Analyzing Harvick’s place among NASCAR’s all-time greats, the pressure on Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, and other young drivers to perform, and if Jeff Gordon will come out of retirement to race at Martinsville.
Each week, SB Nation’s NASCAR reporter Jordan Bianchi answers your questions about the latest news and happenings within the sport. If you have a future mailbag question, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
It feels like Kevin Harvick should be regarded as one of NASCAR’s best all-time drivers, but when I looked up his stats they weren’t as overwhelming as I thought. I’m sure we agree he’s obviously not in the same league as [Richard] Petty, [David] Pearson, [Jeff] Gordon, and all those guys, but does he deserve a spot in that next tier of greats, maybe somewhere in the bottom part of the top 10?
Ranking where Harvick sits all-time is difficult, really dependent upon your criteria on how you separate one driver from another. Do you value the volume of wins and championships? Sustained success over a long period? The level of competition one is going against?
In terms of wins and championships, Harvick’s 38 wins and a lone Cup Series championship has him behind several notables in both categories including: Richard Petty (200 wins and seven championships); David Pearson (105, three); Jeff Gordon (93, four); Darrell Waltrip (84, three); Jimmie Johnson (83, seven); Cale Yarborough (83, three); Dale Earnhardt (76, seven); and Tony Stewart (49, three). And even among those with one championship, Harvick still has fewer wins than Bobby Allison (84), Rusty Wallace (55), and Bill Elliott (44).
But Harvick certainly deserves credit for longevity and amassing his totals during the most competitive era in NASCAR history. That he’s won every big race there is to win — Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600, Brickyard 400, and Southern 500 — is also worthy of high praise considering the same cannot be said of Wallace and Stewart.
At age 42, Harvick still has time to add to his already impressive résumé. Even then, assuming he remains with Stewart-Haas Racing for a few more years and his production level maintains, Harvick’s body of work still won’t be enough to crack the top 10 all-time, or even earn consideration as the best of driver of his generation — that status unquestionably goes to Johnson, with Kyle Busch a firm No. 2. So overall for Harvick, top 15 all-time sounds about right.
In your article about young guys vs. the veterans, you brought up a good point on how a lot of the young drivers haven’t yet won a race and eventually will have to. So I’m wondering how much leeway do guys like Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, and Darrell Wallace Jr. get before we stop calling them “future superstars?”
Every situation is different and dependent on an array of circumstances. In regards to Elliott, Larson, and Blaney, they’re all with top-tier organizations where, if they were to fail and consistent success proves fleeting, it will in all likelihood be due to their own inabilities.
Now, that doesn’t mean each must win and win big in 2018, though at a minimum they should be expected to visit victory lane at least once. But in the immediate the pressure is moderate, and if they fall short, then it’s fair to raise questions — especially in the cases of Elliott and Blaney, who are entering their third full seasons. The same also applies to Larson, who in his fifth season is coming off a year where he won four times and is expected to push for the championship.
As for Wallace, the bar is set at a lower height because of the team he joined. No one would ever confuse Richard Petty Motorsports with Hendrick Motorsports (Elliott), Team Penske (Blaney), or Chip Ganassi Racing (Larson). RPM simply doesn’t have the same caliber of equipment nor resources allowing Wallace an opportunity to showcase himself to the fullest degree compared to many other young talents.
This doesn’t give Wallace a free pass, but were he to finish his rookie season with a handful of top-10 finishes and a points ranking somewhere in the high teens or low 20s it would constitute a successful year. Conversely, if Elliott, Blaney, or Larson turned in similar results red flags in 2018 would arise whether they’re more hype than substance — especially during a period where the spotlight is shining brightly on them
Jeff Gordon said this week he might be willing to come out of retirement to drive in the Truck Series race at Martinsville. How realistic is this and could you see it happening?
A driver coming out of retirement to race again is not unprecedented (See: Martin, Mark). And with Gordon’s affinity for Martinsville Speedway, the Virginia short track makes for an ideal venue for him to make his Truck Series debut and scratch whatever racing itch he has.
Oh. My. Goodness. This would be amazing!! https://t.co/7Vk8CjnC5N
— Martinsville Speedway (@MartinsvilleSwy) February 24, 2018
It is also worth remembering when Gordon announced his NASCAR retirement, he always maintained he was interested in pursuing opportunities to compete in 24-hour sports car races at Le Mans and Daytona — the latter of which he accomplished a year ago — and perhaps even a NASCAR short track race.
Of course, there is a big difference between expressing interest and actually putting a deal together to make it happen. But considering Gordon has again floated the idea publicly, and with good friend and former crew chief Ray Evernham aboard, it is not outlandish to think it may actually come to fruition.
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