For Kevin Harvick, there is really only one way to work his way out of the tough situations he seems to keep finding himself in during NASCAR’s Chase.
“If you can’t win, you won’t win one of these championships,” Harvick said Sunday after he did just that, winning the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway and clinching a spot in the next round of the playoffs. “We’ve never approached any race as a points race. If we don’t win, it’s not a good week.”
Harvick is the only driver who has advanced through each round in the two-plus seasons this version of the Chase has been in place. After finishing 38th last week at Charlotte and dropping to 12th in the 12-driver second round, a victory at either Kansas or next week at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway was likely only his only way to advance.
And, as he’s done in recent seasons, that’s exactly what Harvick did.
Harvick faced a similar situation in the first round in 2015, when he won at Dover (Del.) International Speedway to advance to the second round. In 2014, the only way for him to make it to the final four at Homestead-Miami Speedway was to win at Phoenix in the third and final race of the third round. He won that race – and again the next week at Homestead to take the championship.
“It’s something to where we don’t get mad about, but we try to take away, why didn’t we win this race when we were in position to win?” said Harvick, who also won at New Hampshire in the first round. “The good part about it is, do I feel like we had the best car (Sunday)? Probably not. Did we have the best car at (New Hampshire)? Probably not. But guess what? We kept ourselves in it all day. It’s good to feel like you probably didn’t have the fastest car and win the race.”
That was probably the case Sunday. Matt Kenseth had the fastest car in the field during the first half, leading a race-high 116 laps before fading. Then Carl Edwards took over, leading 61 laps until a caution flag flew with 30 laps left.
Harvick, who had worked his way to second place by then, was better on the restart. He drove by Edwards and stayed ahead the rest of the way, with Joey Logano finishing third and Jimmie Johnson fourth.
“I think the key to the restart was just timing,” said Harvick, smiling. “The rest of it we’ll keep to ourselves.
With the victory, Harvick joins Johnson (last week’s winner at Charlotte) in the third round. Ten other drivers are still in contention for the six remaining spots as the Chase heads for this weekend’s elimination race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
Two – Joey Logano and Austin Dillon – are tied for eighth place, with Logano winning a tiebreaker (for now) because of his third-place finish Sunday.
The two drivers in the most danger of not advancing are Brad Keselowski (who finished 38th and is in 11th place) and Chase Elliott (31st Sunday and 12th).
The third round will begin in two weeks at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
“You always want to go win a race, but on the other hand you can’t control it,” said Rodney Childers, Harvick’s crew chief. “Our focus is going to be on Martinsville and moving forward. We’ve got nice stuff to take to Talladega. We were planning on going down there to have to win the race there. We’ll definitely go down there and race hard. It’s just nice to be able to focus on the weeks going forward.”
That will also be Harvick’s mindset. It has served him well in the Chase every time.
“When we get behind on something, we just dive right in and try to make it better,” he said.