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CALIFORNIA DREAMING: TOP-FIVE DRIVERS TO END KEVIN HARVICK’S WINNING STREAK THIS WEEKEND
Kevin Harvick has been simply dominant to start the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season. The pilot of the No. 4 for Stewart-Haas Racing has been at the front of the pack for 39 percent of the 1,111 laps run so far, and doesn’t appear to be cooling off anytime soon.
The 2014 Cup Series champion will look for his fourth straight victory in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 in Fontana, Calif., something that hasn’t been done since Jimmie Johnson rolled to four consecutive wins during the 2007 Chase.
Harvick, a native of Bakersfield, Calif., has just one win (in 2011) in 24 career starts at Auto Club Speedway. But he’s coming off back-to-back runner-up finishes in 2015 and ’16, the latter of which he led 142 laps before Johnson passed him for the win in overtime.
Here are the top-five drivers with the best chance to halt “Happy” Harvick’s early-season reign:
- Jimmie Johnson: Hendrick Motorsports has struggled to find speed in the early going. A season-best 12th-place finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the seven-time Cup Series champion is a clear indication of that. But the Fontana-based track in his home state of California has been a good one for him, with six wins and a 7.1 average finish position in 23 starts there – his best AFP of any track.
- Denny Hamlin: Two top-fives in 16 career starts at Auto Club Speedway won’t have you running to place your bets on the No. 11 for Joe Gibbs Racing. In fact, Hamlin’s third-place finish in 2016 is his only finish inside the top-10 in his last six starts there. Yet with three top-fives in his first four races, Hamlin is off to the most consistent start of his career and may be primed to deliver with his first career win in Fontana.
- Martin Truex Jr.: The 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion was so good during an eight-win season last year that a failure to reach Victory Lane four starts into 2018 has many wondering if he was a one-hit wonder. Not so fast, folks. Truex has been strong, notching three top-fives and having led at least one lap in all four races. Truex notched first-career wins at five tracks in 2017; might as well check another one off the list in 2018.
- Kyle Busch: Rowdy has been pretty darn good through four races. After a 25th in the Daytona 500, Busch finished seventh at Atlanta and is coming off of back-to-back runner-up finishes in Vegas and Phoenix. Busch struggled in Cali the last two seasons, but was a 2013 and ’14 winner at the two-mile D-shaped oval. Expect Busch to be running near the front with a chance to win on Sunday.
- Kyle Larson: If Busch can’t close the deal, then expect the reigning champion to make it two in a row in his home stage. Larson, who grew up in Elk Grove, Calif., dominated the 2017 race. After taking the pole on Friday, Larson led 110 of 200 laps for his first of four victories last season. It’s been a slow start for Larson, but expect one of the sport’s brightest stars to break out of his early-season funk with a trip to Victory Lane on Sunday.