LOUDON, N.H. – Drivers treaded carefully with the question. What would it mean if Kevin Harvick failed to advance to the second round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup?
“You want to knock out the fastest cars you can,’’ Joey Logano said. “Obviously, (Harvick’s car) is one of the fastest cars every week. They led the points for most of the season, so you know they’ve got speed everywhere they go. I wouldn’t consider them out at this point by no means. They’re still a very strong team, and they’ll be up there racing hard and trying to get to the next round.’’
Said Matt Kenseth: “We just really think about ourselves and try to show up and run the best we can each and every week. So there’s 16 guys in this to make the top 12 and once that’s over, hopefully, we’re in the top 12, and we can look at what’s going on there. But, really, it’s so competitive you just keep running, try to stay in your own game and worry about your own car and your own team and try to finish the best you can.’’
Harvick is likely in a must-win situation today at New Hampshire Motor Speedway or next weekend at Dover International Speedway. If he doesn’t win either, the reigning champion could see his hopes for a second title end.
Harvick faces this situation after a 42nd-place finish last weekend in the Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway. He crashed three laps after contact with Jimmie Johnson – the contact caused a rub that led to the left rear tire’s failure, sending Harvick into the wall.
Harvick said he’s focused on what he must accomplish.
“I think you still have to go out with the mentality of trying to win a race,’’ he said. “I think everybody around us knows that.’’
A win by Harvick wouldn’t be shocking. He finished third in each of the past two races at this 1.058-mile speedway. He was fast in both of Saturday’s practices, not only for one lap but over 10 laps and 15 laps.
Harvick could complete quite a week by going from 42nd to first.
He’s just among the key storylines for today’s race.
LINE DANCING: The key to who wins could come down to what lane they’re in if there’s a late-race restart. The top line is the preferred line. In the July race, the leader started in the outside line all seven times and kept the lead six times. In four of those restarts, the car starting second (lead car on the inside line) lost a position on the restart.
With NASCAR watching restarts more closely, will the car on the outside still have the advantage?
Ryan Newman says there can be an advantage to starting on the inside, though.
“You’re better off being on the inside and having something to lean on than being on the outside and being the guy who gets leaned on,’’ he said.
PASS THE STOMACH MEDICINE ALONG PIT ROAD: In a way, it seems as if Tony Gibson was destined to be a crew chief. The 50-year-old Gibson, who had emergency appendectomy surgery Tuesday, said on Friday that he originally thought the pain in his stomach was an ulcer because he’s had them since his teenage days.
No doubt crew chiefs will be anxious throughout today’s race. Pit strategy likely will play a key role in the outcome. Track position is critical, so crew chiefs will try different strategies to put their car in position to win late.
FOUR IN A ROW: Joe Gibbs Racing has won the past three Cup races with three different drivers. Denny Hamlin won last weekend at Chicagoland Speedway. Matt Kenseth won at Richmond. Carl Edwards won at Darlington. That leaves Kyle Busch, who won at this track in July. Will he complete the Gibbs cycle?
IRONMAN: Jeff Gordon makes his record-breaking 789th career Sprint Cup start to topple Ricky Rudd’s mark. The bigger number for Gordon is zero – the number of victories he has this season. He has nine chances left to change that in his final Cup season. Will he?