Despite the fact that Kevin Harvick had nary a win at Dover International Speedway prior to last weekend’s AAA 400, and he had finishes of 42nd and 21st in the last two races, and he hadn’t won a race since the fourth race of the season back in March, I would have taken him and given you the field.
To say Harvick had his back against the wall would have been an understatement. The defending champ was facing a win-or-go-home race Sunday. The two previous miserable finishes left him in the precarious position to fail to advance to round two. So, of course, he came out and dominated the dang thing.
“Yeah, I don’t think there was really any pressure,” said Harvick after the race. “I think for us, we all knew what we had to do, and it was really no different preparation than what we would do on a weekly basis. All in all, it was business as usual.”
Either that dude is ice cold or a great liar.
They came into the Dover race with the most to lose. The defending champ racing for nothing over the last seven races? It’s almost as unthinkable as a six-time champion going home after a disappointing finish at a track that he has owned over his career. Oh wait, that actually happened.
I know Joe Gibbs Racing has been on a roll of late and drivers Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth won the first two Chase races, but if I were a gambling man, I’d put my money on Harvick. Dover was his “bloody sock game” for you Red Sox fans out there. After than performance with so much on the line, he has a whole lot of momentum as the Sprint Cup Series heads to Charlotte, Kansas and Talladega. For him not to win this championship would be like the 1980 U.S. Hockey Team losing to Finland in the finals after beating the Soviets in the semifinals of the Dodgers losing the 1988 World Series after Kirk Gibson’s game 1 walk-off homerun.
And Harvick is no stranger to the back-against-the-wall, win-or-go-home moment. He was in a similar situation last year when the series hit the penultimate race at Phoenix with four drivers advancing to the finale with a chance to win. Harvick hit a carbon copy walk off on that day last November to advance. He carried that momentum to another win at Homestead in the finale and a championship. This year he just did it a couple of rounds earlier.
“I think we’re better than we were last year, just because of the experiences and things that we’ve had,” Harvick said . “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 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.’ “
Kyle Busch, who ran second to Harvick at Dover and has never been one to lack confidence, sees a bit of that championship magic once again from Harvick. A notion, he admits is ominous for the other 11 drivers 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 are still two more rounds to figure out who’s going to make it to Homestead.”
Busch is right, there are two rounds left, but I’d have a hard time betting against Harvick being there again this year.
Andy Cagle writes a weekly column about NASCAR. Follow him on Twitter @Andy_Cagle.