NASCAR Veterans Poised for Deep Playoff Run

Denny Hamlin

Getty Denny Hamlin (left) is poised to fight for his first championship.

The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs begin on September 4 with a trip to Darlington Raceway. Two veteran drivers in Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin are poised to capitalize after recent strong performances.

Kevin Harvick has stolen the show recently with back-to-back wins. He snapped a 65-race winless streak with his trip to Victory Lane at Michigan International Speedway on August 7. He then continued his strong run with a win at Richmond Raceway on August 14.

Harvick’s wins have created conversations about whether he can be a championship four contender, but they are not the only reason for the shift. The Closer has been consistent overall throughout the 2022 season with top-five finishes in the Richmond spring race, Darlington Raceway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Sonoma Raceway, and New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He and the No. 4 team have just capitalized on opportunities more recently.

These wins have also shaken up the championship odds. Harvick now sits at 12-1 after entering the year at 14-1, per BetMGM. He is in a tie with Team Penske’s Joey Logano for sixth overall in the Cup Series.

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Hamlin Has Rocketed Up the Points Standings

Denny Hamlin

GettyDenny Hamlin has made major moves in recent weeks.

The start of the Next Gen era was anything but enjoyable for Hamlin and the No. 11 team. They dealt with crashes, mechanical issues, and pit road mishaps among other issues that dropped them outside of the top 20.

Hamlin partially turned his season around with an April 3 win at Richmond Raceway and a May 29 win at Charlotte Motor Speedway. However, he still remained around the 20th spot in the championship standings, especially after a piece of tape led to his disqualification at Pocono Raceway.

The situation has significantly changed over the course of three weeks as the Toyota teams have hit their stride. Hamlin finished 14th at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and moved up to 19th in points. He then moved up two more spots after a third-place finish at Michigan International Speedway when he finished second in Stage 1 and won Stage 2.

The biggest leap for Hamlin and the No. 11 team took place in the most recent trip to Richmond Raceway. He scored the most points out of the field by finishing Stage 1 in the second position, Stage 2 in the third position, and the final stage in the fourth position.

Hamlin’s consistent performance at Richmond helped him add 50 points to his total. He used them to move up to 12th in points, which is by far his best position all season. Granted, he could have added even more if not for a long pit stop during the final stage that essentially knocked him out of contention for the win.

Hamlin made it clear at Darlington Raceway that his approach for the rest of the season would be to stockpile as many points as possible. He has done just that while setting himself up to be the eighth seed in the playoffs. He will head to Darlington Raceway with at least 13 bonus points, which should help him move past the Round of 16.

Harvick & Hamlin Have Extensive Success at Upcoming Tracks

Denny Hamlin

GettyDenny Hamlin celebrates a win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Harvick will now continue the pursuit of his second championship at tracks where he has previous success. He has three wins at Darlington, three at Kansas, three at Bristol, three at Texas Motor Speedway, one at Talladega, two at Las Vegas, one at Homestead-Miami, one at Martinsville, and nine at Phoenix.

Hamlin, who has yet to win a Cup Series championship, has similar success at these tracks. He has four wins at Darlington, including the playoff-opening race in 2021, as well as three wins at Kansas and three at Bristol.

Hamlin’s run of success includes three wins at Texas, two at Talladega, one at Las Vegas (2021 playoffs), three at Homestead-Miami, five at Martinsville, and two at Phoenix. Hamlin was within reach of his sixth Martinsville win during the 2021 playoffs, but contact from Alex Bowman sent him spinning with seven laps remaining.

These performances don’t guarantee that either Harvick or Hamlin will return to the championship four and battle for the Bill France Trophy. However, their recent performances and history of success only guarantee that they will be two of the top names to watch.

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