Harvick advances with NASCAR win
Kevin Harvick has thrived as NASCAR’s version of a Game 7 master, steeling his nerves and flourishing in those win-or-else races that kept a championship push alive.
His Chase off to a rocky start, Harvick injected the Chase again with a rousing finish that eliminated a must-win race for him and parked him in the next playoff round.
Harvick won Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway to earn a spot in the second round of the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs, pulling away off a restart a year after a late loss at the track.
“It’s kind of like an addiction,” Harvick said. “You just love the rush of being able to be behind and be able to perform and make that happen.”
Harvick finished 20th in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship opener which stuck him 15th in the standings. With another weak finish at New Hampshire, Harvick would have faced yet another race at Dover he may have had to win to advance.
His lap times in the No. 4 Chevrolet only got faster deeper into the race and he was soon nipping at Martin Truex Jr. and Matt Kenseth at the front of the field. Kenseth dominated the second half of the race and seemed poised to win the New Hampshire race for the third straight time.
Harvick, the 2014 Sprint Cup champion, had enough juice in the Chevy to zip past Kenseth with five laps left and join Truex as the drivers locked in the next round. Truex won the Chase opener at Chicagoland and he led a race-high 141 laps at New Hampshire.
Harvick ran out of fuel late last year at New Hampshire to lose and faced a win-or-elimination race the next week at Dover. Harvick, who won for the third time this season, rallied for one of the biggest wins of his career to survive another round.
He won in a similar situation in 2014 at Phoenix when he needed a victory to advance to the championship race. Harvick won the finale and the championship at Homestead.
“The last two years we’ve kind of just worn ourselves out and really stressed out over trying to perform at this level,” he said.
At Dover, it’s up to 14 other drivers to worry about a win.
Chase drivers took the top eight spots. The 16-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field will be cut to 12 after Dover.
Kenseth led 105 of 300 laps and would have clinched with the win, just as he did last season at New Hampshire when he was in perfect position to take advantage of Harvick’s fuel foul up. Kenseth appeared to slow down just a bit off the last restart with five laps left, allowing Harvick to race side-by-side before he took off for his 11th win in 100 career starts at Stewart-Haas Racing.
Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kenseth and Kyle Busch were second and third. They were followed by Chase drivers Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, Truex and Jimmie Johnson.
Other Chase results: Kyle Larson was 10th, Joey Logano 11th, Chase Elliott 13th, Denny Hamlin 15th, Austin Dillon 16th, Jamie McMurray 19th, Tony Stewart 23rd, and Chris Buescher 30th.