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IMS Writers’ Roundtable, Vol. 30: Breakthrough Brickyard Winner?

Today’s question: What driver without a NASCAR Cup Series victory this season is most likely to break through with a win in the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard on Sunday, Aug. 15 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course?

Curt Cavin: I’m still trying to figure out how Kevin Harvick won nine races last year and didn’t make the final four! As for this season, it’s clear Harvick’s Stewart-Haas Racing program hasn’t been on its game, posting only six top-five finishes in the first 22 races. Until Harvick led 66 laps in the most recent race, July 18 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, he had led only three races for a total of 39 laps. The three-time Brickyard 400 winner and 2014 Cup Series champion has a run of 11 consecutive seasons with at least one win, with 21 wins over the past three seasons. Thus, I’m confident he finds a way to continue that streak. Best guess: That win comes Aug. 22 at Michigan Speedway, where he has won the past three races and four of the past five.

Zach Horrall: Meanwhile, I think it’s Denny Hamlin, the driver who went toe-to-toe with Harvick last year both on the season and at the Brickyard 400. After seven wins in 2020, Hamlin is winless thus far but has 11 top-fives and 15 top-10s. Hamlin’s saving grace right now is that he’s the series points leader, which is a berth into the NASCAR Playoffs. But Kyle Larson is lurking just 13 points behind after dominant summer. If Hamlin loses his points lead, he’s in jeopardy of not making the NASCAR Playoffs. There have been 13 different winners this season, and with four races before the Playoffs begin, it’s entirely possible that four new winners and the loss of Hamlin’s points lead could put him on the outside looking in. Better win Indy!

Paul Kelly: Well, you cats picked the top two drivers on my list. So, instead of going against the grain with another choice, I’m going to break the tie by selecting Denny Hamlin. It still stumps me how he never won the Brickyard 400 on the oval despite being one of the more dominant Cup Series drivers of the 2010s. Plus, as Zach indicated, the pressure is on for him to Hamlin to win this season because the threads between keeping the series points lead and dropping out of the NASCAR Playoffs entirely without a win are very thin. I favor Hamlin over Kevin Harvick because Joe Gibbs Racing is running better now than Stewart-Haas Racing, which is having an off year after dominating the 2020 season. Man, how the fickle pendulum of racing fate can swing.

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