Kevin Harvick Fuels Denny Hamlin’s Strong Disagreement With NASCAR, Triggering Calls for a Change in Unbalanced Playoff Format

Published 11/09/2023, 12:01 AM EST

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Last weekend in Phoenix, an entire season’s worth of triumphs and heartbreak, strategy, and mishaps all came down to one race. But should it have really come down to one race? Kevin Harvick certainly does not think that. The retired racer brought the curtain down on his career with the championship race and felt the need to critique NASCAR’s contentious system.

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The first champion of the playoff format was eloquently vocal about it, valuing thrill over expertise and joining the likes of Denny Hamlin in seeking a substantial change to preserve the essence of their beloved sport.

Kevin Harvick was convinced the championship race promoted intentional crashing

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After a lone victory in the midst of an average season, Ryan Blaney capitalized on the current playoff format, which erased all previous leads. As a result, regular-season champion Martin Truex Jr was nowhere to be seen among the top playoff performers. The winningest driver, William Byron, has nothing to show for himself at the end of the year. Even the best playoff driver, Kyle Larson, could not grab the final checkered because it all came down to one single race at the 1-mile tri-oval.

For Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin, that race took place in Homestead in the Round of 8, where a mechanical failure out of his control decided the fate of his failed championship run. The #11 driver frequently opened up about the dire need for change to determine the best racer of the year. And now, Kevin Harvick has reflected on the same after running the last laps of his career in an interview with Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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In the Dale Jr Download, Harvick confirmed, “Well, I don’t like it coming down to one race. I don’t know that it represents the whole season well. I think when you look at a whole season, it’s not about one race.” Referring to Hamlin’s earlier protest, the veteran agreed, “Some of the things that Denny had put together with the point system and just the percentage of races that maybe decided the championship maybe being a few races. I think there is a way to do it where you have excitement and don’t have to have it come down to one race.”

Watch this story: Kevin Harvick’s Last NASCAR Race

Particularly in light of the Truck Series catastrophe, where the strongest championship contenders wrecked each other to win the race. Disapprovingly, Kevin said, “I don’t like that we get ourselves into these scenarios where we have to talk about guys crashing each other intentionally and not just the pure racing piece of it that the guy that has the best season wins.” In fact, the 2014 Cup Series champion went so far as to say that he did not deserve to win the season’s trophy that year.

Kevin Harvick claimed the champions in the playoff format do not compare to the Intimidator

The sight of Kevin Harvick crossing the last few car lengths to speed past the finish line would be permanently entrenched in the minds of the racing community. And yet, the recently retired prolific racer felt he performed better in 2015 and should not have won the previous year, simply because Phoenix was his favored ground. 

Harvick recalled, “Even when we won the championship in 2014, we shouldn’t have. We won the championship, but we didn’t have the best year. 2015 we had a way better year and felt like that was the year when we earned and should have won the championship when you look at the whole season.”

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Hamlin himself came inches close to the title several times over the years and yet remains empty-handed because of the unpredictable playoff format. Although Kevin Harvick understood the need to keep revitalizing the system, he yearned for the glory days of Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson when the most accomplished racers were awarded the final trophy.

Harvick said, “Personally I don’t like how it comes down to one race because I tell people, ‘Well you don’t want to win a championship like Dale [Earnhardt] used to win them’.” The present system has made it nearly impossible for a modern NASCAR race to amass seven championships like Earnhardt or Johnson.

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“Done a Really Good Job of Hiding That”- Kevin Harvick Lets Emotions Flow at Phoenix as He Closes Out 30-Year-Long Racing Career

In the end, however, even The Closer could not furnish a better alternative for the thrill-seeking racing fandom, particularly in the newer generations. Without taking anything away from Ryan Blaney’s talent, perhaps it was time for NASCAR to ponder the wise words of their star Cup racers seriously.

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Written by:

Parika Singh

246Articles

One take at a time

I began my motorsport journey in the European lanes of Formula 1, but after years of predictability, I ventured into the road courses and oval tracks of the United States. Upon discovering NASCAR, I was fascinated by the anecdotal gems waiting to be uncovered. Since I am a storyteller by heart, NASCAR gave me the perfect canvas with its cherished camaraderie and ancient rivalries.
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Edited by:

Shivali Nathta

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