Harvick dominates in ‘must-win’ race

The Associated Press

DOVER, Del.—Kevin Harvick stood by his confetti-coated car and used it as a resting spot for a couple of crushed beer cans, when his crew belted out a catchy rallying cry.
“I believe that we will win! I believe that we will win! I believe that we will win!”
Believe it.
Harvick has mastered his Game 7 races—nerves steeled and never rattled from any pressure that should come in a must-win spot.
He delivered one more time and dominated a race he had to win to advance to the second round of NASCAR’s playoffs.
Mired in 15th place in the standings, Harvick went out and led 355 laps yesterday at Dover International Speedway to earn the third automatic berth in the 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field.
“Never quit. That’s why right here, guys,” Harvick said over the radio as he took the checkered flag.
Harvick’s title defence lives on.
But Jimmie Johnson’s bid for a record-tying seventh championship came to a shocking end when a busted part sent the No. 48 Chevrolet to the garage and sent him plummeting in the standings.
NASCAR had the drama it craved yesterday when it revamped its playoff format last season.
Dale Earnhardt. Jr. earned the final transfer spot over Jamie McMurray on a tie-breaker. Earnhardt finished third while McMurray was fourth yesterday.
Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer also were eliminated as the “Chase” field was sliced from 16 to 12.
Four more drivers will be eliminated in the next three-race segment that starts this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth already had earned berths in the next round with wins in the first two “Chase” races.
Carl Edwards also advanced, along with Joey Logano, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Jeff Gordon, and Kyle Busch.
They all had a shot at knocking out Harvick.
Now they all have to deal down the stretch with a driver who has led 571 of 700 laps run the last two weeks. That’s bad news for the field.
“Hell, yeah,” said Kyle Busch, who finished second at Dover yesterday. “That was a guy that we wanted to knock out.
“That’s a guy that can win all these races and you don’t want to have to compete against a guy like that.”
Harvick brushed some stout circumstances against him to reach Victory Lane yesterday. He hadn’t won since going back-to-back in the third and fourth races of the season and had been 0-for-29 at Dover.
An easy title favourite, he finished 42nd in the “Chase” opener at Chicagoland and then 21st at New Hampshire.
But for a driver who faced the colossal responsibility in his first Cup start of replacing Dale Earnhardt Sr., winning races isn’t much of a concern.
It was only three weeks ago when a confident Harvick said about the JGR drivers, “We’re going to pound them into the ground.”
He never wavered in his approach even as his title chances were bruised.
“If you’re not ready for it, it’ll eat you up,” Harvick reasoned.
Harvick is simply clutch for Stewart-Haas Racing. He was eighth out of eight teams and had to win last season at Phoenix International Raceway to advance into the championship finale.
He won, then won it all the following week when his second-straight checkered flag gave him the highest finish among four championship drivers to earn the crown.
Harvick would love to win another championship not just for himself, but for friend and team owner Tony Stewart.
Stewart announced this week he will retire from Sprint Cup racing after next season.