The sport was racing, but Kevin Harvick’s victory in Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 felt more like a late October home run.
Harvick and his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team have been far and away the fastest team in the Sprint Cup Series this season, leading more laps than any other driver and winning a series-leading eight poles.
Until this weekend, only twice had Harvick been able to translate that speed to a victory, most recently in April at Darlington, S.C.
Saturday night, all the gremlins that had plagued the team over the past several months were kept at bay as Harvick held off Jeff Gordon to win for the third time at Charlotte Motor Speedway – all during his past eight starts.
“All those things that we’ve had stuff happen, (Saturday night) we just hit a home run and made it all happen and still had a fast car and parked it in Victory Lane,” Harvick said.
“That’s what it’s all about. Great time of year to do it.”
With the win, Harvick automatically advances to Round 3 of the Chase regardless of his performance in next weekend’s race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, one of NASCAR’s most unpredictable tracks.
Harvick and Joey Logano – thanks to his win at Kansas – are the only drivers locked in to the next round.
“I think this proved to us that we can do every situation that was presented to us and overcome it,” said Harvick, who has 26 Cup victories.
“Sure, we want to win every week, but in the end, still, there’s only one goal, and that’s to put the trophy in the back of your truck at Homestead (Fla.) and drive it home.”
Jamie McMurray finished third in the race, Logano was fourth and pole-winner Kyle Busch was fifth. Logano leads the series standings by six points over Busch.
The frustration of trying to advance in NASCAR’s new Chase format spilled from the track into the garage area after Saturday night’s race.
As the race drew to a close, Harvick appeared to have the victory well in hand but several drivers attempting to stave off elimination from the Chase were trading fender paint and then later fists.
Brad Keselowski drew the ire of Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth for incidents on the track and on pit road after the race.
While Harvick’s team was celebrating in Victory Lane, the speedway’s giant HDTV was lit up with video of Kenseth charging after Keselowski between haulers back in the garage.
“When you see that emotion out of Matt Kenseth, you know that NASCAR has done the right thing to this Chase because everybody is on offense and gouging for every single position that you can get every lap,” Harvick said.
The four Chase drivers lowest in points and in danger of being eliminated from title contention next weekend are Kenseth, Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and reigning series champion Jimmie Johnson.
Any of the four still could advance with a victory at Talladega. The problem? There can only be one winner.
“A win in this particular round, if you want to call it, nobody wants to deal with Talladega,” said Gordon, who is sixth in points.
“Everybody would like to take the weekend off there if they could. (Harvick and Logano) in some ways get to, and the rest of us are going to have to go race there.”
That was a fact not at all lost on Harvick.
Asked his strategy for Talladega next week, Harvick was beaming with satisfaction:
“I don’t know, I’m parking it and watching it. It’s going to be fun to watch. It’s going to be crazy, offensive racing,” he said.
Then Harvick looked to his wife: “You want to drive, DeLana?”