stoddard: The chances are slim to none. There is just not enough parity among the Xfinity regulars to think that four new winners will pop up in six races. Austin Hill and John Hunter Nemechek have combined to collect eight of 21 checkered flags, over a third of the races so far. Then, there is the matter of the Cup guys. Even in an era when Cup regulars are limited to five starts per season in the lower series, four of the 21 Xfinity races have been won by Cup drivers. As long as the threat of Cup regulars looms large, the ability of second-tier Xfinity teams to break through for a race win will be limited. Out of the current winless Xfinity drivers, I see Berry winning before the playoffs begin, but that is about it.  

Leffew: Is it possible? Yes. It is feasible? Sure. Is it likely? Not at all. You do still have Creed, Jones, Herbst, Hemric and Kligerman out there in rides capable of winning. You could possibly throw in Brett Moffitt and handful of others at Daytona. But the way this season has gone and the way these teams have been running, I would be shocked if we made it to 11 different full-time winners. 

About the author

Frank Velat has been an avid follower of NASCAR and other motorsports for over 20 years. He brings a blend of passionate fan and objective author to his work. Frank offers unique perspectives that everyone can relate to, remembering the sport's past all the while embracing its future. Follow along with @FrankVelat on Twitter.

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