How Kevin Harvick's 2020 compares to other great non-title winning seasons in modern NASCAR

Nick Bromberg
·6-min read

Kevin Harvick’s great 2020 isn’t going to be rewarded with a championship.

The season’s winningest driver is guaranteed to finish no better than fifth in the standings after he failed to advance to the final four Sunday at Martinsville. Harvick ended up 17th after he tried to turn Kyle Busch to gain a position on the last lap and ended up wrecking himself.

Harvick struggled for most of the day on Sunday. He ran outside the top five almost immediately from the start of the race and had to pit under green in the second stage for a flat tire.

Harvick ended up getting the two laps that he lost back but he never had a car capable of getting to the front of the field and challenging for a top-10 finish. That was massive as he failed to earn any stage points during the race.

MARTINSVILLE, VIRGINIA - NOVEMBER 01: Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Mobil 1 Ford, drives with sparks after an on-track incident on the last lap of the NASCAR Cup Series Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway on November 01, 2020 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick tried to spin Kyle Busch for a position at Martinsville and ended up crashing himself. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

“We just weren’t good and everybody on our Mobil 1 Ford just kept battling to make it better and gave ourselves a shot there at the end,” Harvick said after getting out if his car. “I tried to drive into the door of [Busch’s car] to get that last point to make it and spun him out. I don’t usually drive like that, but you’re trying to make it to the Championship 4 and doing everything you can. Just came up short. Just not the night we needed.”

It’s a massive surprise that Harvick isn’t one of the four drivers racing for the title on Nov. 8 at Phoenix. He’s the first driver since NASCAR instituted its current playoff and points format in 2017 to lead the Cup Series in wins but fail to advance to the final round.

He’s also just the third driver in those four years to start the playoffs in the top four and fail to finish the playoffs in the top four.

But Harvick isn’t the first driver in NASCAR to have an extraordinary season and fail to win the title. Here’s how his 2020 season stacks up to other great non-title winning seasons in NASCAR’s playoff era.

2004 Jimmie Johnson (2nd)

8 wins, 20 top 5s, 23 top 10s

Johnson led the Cup Series in wins and was the only driver to have 20 top-five finishes. But he fell victim to two poor finishes in NASCAR’s inaugural playoffs. He finished 37th and 32nd at Talladega and Kansas to fall to ninth in the standings. While Johnson made up seven spots in the standings thanks to four wins over the final six races, he lost by eight points to Kurt Busch as Busch had just one finish outside the top 10 during the playoffs.

2008 Carl Edwards (2nd)

9 wins, 19 top 5s, 27 top 10s

Edwards had two more wins, four more top fives and five more top 10s than Johnson did. But Johnson won the title by 69 points. Much like Johnson in 2004, Edwards was undone by back-to-back bad finishes in the playoffs. He was 29th at Talladega and 33rd at Charlotte. He then went third, first, first, fourth and first over the final five races of the playoffs but Johnson had already established too big of a gap.

2008 Kyle Busch (10th)

8 wins, 17 top 5s, 21 top 10s

Busch’s season utterly collapsed when the playoffs began. He won an astonishing eight races in the regular season as seven of those wins came during a 14-race stretch over the spring and summer. And then things fell apart. Busch started on the pole in the first race of the playoffs at finished 34th. Then he was last the next week at Dover because of an engine failure. A 28th-place finish at Kansas in the third race of the playoffs ended any shot Busch had at the title and he ended up finishing 10th in the standings.

2010 Denny Hamlin (2nd)

8 wins, 14 top 5s, 18 top 10s

Hamlin had two more wins in 2010 than Johnson did as the seven-time champion won his fifth title. But Hamlin infamously finished 12th at Phoenix in the penultimate race of the season as Johnson cut into his lead by 18 points. Hamlin led by 15 entering Homestead but Johnson finished second and he finished 12th.

2015 Joey Logano (6th)

6 wins, 22 top 5s, 28 top 10s

Matt Kenseth’s wreck of Logano at the 2015 Martinsville fall race essentially eliminated Logano from title contention and overshadowed just how good Logano was throughout the entirety of the season. Logano’s six wins led the Cup Series and he tied Kevin Harvick for the most top 10s. Logano won three races before the playoffs began and then became the only driver in NASCAR’s elimination playoff format to sweep an entire round’s worth of races when he won all three in the second round. He was leading at Martinsville too when Kenseth got his retaliation for his spin at Kansas.

2018 Kevin Harvick (3rd)

8 wins, 23 top 5s, 29 top 10s

Logano’s revenge for missing out on the title despite an excellent season came two years later when he won at Homestead. That win deprived Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch of their second championships. Harvick’s 2018 season may actually be better than his 2020. He had the most top-five and top-10 finishes of any driver in the Cup Series and his 1,990 laps led were over 500 more than any other driver.

2018 Kyle Busch (4th)

8 wins, 22 top 5s, 28 top 10s

Busch also entered that 2018 finale with eight victories. He had just one fewer top five and top 10 than Harvick did and won two races in the playoffs after scoring six in 26 regular-season races. Busch posted a career-best average finish of 8.3 in 2018 as he avoided poor finishes and finished on the lead lap in all but five races. It was arguably the best season of Busch’s career ... and he didn’t get a title. He made up for it in 2019 with his second championship.

2020 Kevin Harvick

9 wins, 20 top 5s, 26 top 10s

Unless he wins on Sunday at Phoenix, Harvick will tie Edwards as the winningest non-champion in NASCAR playoff history. Harvick’s win at Bristol in the first round of the playoffs made sure that 2020 was his winningest season ever. At that point, it felt impossible that Harvick wouldn’t be racing for the title. Well, now a title is impossible for Harvick thanks to contact with the wall while running up front at a misty Texas and a poor race at Martinsville. Harvick’s 16th and 17th place finishes in those two races marked his first back-to-back finishes outside the top 15 all season. And since they came in a third round that had two races won by drivers who were outside the top four, Harvick ended up on the wrong side of the elimination line at the end of the round.

“Look, these championship aren’t like winning like Petty and Earnhardt used to win them,” Harvick said. “You have to put them together three weeks at a time and it comes down to one race and it came down to one race for us [Sunday] and came up short.”

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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