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Kevin Harvick: Slump or Swan Song? -NASCAR talk

In 775 races, Kevin Harvic achieved one championship, 58 wins, 241 Top 5 finishes and 424 Top 10 finishes. But he hasn’t won the last 64 races — since the fall of 2020 in Bristol. And he is the oldest full-time driver in the Cup series, turning 47 in December. Is Harvic’s recent performance sluggish, or is it a signal that it may be time to consider wearing a fire suit?

data

It is not possible to model a driver’s career for the purpose of predicting the future. There are too many variables.

Drivers change owners, crew chiefs, and manufacturers. The track will change. The schedule will be changed. In addition to unexpected events such as injuries and shootings.

Statistics cannot predict the future, but they help us understand the past, so we can make more knowledgeable decisions.

The career of an elite driver follows a three-step pattern.

  • Early careers are often start-up periods with little or no wins. The driver may belong to a smaller team or may simply be learning.
  • In the middle stages, which usually make up the majority of the career, the driver wins on a regular basis. The cumulative rate of wins may change, but the number of wins will increase.
  • Unless the driver quits in the middle of his career, his or her stats will peak as they approach retirement. There is no more victory. After that, the top 5 finishes disappear. If they hang out long enough, they will eventually stop finishing in the top 10.

The simplest example of an elite career pattern is Jimmie Johnson. He drove for the same team throughout his career, and Chad Knaus was the chief of all crew except his last two seasons.

The best way to identify a driver’s career is to plot cumulative wins and years of competition, as we did in Johnson below.

  • Johnson had almost no warm-up period. He won three races in his first full-time season.
  • I drew a line on the points of mid-career recruitment. His average win rate is the slope of the line. The data points fit the line pretty well until around 2015. Subsequent points are below what the mid-career line predicts.
  • Johnson won his final victory in 2017. He ran another 131 races before his retirement.

Harvic’s cumulative victory graph is a bit more complicated.

Kevin Harvic Cumulative Victory vs Season Scatter Plot

He had a longer start-up phase with a stop and a start compared to Johnson’s immediate rise.

Harvic won five races in 2006 and the Daytona 500 in 2007. After that, he did not return to the winning lane until the ninth race of 2010. This is a slump in 115 races.

Of course, the problem with slump is that it can only be identified that way after the slump is over.

Harvic’s career began in 2010, and despite the change of owner and crew chief in 2014, the victory continued steadily.

The last three data points in Harvic’s graph are a bit like the Johnson Plateau. The difference is that the total wins of most drivers taper towards the final value. Harvic just stopped.

That’s unusual. But the last two years have been unusual, especially for Ford.

In 2021, a change in NASCAR inspection procedures forced Ford to change the shape of the rear wheel well. Rodney Childers told Sirius XMNASCAR Radio that the change removed 70 counts of aerodynamic downforce from the car. More importantly Unbalance the car..

All research and development on the soon-to-be-extinct Gen-6 car was frozen, forcing the Ford team to rebalance the car without wind tunnel data.

Of course, this year the next generation of cars rocked everything. It doesn’t make sense to treat the last two years the same as the previous year.

Data again: Harvic didn’t win in 2021, but only had one less P2-P5 finish than in 2020. Historically, the winning plateau is followed by the top five finishes. This is not the case now.

Therefore, I interpret the flat line of Harvic’s cumulative win graph as a slump.

diagnose

Harvic’s season glance graph shows rank and finish. He had three DNFs: Daytona, Gateway’s World Wide Technology Raceway, and Bristol Dirt Race.

Kevin Harvic's annual graph. Shows the rank and finish of each race.

The graph also shows some recent improvements compared to the beginning of the season. Harvic was on track for his fifth Top 10 finish in the last six races, before being collateralized by the Denny Hamlin-Rothschilds feud at Pocono.

Harvic’s only way to secure a playoff spot is to win the next five races. His crew chief, Rodney Childers, is optimistic.

“Maybe we weren’t the strongest all year long,” Childers said. The people here are working hard. Everyone at Ford and the engine shop really made some good profits, and we definitely feel like we’re heading in the right direction. “

There is no win, but the Harvic team has many advantages.

  • Harvic is in 10th place in points, just one point below William Byron. It doesn’t help him in the playoffs, but it shows that he is competitive even in the very challenging seasons.
  • He is fourth in the top 10 finish with 11 with Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson. The drivers in front of this trio are Chase Elliott (15 Top 10 finishes), Ross Chastain (14) and Christopher Bell (12).
  • In the Top 5 finish, Harvic tied 8th with Joey Logano, Daniels Ares and Kurt Busch. Chastain has the 10 most top 5 finishes.
  • Kyle Busch has the most lead lap finish at 19, while Harvic is second at 18.
  • Despite these three DNFs, Harvic’s average finish position is 13.3, tying in 4th place with Larson and Martin Truex Jr.

The issue of distinguishing between Harvic and the checkered flag, which has been contracted until 2023, revolves around speed and starting position.

  • Of the 5,433 laps possible, Harvic led only 13 laps. This puts Harvic in 26th place compared to other drivers. He hasn’t even come close to a pace comparable to a total of 217 laps last season. In 2020 he led the most laps in the series: 1,531.
  • Kyle Busch leads the fastest lap at 325. Harvic is 108, 16th.

If the other three SHR cars, or even other Fords, were overtaking Harvic, I would take a different approach to the slump and swan song question. But Ford is behind the curve in 2022. Chevy has 12 victories (57.1%) this year. Toyota only participated in 6 cars and won 5 races (23.8%), while Ford won 4 races (19.0%).

Of Ford, only Ryan Blaney is above the average Harvic finish position, but not so much. Compared to Harvic’s 13.28, Brainy comes in at 13.14. The graph below compares the finish position of the top Ford driver to the finish position of Elliott, who has the highest average finish at 9.95.

Graphic comparing Topford and Kevin Harvic finishes

The final graph highlights Harvic’s biggest weakness, the average starting position. When you return to the scene, not only will you have more work to move forward, but you will also be more likely to be involved in an accident.

Graphic comparing Topford and Kevin Harvic qualifiers

Bad qualifying is a new issue. Harvic’s average starting position this year was 19.0 and last year it was 9.7. Harvic has the worst qualifying average of any SHR car, but the highest finish average. Improving qualifying is important to end the current slump.

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