|Harvick advances with Dover win.|
After Dover, it’s not over, after all.
Defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick sent a clear message to the competition Sunday, dominating the field to win the AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway, resurrecting a championship drive that just hours earlier appeared to be on life support.
Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers picked up right where they left off at the end of a triumphant 2015 campaign, winning four times and collecting an incredible 23 Top-10 finishes in the 26-race regular season. A consensus favorite to capture his second consecutive Sprint Cup Series title, Harvick was so confident that he called out main challengers Joe Gibbs Racing prior to the Chicagoland Chase opener, promising to “pound them into the ground.”
That’s Joe Namath-caliber confidence, but in the opening two rounds of the Chase, Harvick’s guarantee was worth less than the paper it was written on.
|Harvick's confidence is Namath-esque|
JGR’s Denny Hamlin won at Chicagoland, while Harvick lost a battle for restart real estate with Jimmie Johnson, cutting a tire and crashing his way to a disastrous, 42nd-place finish. The next weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Harvick fell victim to a baffling fuel mileage blunder, sputtering dry while leading with just three laps remaining and finishing 21st.
Suddenly, the most dominant operation in NASCAR appeared tentative, disjointed… even vulnerable. Winless since March 15 at Phoenix and in 29 prior starts at Dover, Harvick came to “The Monster Mile,” knowing that nothing less than a victory would ensure his Chase survival. His Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet team suffered yet another setback Friday when qualifying was cancelled by incessant rain, miring him 15th on the starting grid and shackling him with a disadvantageous pit stall.
None of it mattered once the green flag flew.
"That was a guy we wanted to knock out,” admitted Busch after eating Harvick’s dust for much of the afternoon. “That's a guy (who) can win all these races, and you don't want to have to compete against a guy like that. That's why they're as good as they are. That’s why they were last year's champion (and why) they're going to have an opportunity to continue on."
Without question, Busch and company squandered an opportunity to make life easier over the next seven weeks. That opportunity may never come again, now that Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers have shrugged off their late-season doldrums and regained their winning ways.
“Anytime you can go through moments like this, gain some momentum and prove to yourself that you can do things like this, there’s no way you can’t be stronger,” said Harvick in Victory Lane. “Obviously, we weren’t in a great position coming it to today, (but) that’s what these guys are made of. This is what it’s all about, these big time moments.”
Harvick’s Chicagoland and New Hampshire failures suddenly seem like a lifetime ago. The 24-race winless streak is over, and his Joe Namath brashness is back on display.
“I think we’re better than we were last year,” insisted Harvick Sunday, “just because of the experiences we’ve had. It’s that never-quit attitude. It’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.’”
And as Broadway Joe proved in Super Bowl III, it ain’t bragging if you can do it.