What has turned into almost a weekly Kevin Harvick-Denny Hamlin duel in the NASCAR Cup Series this season appears headed to another showdown Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Harvick and Hamlin ended last season as two of the four drivers competing for the series title at Homestead, Fla., and this year, the duo has combined to win nine of the season’s first 19 races.
Hamlin got the most recent leg up in the one-on-one battle, claiming his fifth win of the season last week at Kansas Speedway.
Harvick, however, enters Sunday’s race looking for his third consecutive victory at New Hampshire after dispatching – who else? – Hamlin on the final lap to win the 2019 event.
It just seems like the flat tracks, flat short tracks, I have always been really, really good at.
In the closing laps, Harvick led a hard-charging Hamlin, but lapped traffic slowed him just enough for Hamlin to close the gap. The two raced side-by-side down the backstretch on the final lap before making contact coming out of Turn 4 and heading for the checkered flag. Harvick prevailed by a razor-thin 0.210-second margin.
“We were either leaving on a tow truck or winning the race,” Harvick said after the event. “He did exactly what he was supposed to do, and I feel like I did what I was supposed to do to try to win the race.”
Respect among rivals
Both drivers and their respective crew chiefs appear to have a mutual respect for the other and while the Cup series may have its share of up-and-coming talent, it’s two drivers 39 or older who continue to set the pace this season.
“Those guys have been solid,” Hamlin said of Harvick’s No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team. “They’re going to be in the top five even on their bad days. That’s just a strong race team.
“What you’ve seen from us in the last year with the No. 11 and the No. 4 is a lot of mutual respect. We race each other with a lot of mutual respect because we know it won’t be the last time. We still have probably many years of battles ahead of us.
“We’ve been around the sport a long time. We butted heads early in my career. He’s certainly a guy that I personally would like to model myself after.”
Both drivers have had success at New Hampshire but Harvick has been the most consistent. Harvick has won three of the last five Cup races at the track and is an odds-on favorite to make it four-of-six this weekend.
“This place has been really good to us, and I think Rodney (Childers, crew chief) and I probably feel like we should have – could have – won them all,” Harvick said. “But it’s been a race track that has been really good for us from a performance standpoint.
“And I think, from a confidence standpoint, being able to adjust on the car and know what we’re looking for, I think this is definitely a race track where a lot of those things came into play. We used a lot of the same things that we’ve used in the past as far as tools of how we make our car go around the corner.”
Leading the way
Harvick arrives at New Hampshire leading the Cup Series standings with 763 points, 97 ahead of second-place Brad Keselowski.
He’s led the points since the conclusion of the March race at Phoenix, including every week since NASCAR returned to action in mid-May following a two-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
If Harvick adds another win Sunday, it would be his 54th in the Cup Series, which would tie him at 11th on the all-time list with NASCAR Hall of Famer Lee Petty.
Circumstances will be different this time around due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
There will be no practice or qualifying prior to Sunday’s race and unlike every other Cup weekend at the track, there will not be numerous other series running races prior to Sunday.
Hamlin and Harvick’s teams have been two of the best at adapting to the condensed schedule this season and there’s no reason to think they won’t find themselves on the track battling for the win again on Sunday.
“It just seems like the flat tracks, flat short tracks, I have always been really, really good at,” Hamlin said. “It feels like an eternity since we’ve run a short track other than the All-Star Race.
“We’re going to be going back there with a different aerodynamic package (from last year). We can’t just rely on the notes that we had. The closest thing we could use is probably Phoenix. I wrecked out of that race early so we don’t have a whole lot of notes to go by.
“I’m sure we’ll be pretty close when we get there.”
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