Dover International Speedway delivered a repeat performance of what NASCAR fans have become accustomed to seeing throughout the 2020 Cup season—the Hamlin and Harvick Show.
Denny Hamlin won on Saturday to tie the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team's league-leading six wins, only for Kevin Harvick to answer on Sunday by upping his victory mark to seven. Together, the two top Playoff contenders have amassed more than half of the regular season wins going into Saturday’s finale at Daytona International Speedway.
Of the other 14 drivers to advance to the post-season, is there one capable of catching fire over the final 10 races to make the contest interesting?
The most consistent driver of late is Martin Truex Jr., who has seven straight podium finishes—including consecutive second-place runs at Dover. Sure, Truex would trade one of Harvick’s four wins over the last 10 races—or even one of Hamlin’s two victories for his remarkable streak—especially since the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing team hasn’t won since Martinsville Speedway in June.
“Definitely been good to run right out front, be running top-three,” Truex said. “That's where you need to be running to make your way through the playoffs. Obviously wish we could have won a few more.”
Truex admits he left several opportunities for a win on the racetrack. Whether it was a lack of execution or the wrong strategy in the moment, the 40-year-old racer feels he should have more “W’s” in the win column.
“There was two or three races there in this stretch that I thought we had the best car, and I thought we should have won, and I screwed up at the Daytona road course and probably could have ‑‑ probably could have got a win there I felt like or at least battled for it,” Truex said. “A couple places we've been really good, Kansas I thought we had the best car and lost track position on pit road just by strategy.
“I mean, it's just been little things here and there that we've got to be smarter about, but also I think overall we've got to find a little bit more speed if we can, and again, we're so close. It's just little things here and there we've got to look at and figure out how to turn those seconds and thirds into victories.”
In addition to wins, the key to longevity throughout the post-season will be Playoff points and that’s another area where the No. 19 crew has struggled mightily compared to Harvick and Hamlin. While the Nos. 4 and 11 teams both have seven stage wins and 42 and 37 Playoff points, respectively, Truex has two stage wins and ranks eighth in Playoff Points with seven.
“Our bonus point situation is not the greatest, and that's something that we've really been working hard on trying to get some more here lately,” Truex said. “Just seems like we're always just right there second or third.
“Overall it’s good. It's good momentum. It's good to be consistent. We've just got to keep working to find a little bit more.”
Still, in four of the last five seasons, Truex has advanced to the Championship 4. He won the title with Furniture Row Racing in 2017, when he had an eight-win season, and finished runner-up in 2018 to Joey Logano and last year to Kyle Busch. When it comes to the strength of the No. 19 team, no one would deny Truex’s ability as a perennial contender. For now, he’s content to fly under the radar.
“I think the results speak for themselves,” Truex said. “For us, I think if they forget about us, that's fine, because we're right there. We're ready to pounce. Again, we're close.
“We obviously haven't won as many races as I think we should have, but we're ready, and hopefully the momentum will swing our direction and they'll forget about us and we'll go beat them all.”