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Harvick’s Hall Hopes Could Hinge On 2014 Chase

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, October 17 2014

Kevin Harvick's Hall hopes may hinge on events of next couple of weeks. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Rusty Jarrett)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Every person in the world who knows the feeling of Nomex on skin wants to win a major automobile racing championship. Then there are those few who need to win one. And there, perhaps, sits Kevin Harvick today.

For reasons of history and legitimacy and the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Harvick, more than any other driver still in contention to win the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, needs to win the big, ugly silver trophy.

And with the way NASCAR has successfully structured everything around parity in recent years, he may need to do it this year.

Harvick, right now, is not a Hall of Fame driver.

In terms of race victories, his raw number, 26, looks good. It’s the same as that of Fred Lorenzen, who was elected to the Hall in Charlotte, this year. It’s bigger by one, than that of Joe Weatherly, who was also elected this year. His victory total will almost certainly surpass the 33 of Fireball Roberts, who owns space in the wonderful new HOF building.

His victory number also should continue to grow over the years.

But Harvick’s situation is different than those of those folks.

Weatherly has a couple of championships and also has another thing that Roberts and Lorenzen have – status as NASCAR pioneers. They were there then.

And, they drove in a time during which victory numbers can’t be accurately considered by using contemporary modalities. That is, saying that Lorenzen should not be in the Hall because he won just 26 premier series races and no championships shows an absence of historical perspective.

NASCAR in the Harvick era, and NASCAR in Lorenzen’s era, is similar in very few relevant ways. As Richard Petty said of then-versus-now earlier this year during a break on Hall of Fame voting day, “it’s a whole different deal”.

For drivers who logged the bulk of their starts in this century, the deal is different in that they better have a championship or gaudy victory numbers to get into the Hall.

How to you define gaudy? Tough one as it is a moving target. But it is certainly more than 50. Somebody like Mark Martin, who won 40 races, will likely get into the Hall at some point but there will be other considerations – considerations like championship runner-up seasons and Busch/Nationwide numbers.

Non-gaudy-number guys like Dale Earnhardt Jr. may also get in at some point because of less tangible aspects of their careers – aspects like pumping life into the sport – and winning back-to-back championships in Nationwide/Busch.

Harvick broke into Cup in a big – but tragic – way. He was put into the Richard Childress Racing seat of iconic Dale Earnhardt Sr. the week after the first-ballot Hall of Famer died as a result of a crash on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.

Harvick responded to the nearly impossible situation by winning in his second start and then once more before the end of the year. He sat ninth in points when season ended at the 9/11-postponed race at New Hampshire that year.

There was little doubt among the wags that offseason that Harvick would eventually become one of the greats of the sport.

But while Harvick has put together an extremely solid Cup career, it is one that will likely need a championship to have it all end in the Hall of Fame.

Harvick, who is creeping up on 40 years of age, won at Charlotte Motor Speedway last Saturday night. In doing so, he earned entry into the third round of the Chase. Under the Chase’s new elimination format, that means a week from now, he will be one of just eight drivers still in contention for this year’s championship.

With fast cars every week and problems on pit road solved, he and the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team can smell championship. They are agonizingly close – agony which became evident by Harvick’s use of terms like “puke” and “throw up” during his post-race presser in relation to tension and pressure.

If getting into the Hall of Fame is a Harvick goal, then right now is the time.

The new Chase format has been kind to Harvick and his team this year. But events of the last five weeks show how capricious and unforgiving the format can be.

It’s pretty much this simple: If Harvick, who has won the Daytona 500 – which, is big criteria-wise – wins the 2014 championship and continues to win multiple races for the next couple of years, he will eventually be voted into the Hall of Fame.

If he doesn’t win this year’s championship, the puking and throwing up could go on for a long time.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, October 17 2014
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