(NASCAR Wire Service)
Reid Spencer ~ NASCAR Wire Service
LOUDON, N.H. – In the final race of the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup last November at Phoenix, Kevin Harvick had no choice. A victory at his most productive track was the only way he could remain in the running for a series championship.
Harvick won at PIR, and a week later he secured his first title with another victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
After a 42nd-place finish at Chicagoland Speedway in this year’s Chase opener, Harvick’s presence in NASCAR’s playoff again is in serious jeopardy. This time, however, Harvick may be able to advance from the Contender to the Challenger Round without winning one of the next two races, provided some of the drivers he’s pursuing also have serious issues at New Hampshire or Dover.
“I still think there are a few different ways that you make it into the next round,” Harvick said on Friday afternoon, after putting his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet on the outside of the front row for Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN). “In this situation last year, when we were in Phoenix, a second-place finish still wouldn’t have gotten us into where we needed to be to move on in the Chase without a win.
“So, I think you still have to go out with the mentality of trying to win a race. I think everybody around us knows that. I think they are very aware of the aggressive nature that we need to go after that win.”
In other words, if Harvick has a shot at a checkered flag on Sunday, discretion might be the better part of valor for drivers who might be in his way.
JOHNSON-HARVICK FEUD STILL NOT SETTLED
Kevin Harvick’s 42nd-place finish at Chicagoland was directly attributable to side-to-side contact between his No. 4 Chevy and Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48.
The two cars rubbed moments after a restart, with Harvick pinning Johnson’s Chevy down on the apron and Johnson forcing his way back onto the track after going three-wide to the inside.
Trying to sort out the incident, Johnson approached Harvick in the motor coach lot after the race and got a blow to the chest for his efforts.
“I wasn’t surprised that he was that upset,” Johnson said on Friday, after qualifying fifth for Sunday’s race. “Believe me, I knew good and well going over there that he wasn’t going to be in the best mood.
“It was just important to me to try and make contact with him and try to talk to him, based on experiences that I’ve had in the position that it has put me in. That’s what led me to going over there.”
Johnson and Harvick haven’t spoken since, and the six-time champion will take the green flag on Sunday not knowing what Harvick’s disposition on the track might be.
“I truthfully don’t know what to expect,” Johnson said. “I certainly know what I hope for, but there is no telling what will end up taking place. I think that’s the exciting part about this Chase and the way you can advance, the way you can win to carry on and the intensity that it brings.
“So, it’s definitely going to be an exciting Chase for everyone, and right now everybody is focused on us. But who is to know after this weekend what conflict on track is going to be the next story?”
ANOTHER KIND OF IRON MAN
When Jeff Gordon takes the green flag for Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, he’ll start his 789th consecutive race and establish a new Iron man record for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
On the same day, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Ben Kennedy will be an Iron Man of a different sort, when he competes in an IRONMAN 70.3 event in Augusta, Georgia. Kennedy and his mother Lesa France Kennedy, CEO of International Speedway Corporation and a member of NASCAR’s board of directors, also is participating in the race.
The IRONMAN 70.3 starts with a 1.2-mile swim in the Savannah River, continues with a 56-mile bike ride through Georgia and South Carolina and concludes with a 13.1-mile run in downtown Augusta. The IRONMAN 70.3, so named for its 70.3-mile total distance, is half the length of a full IRONMAN triathlon.
Ben Kennedy has been training for the event for five months, interspersing distance and conditioning work with his Truck Series duties in the No. 11 Local Motors Toyota.
Qualifying trim? Race trim? It didn’t matter. Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick set the fastest two laps in Saturday’s first Sprint Cup practice session, just as they had, in the same order, during Friday’s time trials. … Harvick led the way in Happy Hour, followed by Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski. … Chase drivers grabbed the top nine positions on the speed chart during Saturday’s first practice session. Austin Dillon (10th) was the fastest non-Chaser. … Dillon (eighth) and Kasey Kahne (sixth) were the only non-Chase drivers to crack the top 10 in final practice.