Pressure Off Harvick, On Hamlin At Talladega

Harvick passes through

What a difference a week makes. Prior to the Hollywood Casino 400, Kevin Harvick was on the outside looking in after a disastrous run at Charlotte. Harvick proved once again his value in the clutch, winning and stamping his ticket for playoff advancement with a victory. He will be playing with house money as NASCAR heads to Talladega.

A good friend of mine who is a former racer admires Harvick for what he sees as his skill with the throttle in and out of turns. Whatever it may be, Kevin Harvick has displayed once again his closing ability, and reminds us all that he must be numbered among the genuine contenders.

Recently, this observer opined that Denny Hamlin was perhaps the most underrated driver in NASCAR today. A good day at Talladega would do much to advance that notion as he finds himself on the Chase bubble. The 2010 runner-up’s 15th place finish Sunday was by all means respectable, yet if the next round started today, Hamlin would be out.

Hamlin isn’t the only top contender feeling the heat. 2012 champion Brad Keselowski finds himself one point behind Hamlin. A nasty looking wreck in the Hollywood Casino 400 left Bad Brad in 38th. Penske Racing was once so promising, but Keselowski and teammate Joey Logano are both in precarious spots going into the upcoming elimination race.

Adding to the stress is the kind of racing Talladega Superspeedway produces. Mark Martin called racing there a “lottery.” With all the tight pack racing at speeds exceeding 200 miles per hour, a front runner can go from hero to zero in a split second.

How does one in the position of Hamlin, Keselowski, Logano, Chase Elliott, and Austin Dillon manage Talladega racing? Some drivers have used the “hang in the back” strategy. That can keep you out of trouble, but what if you’re too far back on the final turn?

You could adopt the “get up front, and stay up front” mentality. In a race where restrictor plates make the cars so even, it’s not as easy as it sounds. On top of that, what happens on pit road is a factor no matter where you go.

NASCAR chairman Brian France wanted “Game Seven” moments. It’s shaping up that way as the field will winnow down from 12 to eight after this Sunday. Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson won’t have to sweat it. A whole passel of non-contenders have nothing to lose, and then there’s the collection of aforementioned racers for whom the pressure’s on at Talladega Superspeedway.