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Don’t Be Surprised if Brickyard Winner Lifts NASCAR Cup Sunday at Homestead-Miami

Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. will battle for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship Sunday, Nov. 17 at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3 p.m. ET, NBC) in an all-out, may-the-best-man win format that awards the championship to the highest-finishing driver between the four.

All four drivers have excelled at NASCAR’s most iconic tracks this season: Hamlin scored his second Daytona 500 victory in February, Busch took home another Bristol trophy, Truex won the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, and Harvick won his second Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard Powered by Florida Georgia Line in September.

With that Brickyard win, Harvick joined elite NASCAR company at IMS as one of just six multi-time winners of the Brickyard 400. Before Harvick, Jeff Gordon (five), Jimmie Johnson (four), Dale Jarrett (two), Tony Stewart (two) and Busch (two) all kissed the bricks more than once.

This weekend, Harvick can join another rare list. Nine times the winner at the Brickyard has gone on to win the Cup Series championship in the same season. Harvick is looking make it 10. Statistically, 36 percent of Brickyard 400 winners go on to win the Cup Series championship that same season, one of the highest percentages of any track on the current Cup Series schedule.

The other drivers to accomplish the feat? Gordon (1998, 2001), Jarrett (1999), Bobby Labonte (2000), Stewart (2005), Johnson (2006, ‘08, ‘09) and Busch (2015).

There’s something about the famed 2.5-mile oval that brings out the best in drivers and their teams, Labonte said.

“When you come to the Brickyard and you have years where you’re that successful throughout the year, you’re going to come here with greatness to win,” he said. “I don’t think that anybody comes here that’s having a dismal year that comes out and says, ‘We’re going to win the Brickyard.’ You better be good all the time. This place just amplifies greatness, and greatness is your car and your team. It’s a different level.”

The correlation between NASCAR champions and Brickyard winners is much stronger than winning both in the same season. In fact, 21 of the 26 editions of the 400-mile race have been won by a NASCAR Cup Series champion, including four of the last five races.

After his fifth Brickyard win in 2014, Gordon noted that winning at Indianapolis takes success from every aspect of a race team. So, strength at IMS tends to be a catalyst for a championship run.

“You have to get it done with a great race car,” Gordon said. “You do it on restarts. You have to have good pit stops, pit strategy. It’s the total team effort. At the same time, it’s a very historical place. The significance of this win at this point in the season, what it does for you as a team, confidence, positioning yourself to try to go win a championship, I don’t know how you really rank it.”

There are a lot of parallels with Gordon’s statement and Harvick’s 2019 win at The Racing Capital of the World.

Great race car? Harvick started from the pole and led a race-high 118 laps on Sept. 8.

Restarts? Harvick battled restarts all day long. Nine, to be exact. And he held off defending Cup champion Joey Logano on the final restart with nine laps to go.

Pit stops and pit strategy? Harvick’s No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing pit crew is consistently one of the fastest in the NASCAR garage.

The history?

“I can’t tell you how much coming to Indianapolis means to me,” Harvick said after his win. “As a kid, I watched Rick Mears win Indy 500s and got to be around him as a kid, and he was my hero. So, coming here and winning here is pretty awesome.”

Positioned to win a championship? Using Indy as a catalyst, Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers might have positioned themselves to claim their second championship together five years after their first in 2014.

Since the NASCAR Playoffs started a week after the Brickyard, Harvick has finished in the top-10 in eight of the nine races, including a win two weeks ago at Texas Motor Speedway, and has a 6.1 average finish. His lone finish outside the top 10 was a 17th-place finish at Talladega Superspeedway, a known wild card race.

“It’s been a great second half of the year,” Harvick said at the Championship 4 Media Day on Thursday. “I think our team has really proven to not only everybody else but ourselves just how much, how good we are as a group and how much we have had to work this year to get to where we are.”

The 2019 season started slow compared to the No. 4 team’s standards. It wasn’t until late July that the team scored their first win of the season. But since that win 15 races ago, Harvick has added 13 top-10’s and three wins to his 2019 resume.

If Harvick wins his second championship Sunday, it will be a culmination of a successful season and a stellar NASCAR Playoffs run. One can’t help but think NASCAR fans might have been given a preview of their 2019 champion Sept. 8 at the challenging track that rewards raw speed on the 5/8th-mile straightaways and perfect handling through the four distinct, 9-degree banked corners.

But maybe they knew. Brickyard fans have seen this show before.

Get your new July Fourth tradition started as NASCAR’s biggest stars return to racing’s biggest stage on America’s biggest weekend. Tickets are on sale now for the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard Powered by Florida Georgia Line July 3-5, 2020 at IMS.

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