Long: How the Chase field blew it at Dover

0 Comments

DOVER, Del. – There was no need for any bold comments, no reason to needle anyone and no need for Kevin Harvick to make Sunday’s victory any bigger than it was.

Kyle Busch took care of that.

“That was a guy that we wanted to knock out,’’ Busch said after placing second to Harvick at Dover International Speedway. “That’s a guy that can win all these races, and you don’t want to have to compete against a guy like that.’’

The rest of the Chase field blew it Sunday. Harvick whupped their asses. There’s no need to be polite about it. Harvick, all but needing a win to advance to the second round of the Chase, led 355 of 400 laps.

Now he has a chance to repeat as champion when it looked as if his title hopes would be over.

Sunday’s performance came a week after Harvick led 216 of 300 laps at New Hampshire Motor Speedway before he ran out of fuel while leading with three laps to go. He’s led more than 80 percent of the laps run the past two weeks.

So who is going to challenge him? Who is going to do more than stare at his back bumper as it moves farther ahead? Who is going to beat him?

Busch and his three Joe Gibbs Racing teammates advanced and have combined to win nine of the previous 12 races. They’ve been strong on the 1.5-mile tracks and four of the final seven Chase races are at such tracks. If Harvick and his team don’t beat themselves or have something happen to them, then he will prove a worthy foil to the Gibbs quartet.

Could Team Penske’s Joey Logano beat Harvick? Possibly, but he needs more speed. The rest of the Chase contenders do not appear to have the strength at this point to match Harvick’s cars.

That’s the beauty of this Chase, though. Mistakes can end a team’s championship hopes no matter how good they are. It nearly happened to Harvick. It nearly happened to Dale Earnhardt Jr.

It did happen to six-time champion Jimmie Johnson.

How Harvick’s team responds will be worth watching. Did they suffer too much emotional turmoil the previous two weeks that it will be difficult to maintain their competitive level for seven more weeks? Crew chief Rodney Childers says no.

If he’s right, is this just the start of a coronation?

Harvick wouldn’t get into such debate. This was not the same driver who said before the Chase started: “I wouldn’t consider us behind the Gibbs cars. I think we’re going to pound them into the ground.’’

Harvick didn’t need to say such things because his actions spoke loudest Sunday.

Still, the Chase is better off with Harvick in it. He needles, he pokes, he prods and he picks. He can provide a sideshow quality that is hard to ignore – infuriating for fans of other drivers and fun for his fans.

Remember how Harvick tried to bait Joey Logano at last year’s championship press conference before Homestead? Harvick was not happy that Logano had blocked him at Talladega a few weeks earlier, allowing Brad Keselowski to win that race, and used that to try to unsettle the driver viewed as Harvick’s biggest threat for the title.

“Karma catches up with you,’’ Harvick said to Logano last year without looking at his foe. “I’m a firm believer in karma. At some point it comes full circle.’’

Earlier in that Chase, Harvick said Matt Kenseth would not win the title after Kenseth slid up the track and got into Harvick at Martinsville, causing Harvick to hit the wall.

That boisterous Harvick got Sunday off.

No sense in kicking someone when they’re down.