RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Nothing was easy for Kevin Harvick from his very first day at NASCAR's highest level.
Thrust into a ride he wasn't ready for and forced to replace the sport's biggest icon, Harvick embarked on a bumpy five-year path pocked with problems he was ill-prepared to handle. He fought with rivals, bickered with teammates and jeopardized his career by challenging NASCAR one too many times.
But somewhere along the way he grew up, became a leader and helped turn around Richard Childress' slumping team.
"I would have fired my butt three or four years ago," Harvick said. "But, you know, Richard is the type of person that he gives you a chance and let's you explore the world and try to realize who you are. As you get older, you become more mature and you understand situations."
Understand this: Five years after Harvick scrambled into the late Dale Earnhardt's seat, he's finally become the championship contender Childress always knew he was.
His win Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway was his third of the season, and sends him into the Chase for the championship only 10 points out of first place.
Harvick didn't need the win at all. Needing to finish only 40th or better to lock up his spot in the postseason, he easily could have gone for a leisurely three-hour drive.
But that's not his style at all.
Harvick wants to win every time he gets into the car, so he stalked leader Kyle Busch and passed him for the win as they approached the white flag.
"I'd rather flip over and run 10th in the Chase than give up a chance to win a race," he said. "If you have a chance to win the race, you have to win the race. They are too hard to come by."
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