Harvick earns his shot at Cup title

The Associated Press
Stephen Hawkins

FORT WORTH, Tex.–Kevin Harvick gave the checkered flag to a young fan he brought onto the track to take a selfie–one with the winning driver and car that will have a shot at another NASCAR Cup championship.
Harvick rocketed past pole-sitter Ryan Blaney in overtime yesterday, after the third restart in the final 35 laps, to win the Texas fall race for the second year in a row and take one of the four championship-contending spots for the season finale in two weeks.
“We don’t come here to count our fingers and toes to try to figure out how we’re going to make it. We want to earn it,” said Harvick, who led 177-of-337 laps.
“Today we earned our way in and we’re going to go and race again next week and try to win another race, and [then] see what we can do at Homestead.”
After taking the inside on the first two restarts, and briefly losing the lead after the second one, Harvick opted to start from outside for the green-white-checkered finish.
By time they got to the backstretch, Harvick had pushed his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Ford in front of Blaney and raced to his eighth win of this season and 45th overall.
“I thought if I could keep him from finishing the corner, I could drive back by him,” Harvick said.
“It all worked out.”
Of Harvick’s 32 starts in the Lone Star State, his only two wins are the last two fall races to get into the final four.
The 2014 Cup champ has 20 top-10 finishes at the 1.5-mile track. He won both stages yesterday, marking the fourth time this year he did that and went on to win the race.
With Harvick and Martinsville winner Joey Logano in the No. 22 Ford of Team Penske locked in, the series goes to Phoenix next week with only two spots up for grabs for the championship run at Homestead.
Kyle Busch, a seven-time winner this year, and defending Cup champ Martin Truex Jr. are among the other six title contenders.
They are comfortably above the cut line for points, but Chase Elliott or any of Harvick’s three SHR teammates–Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola, and Kurt Busch–could advance with a win in Phoenix.
Logano was third at Texas. Elliott was sixth, followed by Kurt Busch and Almirola, who also had gone to the rear at the start of the race for unapproved body modifications.
Truex, who was close to clinching a title spot before that bump-and-run by Logano on the final lap to win at Martinsville the previous week, finished ninth.
Kyle Busch was 17th and Bowyer 26th after starting on the front row but making contact with Denny Hamlin on the first lap.
After the first of the late restarts, Harvick was on the inside and able to keep Blaney from clearing him on the backstretch.
Harvick already was starting to rebuild his lead–it had been nearly four seconds before the caution–when another yellow flag came out.
Harvick was on the inside again for the next restart, but Blaney was able to get by him for the lead.
Blaney led seven laps before Harvick went under him and again was putting distance between them before Joey Gase’s spin brought out the last of eight cautions.
“They were hard. They were challenging,” Blaney said about the restarts.
“That was really the only shot we had to beat him, to be honest with you,” he noted. “We got by him one restart and I just couldn’t hold him off. . . .
“The last one, he took the top, like I knew he was going to go,” Blaney added. “He motored around me.”