Author: Brant James
Date: Nov. 7, 2015
FORT WORTH, Texas — Kevin Harvick is the defending champion of the Sprint Cup series.
He’s already reprised the type of deadline histrionics that enabled his capture of that first trophy at NASCAR’s highest level.
He momentarily found himself the focus of his competitors’ ire with a controversial crash that ended a green/white/checkered restart at Talladega Superspeedway two weeks ago. But the elimination of Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. helped create a diversion.
Then Kenseth vs. Logano happened last Sunday at Martinsville Speedway. And then Jeff Gordon happened, his wildly popular win and the aftermath of Kenseth’s two-race suspension consuming all of the oxygen left in the news cycle heading to Texas Motor Speedway for the AAA Texas 500 Sunday.
Oh, and he punched a guy, but that was a long time ago.
Back out of the glare for Harvick. Incredible.
With three races left in the Sprint Cup season and two in the third round of the playoffs, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver has somehow become a stealth contender. Meanwhile, his frequent foil and the best driver over this Chase, Team Penske’s Joey Loganobecome a constant focus, either laying waste to the field by winning three consecutive races or being wrecked intentionally into a playoff danger zones.
No one seems to be paying much attention to Harvick as he lurks in fourth place and in the final transfer spot for the one-off championship finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
And in that regard, NASCAR’s trickster might have them all where he wants them. Starting second on Sunday, the 39-year-old has finished second in his last two races at Texas Motor Speedway, and led 96 laps in the spring.
“I feel good about our team. We've overcome a lot of adversity,” Harvick said Friday. “I think we've overcome a lot of situations and performed at the right time. It is about surviving to advance. It's not really what it looks like on a piece of paper.”
On paper, it’s been at times perilous. He won the pole in the Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway but cut a tire in a late restart bump with Jimmie Johnson, elected not to pit to mitigate a tire rub and finished 42nd after crashing. In the motorcoach afterward, he confronted Johnson as he waited to discuss the incident.
After finishing 21st the next week at New Hampshire, Harvick entered the first elimination race of the Chase 15th of 16 in points, but won at Dover to advance. A runner-up finish at Charlotte seemed to set him up for a more serene second round, but after finishing 16th at Kansas, he entered the second cut race at Talladega fifth of 12 in points and held on to the eighth and last transfer spot when on a green/white/checkered restart he bobbled with a balky engine and caused a wreck that froze the field.
But it wasn’t that simple. Fellow drivers accused Harvick on glancing into Trevor Bayneto initiate that final caution with him 15th in the running order safely inside the Chase transfer window.
Harvick denied it he’d done anything nefarious. NASCAR didn’t punish him and he moved on again.
And no matter what happens on Sunday, he will move on to Phoenix with a palpable momentum he’s earned, having won seven times, including four in a row and five of the last six. That includes last season when he leaped from eighth in the standings — six points from the cut line — to the Homestead-Miami final with a victory. He repeated the feat at Homestead to claim his first championship as fellow title contender Ryan Newman finished second.
“We've overcome a lot of things as we've gone through this particular Chase and feel like the performance of the cars are still where it needs to be,” he said. “I think the 2 (Brad Keselowski) and 22 (Joey Logano) have qualified better than us this year. The only clean race we've had in the Chase has been Dover.
“I think if we can keep the performance of those cars where they need to be, every other week we've had something go wrong. But the performance for the most part has been there. It is just situations have continued to creep up, but we are still in it. That is all you need to be at this time."
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