LOUDON, N.H. — In a race dominated by others, it wasn’t surprising that Kevin Harvick won Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
“It’s not like he came out of nowhere,’’ said Martin Truex Jr., who led a race-high 141 laps but finished seventh.
Although Harvick led only eight laps, he worked his way from his 19th starting spot and put himself in a position to win, which he has excelled at since the Chase went to the elimination format in 2014.
Sunday marked Harvick’s fifth win the Chase since the 2014 playoffs (Joey Logano also has as many wins in the Chase during that time). Nobody has as many top-two finishes in that stretch as Harvick with nine. That means he’s finishing first or second 40.9 percent of the time in the playoffs.
Just look at how many top-two finishes current Chase drivers have had in the 22 playoff races since 2014:
9 – Kevin Harvick (5 wins, 4 runner-ups)
6 – Joey Logano (5 wins, 1 runner-up)
4 – Brad Keselowski (2 wins, 2 runner-ups)
3 – Denny Hamlin (1 win, 2 runner-ups)
3 – Matt Kenseth (1 win, 2 runner-ups)
Harvick is most dangerous in the final three races — Texas, Phoenix and Homestead. In the previous two years in the Chase, Harvick has two wins, three runner-up finishes and a third-place finish in those six races.
“I think the whole team elevates itself and Kevin does a great job in the Chase races, he flips a switch and knows it’s time to rock and roll and the team is the same way,’’ crew chief Rodney Childers told NBC Sports about the team’s playoff success.
It’s also helps to score wins early in the year to all but assure a Chase spot. That helps the team prepare for the playoffs.
“We tried to do a lot of R&D work over the summer to try to get better,’’ Childers said. “We learned a little bit here and there and we also did some things that weren’t so good. We’ve had I guess a good string of being able to step up to the plate when we need to.’’
Said Harvick of his playoff success, which includes the 2014 series title: “It’s about people, preparation and organization. We’ve had fast cars, and we’ve had all the things that it takes to perform and really those are the three things it takes to get the most out of the Chase, and I think they’ve done that for three years.’’
HEAD OF THE CLASS
Two days after he won the Chase opener for the Camping World Truck Series, Liberty University freshman William Byron is taking a pair of tests today.
He was to have taken them Thursday but he was on his way to New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
The business communications major has tests in his U.S. history class that, according to the school “examines the political, social and economic developments of America,’’ and his biblical worldview class, a freshman class that the school states provides an “introduction to critical thinking, an evaluation of contemporary moral philosophies, and an affirmation of absolute truth.”
Byron has been on the Lynchburg, Virginia, campus about a month. He lives in a dorm and has classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. That gives him time to return to Mooresville, North Carolina, to the Kyle Busch Motorsports shop on other days and to travel to the races.
“I think the funnest thing is having new friends and having people that you get to know,’’ Byron told NBC Sports of the college life. “The hardest thing is finding the time to get away from what everyone else is doing and study for the race. There’s a lot of preparation that goes into getting ready for a race weekend and getting your mindset right.’’
With the Chase beginning, he admits it has become more hectic with classes and the demands of racing for a championship. He normally doesn’t bring his books to the track but did this past weekend because of his tests today.
Which test is he most concerned about?
“Probably the history test because there’s so much information and material,’’ he said.
After his win in Saturday night’s Xfinity race at Kentucky Speedway, 41-year-old Elliott Sadler was asked what it would mean to win a series championship.
“I would be lying to you if I said I haven’t thought about it,’’ Sadler said. “I would love to win a championship. I felt like it was taken from me in 2012. I’ve had a big chip on my shoulder ever since. I felt like since that time I’ve worked really hard at being a race car driver, being a complete race car driver, what I mean by that, good by communication, a good teammate, a good leader, a good quarterback because I haven’t always been the best of one of those, but I don’t want to get too ahead of ourselves. We’ve got six more races to go to make that happen.
“If I can actually look my mom and my dad in the face after what they sacrificed for me as a kid, what they put on hold to give me good equipment as a kid to follow my dream and chase my dream will be the best feeling in the world.’’
Sadler’s angst with 2012 goes back to the race at Indianapolis when NASCAR ruled he jumped a late restart, costing him a chance at the win. He finished 15th and left that race one point ahead of Austin Dillon in the title race. He went on to lose the title by 23 points to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. It was the second of three consecutive years Sadler finished runner-up for the Xfinity title.
— Denny Hamlin’s 15th-place finish ended his career-high streak of nine consecutive top-10 finishes.
— Kasey Kahne’s ninth-place finish was his fourth top 10 in a row. The last time Kahne had four top 10s in a row was spring 2013.
— Austin Dillon finished 16th, the highest a Richard Childress Racing car — or car affiliated with RCR — finished Sunday. In the first two Chase races, no RCR car or car affiliated with RCR has finished better than 14th (Dillon at Chicagoland Speedway).
— Tony Stewart’s 23rd-place finish Sunday marked his sixth consecutive finish of 16th or worse.
— Toyotas have led 56.1 percent of the 7,945 laps run this year in Cup. That’s 4,461 laps led for the manufacturer.
— Toyotas combined to lead 579 of the 601 laps run in the two New Hampshire Cup races this year. That’s 96.3 percent.