Harvick Delivers as Dover Drama Doesn’t Disappoint

Harvick+Delivers+as+Dover+Drama+Doesn%27t+Disappoint

Kevin Harvick and the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team went into this weekend’s AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway knowing that they had to win to advance in this year’s playoffs. Mathematically, they could finish well and advance, but the possibility of that happening was slim. But they did exactly that, in dominating fashion.

Harvick found victory lane at the Monster Mile for the first time in his career, and what better time to do so than now? His son, Keelan, always wanted Miles the Monster (the trophy that is awarded to the winner) to play with, and his dad delivered on Sunday. Leading 355 of the 400 laps, this was Harvick’s most dominating performance in his career, as he led a whopping 89 percent of the laps run on Sunday.

“It’’s just that never quit attitude,” said a somewhat relieved Harvick, doused in champagne and confetti. “That’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.’

“I think we’re better than we were last year, just because of the experiences and things that we’ve had,” Harvick went on to say.

Kyle Busch, who finished second to Harvick and advanced to the round of 12 with the solid finish, responded with “Hell yeah!” when asked if Harvick still being in the Chase meant trouble for everybody else.

The No. 4 car was on a different planet on Sunday, and when it counted, he showed up and got the job done. But the drama didn’t stop there; it was only getting started.

If I told you that six-time champion, 10-time Dover winner and driver of the No. 48, Jimmie Johnson, would finish in 40th place, 40 laps down at his best track and fail to advance to the round of 12, would you believe me? Heck, I wouldn’t even believe myself. However, this Chase format, in it’s second season, creates drama, and a lot of it. When it rains, it pours, and Jimmie Johnson was a victim of that.

On lap 104, Johnson pitted under green for an unscheduled pit stop. It was later revealed, after the No. 48 team went to the garage, that the rear axle seal, a cheap part, failed, pouring grease all over the car. The rear end housing was replaced, but at that point, they had to rely on somebody else’s misfortune, and it just wasn’t meant to be for the No. 48. Johnson was disappointed, but understood this was a freak accident.  

“That’s racing,” he said after the race.

Johnson went on to say that he has won championships due to other drivers having this kind of stuff happen, and he has lost championships like this too.

His teammates, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr., advanced to the next round, with Junebug just barely making it in. He and Jamie McMurray finished tied for 12th place in the standings, but Junior advanced on a tiebreaker for best finish in the first round, which just happened to be this race. It doesn’t get much closer than that.

The No. 88 made the decisive pass on the No. 1 after the final restart on the outside, which proved to be the difference. The drivers finished third and fourth, respectively, and engaged in a great act of sportsmanship after the races conclusion.  Earnhardt Jr. got out of his car and went directly to McMurray’s. and the two hugged it out after a good, hard fought battle.

Clint Bowyer and Paul Menard were also eliminated from the 2015 playoffs, along with the aforementioned Jimmie Johnson and Jamie McMurray.

So now, the twelve drivers still alive are Harvick, his SHR teammate Kurt Busch, all four JGR drivers (Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch), the Team Penske duo of Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Newman and HMS’ Earnhardt Jr. and Gordon.

The restart zone, which was doubled to 140 feet this weekend by NASCAR, proved to be a benefit for Harvick, as he retained his lead and was able to clear the second place car by the entrance of turn one on every restart but one. I was listening to Harvick’s team radio for the duration of the race, and there was no sense of urgency throughout the race – throughout the Chase so far, for that matter.

Rodney Childers and Harvick both praised their team, saying how the resiliency and the fact that the team was in this position before last season and them better prepared.

And now that the No. 4 team has the monkey off their back, they’ve found victory lane for the first time since the beginning of the season, and they have their mojo back.

So all in all, this weekend’s race was everything NASCAR wanted, and more. Former champions being eliminated in shocking fashion, the defending champion defending his championship with a win when he needed it, the sport’s most popular driver getting into the next round on a tiebreaker and much more.

Oh, and guess what?  We have three more rounds to go. How can you not love the Chase?