Kevin Harvick finished outside the top 15 only six times during 2021. He had a top-10 average of .667, but if pressed to answer, he would probably tell you this was one of the worst seasons of his career.
That is only a matter of perspective.
Entering the season, Harvick qualified for all eight knockout-style playoffs since 2014 and until this year, he was part of the Round of 8 every season; he missed the Championship 4 just twice, in 2016 and 2020. That was more than any other driver until Joey Logano tied him with seven third-round appearances this year. Harvick was the first KO championship winner in a season that featured three playoff wins, including the last two races.
His difficulties started much earlier than this season, however. In 2020, Harvick had the most wins at nine. For most of the season, he was the favorite to win the championship – especially since the finale was moved to Phoenix Raceway, a track he metaphorically owned at the time. Harvick didn't make it to the final round, however.
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A crash at Talladega Superspeedway started his downward slide. A 16th-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway put him in a precarious position and Martinsville Speedway sealed his fate. Harvick ran badly throughout that race, but still had a last-lap chance to advance if he could manage to wreck Kyle Busch on the final lap.
A banzai move on the last lap by Harvick ended with him in the wall instead of the No. 18.
Daytona International Speedway is not a track on which one wants to try and reverse their fate – especially when it counts as a driver's worst course in terms of average finishes. But Harvick survived the chaotic affair and finished fifth.
Things were looking up.
Harvick finished sixth or better in four of the first five races. He was 10th the following week, but slowly questions were beginning to get asked about whether he would be able to win. The results were solid, but he was not really challenging for that elusive first-place. Following that race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, he was on a 13-race streak without a win.
Harvick entered Week 6 as the favorite with +560 odds at PointsBet Sportsbook, but he would not be as highly regarded for the remainder of the season.
In Week 7, on the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt track, he was posted at +3000, (ranked 16th in the field). He was +1500 at Martinsville, and would be counted among the top-five ranked drivers only five more times during the season, (at Darlington 1, Dover, Pocono, Atlanta 2, and Michigan).
As the season progressed, the pressure continued to build and when he was denied victory at Bristol Motor Speedway after being held up by Chase Elliott in traffic, his frustration reached a boiling point. The feud wound up costing Harvick more than Elliott. After intentionally wrecking the No. 9 on the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course, Harvick crashed latter in the race without assistance and was eliminated from the playoffs.
He ended 2021 without a win for the first time in 11 seasons. Entering the 2022 Daytona 500, Harvick is winless in his last 43 starts.
But a disappointing season by Harvick's standards is still pretty good when compared to the field. Harvick earned top-10s in two-thirds of his starts. Except for back-to-back disappointments at Road America and Atlanta in July and another three-race stint of mid-teens results in August, he never went more than a week without gracing the top 10.
The main reason Harvick failed to advance to the Round of 8 was because of a lack of bonus points. Without an overall victory or a stage win, Harvick's attempt to get to the finale was a longshot. But this driver tends to rebound.
In 2018, Harvick won eight times after posting just two in 2017. He had a solid season in 2019 with four wins, but was even better in 2020 with nine victories.
It's hard to imagine the No. 4 team will go without at least two wins in 2022, so bettors should him considered when he is posted at +1500 or greater – and that is likely to happen several times in the first half of the season. Last year Harvick was at or above that mark in 17 of the 36 races.
Three Best Tracks *
Homestead (6.6 in 19 attempts)
Phoenix (8.8 in 38)
Kansas (9.0 in 32)
Three Worst Tracks *
Daytona (17.2 in 41)
Talladega (15.6 in 42)
Atlanta (15.4 in 32)
* Active track, three or more starts
Victories: None; Best of second: Kansas 1, Bristol (paved)
Top-fives: 10 (.278)
Top-10s: 24 (.667)
Top-15s: 30 (.833)
Top-20s: 31 (.861)
2021 Finishes at or above rank = 20 (55.6%)
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