Kevin Harvick claims Favorite Driver title
The bracketology of March Madness is complete, and when it comes to "New England's Favorite NASCAR Driver" it's Kevin Harvick that's cut down the proverbial (window?) "net" in victory lane at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Harvick claimed his title by earning 69 percent of the fan vote over Chase Elliott in the championship round.
The bracket-style challenge, which ran for the duration of the NCAA's Men's Basketball Tournament, featured 16 of the sport's most popular drivers, who were determined by last year's NASCAR Playoff field. The retirement of Matt Kenseth opened up a spot for Joey Logano, who was the highest non-playoff-qualifying finisher in 2017 and coincidentally is the only full-time driver in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series that hails from New England.
Drivers were seeded based on their postseason finish with the Championship 4 getting the top four seeds, on down the line through the Round of 8, Round of 12, and finally the Round of 16 getting the bottom four seeds based on their final position in the 2017 standings. Logano replaced Kenseth as the ninth seed.
The nature of the seeding created some tantalizing matchups throughout the bracket challenge. Some first-round highlights included:
- Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson beating Logano by a razor-thin margin of 52% to 48%.
- Some of NASCAR's most popular rising stars going against each other with Elliott beating Ricky Stenhouse Jr. by a score of 71-29, and "Young" Ryan Blaney beating Kyle Larson 57-43.
- An "intrashop" battle where Harvick beat his Stewart-Haas teammate Kurt Busch 79-21.
- A major upset with Busch's brother Kyle falling as the second seed to Kasey Kahne by a score of 54-46.
The 2017 NASCAR Champion, Martin Truex Jr., made a run to the Final Four, which included a 66-34 defeat of Jimmie Johnson, but he was ultimately beat 59-41 by Elliott. Truex's run to the championship last year gained him noticeable popularity, but Elliott is the son of 16-time Most Popular Driver winner Bill Elliott and proved to be too difficult of an out.
That wasn't the case for Harvick, however. The 42-year-old former champion showed that despite the rise in popularity among young drivers (both Elliott and Blaney made it to the Final Four), there is still a soft spot in the heart of NASCAR fans for the old guard. The win by 38 percentage points left about as much doubt as Villanova did on Monday night that he's the rightful champion.
Harvick has two career Cup Series wins at New Hampshire Motor Speedway with the most recent coming on September 25, 2016. He currently leads the series in wins in 2018 and will hope to pick up his third win at NHMS when the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series pays a visit on July 22.
Numerical List of Drivers in the Bracket
1. #78 - Martin Truex Jr.
2. #18 - Kyle Busch
3. #4 - Kevin Harvick
4. #2 - Brad Keselowski
5. #9 - Chase Elliott
6. #11 - Denny Hamlin
7. #12 - Ryan Blaney
8. #48 - Jimmie Johnson
9. #22 - Joey Logano
10. #42 - Kyle Larson
11. #1 - Jamie McMurray
12. #17 - Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
13. #3 - Austin Dillon
14. #41 - Kurt Busch
15. #95 - Kasey Kahne
16. #31 - Ryan Newman