Kevin Harvick won the first three non-plate races this season. Kyle Busch has finished in the top three for six straight races, including wins in the last two.
So between the drivers who have combined to win five of the seven non-plate races, who has the edge right now for the championship? Heading into Saturday night’s Richmond race, drivers seem to think it’s Harvick.
“I still think the 4 car is quite a bit better,” Kyle Larson said. “I think you can call the 18 second-best.”
Larson noted Harvick was the fastest car at Texas, but had the well-documented problems on pit road. Harvick then wasn’t in his primary car for the Bristol race. And prior to that, he wrecked early in the Fontana race while racing Larson.
“(Busch) is really good at executing, which has helped him win the last couple of races and really run in the top three for as long as he has now,” Larson said. “But as far as pure speed, I think the 4 has everybody covered.”
As for Busch, he said his team and Harvick’s team are “pretty equal, honestly” but added “I’ve got to give them the nod.”
“I think they’re a little bit better than we are,” he said.
Busch then tossed out a third name: Larson.
“I think (Larson) may actually be in the mix as well,” Busch said. “The 42 was strong last week (at Bristol) … and he’s the fastest car certainly on the short run in practices thus far here at Richmond.”
Busch also mentioned his brother, Kurt, and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin as teams who are “getting better.” He predicted some of the Hendrick Motorsports cars would also find speed soon.
But what about Martin Truex Jr., the defending champ who dominated last season? He had five top-five finishes in a row, including at win at Fontana, but has crashed out of the last two races.
“I was kind of joking with Truex when we were out in Fontana,” Ricky Stenhouse Jr. said. “I was like, ‘It doesn’t seem like you have the speed that you did last year or (you’re) where you want to be.’ And he’s like, ‘Oh, we’re right on par’ — and then he won.
“To me, the 78 is kind of just doing what they want and kind of chilling for awhile.”
Hamlin said he couldn’t choose between Busch and Harvick as to who is stronger right now — it depends on the track, he said — but he gave a reminder what really matters when talking about title favorites.
“The championship in the Cup Series now is about winning one race — and that’s Homestead — so I would favor the 18 in that case,” Hamlin said.