Paul Abell/Associated Press
Kevin Harvick, winner of two checkered flags already, leads the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series into ISM Raceway on Sunday for the TicketGuardian 500.
There, the dominant Harvick will look to make it three consecutive wins in a row. Technically speaking, Joey Logano leads the series in points, as the stage-based format continues to keep things fresh as it did over the course of the entire season a year ago.
But Harvick is the big name to know here, especially with a major face like Jimmie Johnson continuing to struggle.
Here’s a look at everything to know about Sunday’s event,
Where: ISM Raceway
When: Sunday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: Fox Sports GO
1. Martin Truex Jr. (Best time: 26.288)
2. Kyle Larson (26.346)
3. Chase Elliott (26.446)
4. Alex Bowman (26.455)
5. Joey Logano (26.481)
6. Denny Hamlin (26.490)
7. Kyle Busch (26.496)
8. Jamie McMurray (26.497)
9. Erik Jones (26.504)
10. Kevin Harvick (26.564)
Full starting order available at NASCAR.com.
2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Standings
|1. Kevin Harvick||115|
|2. Austin Dillon||94|
|3. Joey Logano||132|
|4. Ryan Blaney||131|
|5. Martin Truex Jr.||115|
|6. Kyle Busch||104|
|7. Kyle Larson||104|
|8. Brad Keselowski||99|
|9. Denny Hamlin||97|
|10. Paul Menard||96|
|11. Clint Bowyer||93|
|12. Aric Almirola||93|
|13. Kurt Busch||77|
|14. Ryan Newman||75|
|15. Darrell Wallace Jr.||68|
|16. Chris Buescher||67|
Drivers to Watch
Terry Renna/Associated Press
Besides Harvick, Ryan Newman is one of the most successful names at this event, having won it back in 2010 and following up with a win a year ago. There, Newman led six laps after starting 22nd and went to Victory Lane, the only time he’d do so on the season.
One has to think Phoenix again represents one of Newman’s best chances at picking up a win this year. He started the season hot by finishing eighth at the Daytona 500 but has finished 22nd and 11th since.
Other than two wins, Newman’s entire resume at Phoenix speaks plainly to the fact he’s a major contender this weekend, per Coca-Cola Racing:
Coca-Cola Racing @CocaColaRacing
Defending race winner @RyanJNewman knows his way around @ISMRaceway. He has 12 top-10 finishes at the track – and 10 of those are top-fives, including two wins (2010, 2017). https://t.co/SxjksKGYWq
Lewis is hanging around near the bottom of the playoff cutoff in regards to points, so like Austin Dillon, he’d like to get an automatic bid and secure himself a spot in the postseason.
Newman’s potential best chance has arrived, and rest assured he realizes it.
Terry Renna/Associated Press
Johnson will continue to be a weekly topic of conversation until he gets back to form.
Because right now, he isn’t anywhere close to his usual self.
Johnson sloppily landed 38th at Daytona, a forgivable hiccup if he corrected form. Instead, he finished 27th in Atlanta before going to Las Vegas and finishing 12th—leading zero laps over the course of the season to date.
Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal. We’re talking about the driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet, after all. But consider a point that Matt Willis of ESPN Stats & Information made: “Johnson specifically should be worried, as he’s at an age, 42, when drivers have shown signs of falling off. And his 25.7 average finish is his worst through three races in his 17 full seasons.”
Johnson himself offered up a counterpoint, though:
Jimmie Johnson @JimmieJohnson
How about those young guys! Oh wait… a 42 year old won. And won for the 2nd time this year… man I’m happy to be 42. 😎
Nobody should doubt Johnson’s ability to turn it around. But a sign of life might be good for fans considering he’s in one of the biggest droughts of his career dating back to last season.
Johnson, a winner of this event in 2008, is on a minor upswing already. If he can take a cue from Harvick and hit on a run, he’ll put a silence to the questions.
Isaac Brekken/Associated Press
There’s no questioning Harvick, at least.
By most accounts, this wasn’t easy to see coming at all—Harvick had a dud of a trip at Daytona, landing 31st after starting sixth.
A week later, he took the checkered flag at Atlanta, leading 181 laps out of the third spot. Outdoing himself at the expense of the rest of the field, he then led 214 laps in Las Vegas out of the second spot to take yet another checkered flag.
And the hits just keep coming—Harvick has won this weekend’s event four times, which is quite the number considering it first ran back in 2005. He won it first in 2006, then won it three times in a row starting in 2014.
The goal now? Four out of the last five at this event and a third in a row four races into the season.
Harvick hasn’t been without problems, though, thanks to violations found on his car during the event in Las Vegas, per ESPN’s Bob Pockrass:
Bob Pockrass @bobpockrass
Kevin Harvick will lose the seven playoff points he earned for winning the race and both stages for two violations NASCAR found in his race-winning car from Las Vegas. He also was docked 20 regular-season points. His car chief, Robert Smith, was… https://t.co/FkbDQmvKRz
Still, if somebody could afford a setback like that, it’s Harvick heading into an event he dominates while already clutching a pair of wins.
The rest of the series remains interesting because of the stages, but few have legitimately challenged Harvick down the stretch yet.
Stats and info courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.