KANSAS CITY, Kan. — There is nothing lame about this duck.
Kevin Harvick has repeatedly chided the media for “writing off” his championship chances in NASCAR’s biggest series because he announced before the season he was leaving Richard Childress Racing at season’s end.
If the message wasn’t received when he qualified for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, then it certainly should be given priority delivery now.
Harvick completed what has to rank as one of the most difficult dominating weekends, winning the pole and holding off Kurt Busch to win Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway – a race which featured a track-record 15 cautions.
“It was an interesting weekend to say the least. Obviously everybody was battling the tires and the track, and I think it was like driving on a razor blade,” said Harvick, who earned his 22nd career victory and third of the season.
“It was like driving two different cars. Out front it was not even close, and in traffic you were just another one of the cars and had a lot of trouble, so that made the restarts really important.”
Goodyear brought one of its new multi-zone technology tires to Kansas this weekend. Even though teams were given extra practice time on Thursday, many were adversely affected by the drastic weather change over the course of the weekend. It was in the high 80s Thursday and Friday and dropped to the mid-to-low 50s Sunday.
Harvick said he and crew chief Gil Martin simply elected to go with the strategy of working on those things they could actually fix.
“We knew that it was going to be edgy to drive, so let’s just try to do the best we can and make it as good as possible, and it’s not going to feel good,” Harvick said.“You just have to accept the fact that the car is not going to drive like a slot car. It’s not going to feel good, it’s not going to be comfortable.”
Comfortable or not, Harvick’s win combined with Kyle Busch’s bad day bolted Harvick bolt into the thick of the 2013 championship battle.
With six races remaining, Harvick is third in the series standings, 25 behind leader Matt Kenseth. The remaining 10 challengers are all 32 or more points behind.
“To sit on the pole and win the race is obviously a great weekend, and controlling our own destiny by doing that, putting ourselves closer to where we need to be with the championship race,” he said. “We’ll just keep having fun and keep doing what we’re doing.”
That will likely keep Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson, second-place in the points, on their toes as the series is next at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where Harvick won the Coca-Cola 600 in May.
“When we go to Charlotte, when we go to Texas (another 1.5-mile track) there’s going to be a completely different set of circumstances, so the things you did (at Kansas) are not going to be there,” Martin said. “You’ve got to be open and ready for whatever kind of change happens.”
Harvick certainly proved flexible in the race. He led 78 of the first 79 laps but got shuffled back in the field when he pit under green just before a caution was displayed on Lap 88.
Harvick dropped to as low as 25th on Lap 90 but gradually made his way back up front and retook the lead on Lap 140. He remained around the top-five most of the rest of the race before leading the final 36 laps on his way to the win.
Kurt Busch made his way into second with just less than 20 laps remaining but could not gain any serious ground on the leader.
“We battled hard to come from 41st. We did this in a backup car,” Kurt Busch said. “It just shows the strength of this team.
“We finished second. We’ll take it. We haven’t quite had the start to the Chase that we wanted, but overall we have two top-fives out of four races. That’s not bad.”
Jeff Gordon finished third, Joey Logano was fourth and Carl Edwards was fifth.
Kenseth, the series points leader, ended up 11th, after struggling with his No. 20 Toyota most of the weekend.