Kevin Harvick locked up the Busch Series championship Friday with four races still remaining on the schedule; it’s the earliest any driver has ever managed to clinch the title. His winning margin currently stands at 775 points over second-place Carl Edwards, easily outpacing the current record for largest margin (616 points, set by Jeff Green in 2000). Add to all that the fact that Harvick’s in the Chase for the Nextel Cup, creating the possibility of a dual Busch-Cup champion for the first time in history, and it creates the illusion, at least, that this season is one that will stick to the record books for a long time to come.
But is Harvick’s record-setting championship really the feat it appears?
Some people have argued that Harvick’s championship and any records he sets are not comparable to the past. Green’s points margin is just such an example; the thinking behind Harvick’s asterisk is simply that Green was driving for an independent Busch team and was not a Nextel Cup driver at the time, so his feat is more impressive because he was on even footing with the other drivers in the Busch Series.
At first glance, “even footing” is hardly a characteristic that would describe Harvick in comparison to his Busch Series competition. In his sixth season in Cup, Harvick is a veteran who has spent the majority of his time driving for Nextel Cup car owner Richard Childress. Because Childress has much more in the way of money and resources than the average Busch team, this gives his driver an advantage over the rest of the Busch Series. Of course, with such an advantage, it would initially seem more surprising if Harvick didn’t win by a blowout margin.
But if Harvick’s funding and equipment was the sole explanation for his domination of the Busch Series and the ease with which he appeared to win the championship, what happened to second-place Edwards? See, that’s the thing of it. Yes, Harvick had way more funding and support than the regular Busch teams without Nextel Cup support… but those weren’t really the guys he was really competing with for the title.
Take one look at the top-10 drivers in the Busch Series points standings. Only two of them, Paul Menard and Johnny Sauter, are not full-time Nextel Cup Series drivers, but both of them still drive for teams that also have full-time Nextel Cup Series operations. Menard runs for DEI while Sauter’s team is part of Haas CNC Racing. If Nextel Cup affiliation means superior funding and resources over the regular Busch teams, like Harvick’s detractors would argue, that’s one advantage he does not hold because all of the top-10 teams are running with that superior funding. It is, from the team point of view, an even playing field.
Maybe Harvick’s got experience over the other drivers, and that’s the reason? Well, I will concede that championship contenders Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin, JJ Yeley and Reed Sorenson were only first-year Cup drivers, but each of them was driving in at least his second season in the Busch Series. On top of that, Hamlin is currently in the Chase for the Nextel Cup, just like Harvick. It would seem that, freshman or not, Hamlin at least was on the same level as Harvick in terms of driving.
Greg Biffle and Sorenson have not run all of the races, so we will scratch them out. With the rookies and the Busch drivers running fewer than 31 races taken out of the equation, that leaves Edwards and Kyle Busch. They drive for Roush Racing and Hendrick Motorsports, two of the biggest teams in the sport. Certainly, they can provide plenty of competition for Harvick. Both have contended for Busch Series championships in the past; Edwards made the Chase for the Nextel Cup last season, and Busch is in it along with Harvick this year. There’s nothing wrong with their driving talent.
So yes, Harvick has Nextel Cup ability, funding and resources, but so do most of the guys he is competing against in the Busch Series. It is a level playing field. If those things are the reasons Harvick has 4,948 points, then all of the other Cup drivers driving in Cup-owned cars on the Busch circuit should have 4,948 points, too. If Harvick did not have that equal competition, than I would agree that his record for earliest clinch and his potential record-setting margin would not mean much.
But just because the type of competition he has isn’t something hard-line Busch fans would like to see doesn’t mean you can take away from the records and sheer domination this driver and his teams have accomplished over the course of the year.
No, there is definitely something more at work here. Harvick has competition that is his equal in the Busch Series, and he has bested it by far. No question, the sheer statistics he’s accumulated will show that for some time to come.