Harvick, Hamlin still predictable Cup favorites at hot Texas

FILE - In this Nov. 3, 2019, file photo, Kevin Harvick (4) and Aric Almirola (10) battle for position during a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Texas Motor Speedway, in Fort Worth, Texas. The massive grandstands at Texas Motor Speedway stretch about 2/3 of a mile long, and were empty for the last race there. There could still be some feeling of emptiness Sunday, preferable for social distancing, even when the NASCAR Cup Series race becomes the first major sporting event in Texas in more than four months to allow spectators. It will be one of the largest gatherings of any kind in the state since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Larry Papke, File) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

FORT WORTH, Texas – Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin can easily be considered favorites for the first summertime race at Texas, even in this unpredictable and unprecedented NASCAR Cup season.

While there have been no practice sessions or qualifying laps since racing resumed two months ago, Harvick and Hamlin are both three-time winners at Texas, and combined to win four of the last five races there. They are tied with a Cup-best four wins apiece this season, and all but one of those have come since mid-May.

The 1 1/2-mile track could get slick on a scorching Sunday afternoon, with temperatures forecast in the upper 90s and the heat index into the 100s. It will be about 30 degrees warmer than on March 29, the day the race was originally scheduled before the coronavirus pandemic.

“You’d be hard to bet against those two. This track, with one and two being so flat and having so little grip, that’s right up Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick’s alley,” NBC Sports analyst Jeff Burton said. “That’s right what they’re so good at, so I expect they’ll both run very well.”

Burton, who won the inaugural Texas race in 1997 and became the first two-time winner at the track in 2007, said the fascinating part about this season is the unpredictability of what’s going to happen without practice and the application of traction compound on tracks.

There are no rules changes from last year for the aerodynamic or engine packages used at Texas, where Hamlin won in the spring before Harvick won his third consecutive fall race there.

“We’re going to use some notes from the previous races there last year. … We will take into account weather and all that stuff to figure out what kind of car we need to take to that race track to be successful,” said Hamlin, who won both Texas races in 2010. “Hopefully, we guess right.”

As for the traction compound, applied in corners to create more passing opportunities, Hamlin described a “50-50 crapshoot” whether it’s “going to be the same and in the same line.”