|Harvick leads Kenseth. Harvick dominated all day as if his car was 50 pounds underweight.|
|Getty Images for NASCAR|
By Jove, he's done it again!
Forced to win at Dover International Speedway to keep his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship hopes alive Sunday, Kevin Harvick did just that, dominating Sunday's AAA 400 to stave off elimination from the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
In a virtual carbon copy of last year's Chase race at Phoenix, where the 2014 premier series champion had to win to advance to the Championship Round at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Harvick led 355 of 400 laps (a career best at any track) in winning for the third time this year and the 31st time in his career.
"I think we're better than we were last year, just because of the experiences and things that we've had," Harvick said after the race. "I think when we look at everything that’s gone on over the last couple of years, it's just been a lot of fun.
"So, it's just that never-quit attitude. That's what (team co-owner) Tony Stewart said when we went to Homestead last year. He said, 'Whatever you do, do not quit until they throw that checkered flag.' "
Harvick won the race and secured his first Sprint Cup title by a half-second over Ryan Newman in the 2014 race.
But there was one major difference between last year's must-win race and the one on Sunday. Phoenix is Harvick's best track. At Dover, on the other hand, he had never won before and had posted just four top-five finishes in 29 previous starts.
As fast as Harvick's No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet was, however, none of the statistics mattered. After a restart with 24 laps left, he pulled away to a 2.639-second victory over Kyle Busch, who, likewise, secured a berth in the 12-driver Contender Round with his second-place finish.
Nor did the stats help Jimmie Johnson, whose shocking ouster from the playoffs took place at the Monster Mile where he holds a record 10 victories. The six-time series champion pitted his No. 48 Chevrolet at Lap 104 and brought it to the garage shortly thereafter, with a failed rear axle seal.
Johnson lost 36 laps while his team replaced the rear end housing and was credited with a 41st-place finish, leaving him 12 points shy of the Chase cutoff, which came down to a tiebreaker for the 12th and final spot between third-place finisher Dale Earnhardt Jr. and fourth-place Jamie McMurray.
Joining Johnson and McMurray on the Chase sidelines were Paul Menard (25th Sunday) and Clint Bowyer (14th), who, like Harvick, faced a win-or-bust scenario at the one-mile oval track.
Narrowed to 12, the field for the Contender Round now includes Challenger Round winners Matt Kenseth (Chicago), Denny Hamlin (New Hampshire) and Harvick, as well as Carl Edwards, Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Newman and Earnhardt Jr.
|Harvick passes Dale Jr like he's standing still.|
But on Sunday, Harvick showed his hand as the speed horse in the Chase, just as he was last year. Harvick's car was fast last week at New Hampshire, but he ran out of fuel while leading with three laps left to create the must-win scenario at Dover.
"Anytime you can go through moments like this and gain some momentum and prove to yourself that you can do things like this, there's no way you can't be stronger," Harvick said. "I'm just so proud of those guys and so proud of our fans and everybody for all their support all week. There it is — stay the course."
Kyle Busch conceded Harvick's victory was bad news for everyone else still in the Chase.
"The way he ran today — hell, yeah," Busch said. "That was a guy that we wanted to knock out. That's a guy that can win all these races, and you don't want to have to compete against a guy like that.
"But that's why they're as good as they are, and they were last year's champion, so they're going to have an opportunity to continue on. We'll see what happens. There's still two more rounds to figure out who's going to make it to Homestead."
Jimmie Johnson, who entered the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup as the top seed, did not get out of the first round after a broken rear axle seal at Dover International Speedway in the AAA 400.
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]Johnson came down pit road at Lap 104 and radioed that "something was broken." Johnson then took his car to the garage for an issue with the drive line, which ultimately turned out to be a broken rear axle seal. His 48 team immediately ran to the garage to begin work on the car.
The Hendrick Motorsports driver returned to the race on Lap 140, 36 laps down in 43rd place and ultimately finished the race in 41st.
The six-time champion entered the race fifth in the points and looked to be in good shape to transfer from the Challenger Round to the Contender Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Johnson is a 10-time winner at Dover and has four wins this season.
KEVIN HARVICK, NO. 4 BUDWEISER/JIMMY JOHN'S CHEVROLET SS – WINNER
WHERE DOES THIS WIN STACK UP WITH ALL THE BIG ONES?
"I think all these guys thrive in these moments and do such a great job week in and week out. It almost just felt not right where we were after the first two weeks and to come in here with the attitude really that we have every week and just be that more detailed and that more on top of everything that we are doing is something that is special. Really proud, it's not me, I get to ride this thing and hopefully not screw it up. Those guys over there and back at Stewart-Haas Racing are the ones who make all this go around."
WHERE DOES THIS WIN RANK AMONG ALL THE SPECIAL ONES YOU HAVE RECORDED?
"Well, I think when you look at them all they are all special for different reasons obviously. We are on the verge of being down and out for this one and to be able to pull this off is just one of those moments that you enjoy. I told people before this, this is a lot of fun to be in these situations and succeed. When you don't succeed it's not near as much fun, but it just makes them extra special."
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]WHAT SORT OF STATEMENT DID THE NO. 4 TEAM MAKE THIS AFTERNOON?
"I'm just so proud of everybody from Stewart-Haas Racing to do everything that we've done the last three weeks, really. Obviously, we weren't in a great position coming it to today. That's what these guys are made of and that's what teamwork is all about. I've just got to thank everybody from Budweiser, and Jimmy John's and Chevrolet; it's the 750th win for them, and everybody who helps us on this car. This is what it's all about, those big time moments."
YOU CAN HEAR THE EMOTION IN YOUR VOICE. HOW EMOTIONAL WAS IT FOR YOU BEHIND THE WHEEL IN THOSE LAST FEW LAPS?
"Well, it's just one of those weekends where the car was really good and they believed. Everybody wins. That's why there are so great."
IS THIS TEAM BETTER UNDER PRESSURE?
"I think we're better than we were last year just because of the experiences and things that we've had. I think when we look at everything that's gone on over the last couple of years, it's just been a lot of fun. So, it's just that never quit attitude. That's what Tony Stewart said when we went to Homestead last year. He said, ‘Whatever you do, do not quit until they throw that checkered flag'".
THE PAYOFF IS A LOT SWEETER WHEN YOU SURVIVE IT. HAVING SURVIVED THIS, IS YOUR TEAM A LITTLE STRONGER?
"Oh yeah. Anytime you can go through moments like this and gain some momentum and prove to yourself that you can do things like this, there's no way you can't be stronger. I'm just do proud of those guys and so proud of our fans and everybody for all their support all week. There it is, stay the course. That's what he (Tony Stewart) always says. Tony is just one of those guys who always puts everybody before him and that's really what makes Stewart-Haas what it is. It's just a lot of fun to be a part of this team."
KYLE BUSCH, No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing Finishing Position: 2nd
How strong was the race car today and did you have anything for Kevin Harvick?
"I just can't say enough about my team first of all, everyone on this whole Interstate Batteries Camry team – they did a great job for me and gave me a great piece with the limited amount of time in practice that we had and the conditions of practice that we had. Adam (Stevens, crew chief) did a great job guessing right and giving me a really great race car for today to run up front like we did. It was fun, we did our job. We had a second-place car today and we finished second. We have a lot of room to gain though to catch that 4 (Kevin Harvick) car, he was lightning fast today. No catching those guys."
How closely were you monitoring the points during the race?
"I wasn't doing any. I think when you're in the position that we were in when we were running second there the whole race, you don't have to watch it. You just do the best you can and that was the best that we were going to do today. Fortunately we came out with that finish and second-place was what we needed to do. Those other two guys were right behind us on our tail. It's a bummer for whoever all always gets knocked out of these rounds, I've been there and it's no good to have your season end so short or so quick in the Chase, but it is what it is sometimes and we have another round to go here. The points reset so we're back even with those guys and hopefully we can have a good, solid next three races."
Do you feel good about the finish today and transferring to the next round?
"It's definitely good. I can't say enough about my team – these guys did an awesome job. They prepared a great race car for me and gave me the piece that I needed in order to go out there and perform and run like we did today. We had a second-place car and we finished second with it. Nothing to hang our heads about there. We just have to get a little bit better or actually a lot better to catch that 4 (Kevin Harvick) car. The things that we needed to do today we did. The first 300 laps it seemed pretty simple and then the last 100 laps it got a little crazy with tire strategies and restarts and things kind of going on and trying to figure out who and how hard you had to race people and people wanting to race you real hard even though they're just racing for the best finish they can get."
|3||88||Dale Earnhardt Jr||Chevrolet||12||400||0||Running|
|8||17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr||Ford||27||400||0||Running|
|11||78||Martin Truex Jr||Chevrolet||9||400||0||Running|
|20||9||Sam Hornish Jr||Ford||26||398||0||Running|