Lessons from last year could help Harvick

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Crew chief Rodney Childers said it last year. With NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint format featuring 16 drivers and eliminations, it will be difficult for a reigning champion to repeat because one thing could keep them from advancing.

Childers and Kevin Harvick face such a scenario after the first race in the Chase. A door slam with Jimmie Johnson off a restart eventually caused Harvick’s left rear tire to blow and sent him into the wall on the way to a 42nd-place finish at Chicagoland Speedway.

Harvick was the only Chase driver not to finish in the top 20 Sunday. Unless chaos ensues this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (on NBCSN) or the following week at Dover International Speedway (on NBCSN), Harvick likely will have to win either of those races to advance to the second round.

“This Chase the way it is, it can be taken away from you in a week, it doesn’t matter if it’s the first week or last week,’’ Childers said after Sunday’s race. “It’s one of them deals where that same thing could have happened at Homestead last year and (we) finished fourth in the points. It’s just the way it is. I said this at the end of last year, it’s going to be really hard to have a repeat champion throughout the years. You’re not going to have someone like what Jimmie did over and over and over. The odds are against you with this system.’’

While the odds might be against Harvick advancing, they’re not as bad as they would be for some others.

Harvick, who has one win at New Hampshire, has placed third in the last two races there, leading a combined 163 laps.

Harvick is winless at Dover, but he finished second to Jimmie Johnson in May. Harvick led 91 laps in that race. He led 223 laps there last September but finished 13th after suffering a flat left front tire with about 150 laps to go when the valve stem was knocked out of the tire’s inner liner by an errant lug nut during a pit stop.

A must-win situation isn’t new to Harvick. He was outside the top four in points during last year’s Chase heading into Phoenix – which set the final four for Homestead – and won to advance. He won the season finale at Homestead to claim the championship.

“We learned a lot last year,’’ Childers said. “We go every week to try to win.’’

That’s what they’ll likely have to do either of the next two weeks if Harvick wants to keep his title hopes alive.

Nate Ryan contributed to this report.