NASCAR driver Austin Dillon may have come up with the answer on how to stop Kevin Harvick from storming his way to another Sprint Cup championship.
An engine failure at Charlotte last week had Harvick on the brink of elimination from the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. But he swept past Carl Edwards with 30 laps to go Sunday and won the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.
And, just like that, Harvick vaulted from a precarious 12th in the Chase standings to clinching a spot in the Round of 8 with Jimmie Johnson, who won at Charlotte.
“I think as drivers, we all need to get together and block (Harvick) in elimination races … because he’s tough to beat on those final races,” said Dillon, who finished sixth Sunday. “There’s no doubt about it, he steps up when the pressure’s there.
“They’re able to reach in their back pocket and get speed when they want it. It’s mind‑blowing. It’s hard to see it. But Kevin’s a good finisher. He’s always been that way. Look back at his career, he can finish off races.”
Indeed, Harvick, the 2014 Sprint Cup champion, has advanced to the Chase final at Homestead-Miami Speedway in all three years of the current format.
He began this year’s 16-driver Chase with a 20th-place finish at Chicago before clinching a spot in the Round of 12 with a win at New Hampshire. Harvick kept to the same script at Kansas, following finishes of 37th at Dover and 38th at Charlotte with Sunday’s win, his fourth of the season, tying for the most in the series.
Harvick, who has 35 career victories and was winner of the 2013 fall race at Kansas Speedway, has a simple explanation for his ability to come through in must-win situations.
“If you can’t win, you won’t win one of these championships,” said Harvick, 40. “You’ll get to Homestead and you may points your way in, but there will be a car that shows up there that’s going to win the race and is going to win the championship.
“We’ve won two races in the Chase. I feel like both of those have been won on restarts. That’s something we’ve worked on for probably a year now to get better at. I needed to do a better job. We needed to change some things around. So that feels good.”
Edwards, who led 61 laps in the race in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, was unable to hold off the hard-charging Harvick’s No. 4 Stewart-Haas Chevrolet in front of a sun-drenched crowd at Kansas Speedway that was cheering for Edwards, who is from Columbia.
“That restart obviously was the key to getting into victory lane,” Harvick said. “I think for me, looking in the mirror, knowing we were clear, we just needed to get as far out as we could. I guess that was (Kyle Busch) behind me who had some speed. But clean air really made a big difference for us.
“Do I feel like we had the best car today? Probably not. Did we have the best car at (New Hampshire)? Probably not. But guess what, we kept ourselves in it all day. We had good pit stops. We made good adjustments on the car. Then it came down to a good restart and our car was way better when we got out front.”
Now, the other 10 drivers in the Chase face a must-win at unpredictable Talladega Superspeedway in next week’s final race in the Round of 12, while the pressure is off Harvick and Johnson, who can prepare for the Round of 8 races at Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix. The poor finishes at Dover and Charlotte had taken their toll on the No. 4 team.
“Our focus is going to be on Martinsville and moving forward,” said Harvick’s crew chief, Rodney Childers. “This past week was rough on the whole race team, to be honest. Let those guys to see their kids and families a few nights. It’s going to mean a lot to them. Everybody catch their breath and get ready for Martinsville.”