Harvick wins AdvoCare 500k, Johnson widens Chase lead

jutter@charlotteobserver.comNovember 10, 2013 

  • Johnson’s road to title

    How Jimmie Johnson can clinch his sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup championship Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

    • Finish of 23rd or better

    • Finish 24th or better and lead at least one lap

    • Finish 25th or better and lead the most laps.

    Note: Matt Kenseth, 28 points behind, and Kevin Harvick (34 behind) are the only other drivers eligible for the title.

— Kevin Harvick has been written off many, many times this season.

Those were in pencil. This ending is in ink.

A season of uncertainty and adversity is winding to a close for Harvick and his No.29 Richard Childress Racing team.Much to the surprise of fans and media – and perhaps even Harvick – it’s poised for a surprising finish.

Harvick led the most laps in Sunday’s AdvoCare 500k at Phoenix International Raceway but appeared relegated to a second-place finish until then-leader Carl Edwards ran out of fuel on the next-to-last lap.

Harvick inherited the lead and the victory and an unexpected boost of his championship hopes heading into next weekend’s season finale at Homestead, Fla.

The win was Harvick’s fourth of the season and 23rd of his Cup career. And like most of the rest this season, it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.

“Well, I think we were all pushing it on gas there to try to just put enough in it to get to the end so that we could gain all the track position we could,” Harvick said. “I saw (Edwards) slowing with about maybe a lap-and-a-half, two laps to go.

“(Team owner Richard Childress) came across the radio and said he was slowing down. I’m like ‘Dang, we might still be in this thing.’ The car was rocking all day. 

“We just wound up in Victory Lane where it needed to be.”

The victory also leaves Harvick trailing points leader Jimmie Johnson by 34 heading into Sunday’s Ford 400, the final race of 10-race Chase.

While a championship is not probable, its possibility is far more than most observers thought likely for Harvick this season.

“It’s all you can ask for to happen. Anything can happen down there,” Harvick said. “You have to be in it to win it, and we’ve done a good job of winning races in the Chase.

“We’ll see what happens.”

Harvick announced prior to the season he would leave Richard Childress Racing at the end of the year and move to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014.

That alone was enough to convince many Harvick would have a difficult year winning races or competing for a championship with “lame duck” status.

Then last month, after a run-in with Childress’ grandson, Ty Dillon, in a Truck series race at Martinsville, Va., Harvick made several disparaging remarks on television about Ty and his brother, Austin, which incensed Childress.

Harvick apologized for the comments, but questions arose whether the team could stay together until the end of the season.

Yet again, here they are.

“Obviously we went to Martinsville, and I said things that I shouldn’t have said and put everybody in a position that was not good,” Harvick said. “I think we had conversations about things after that that probably made us closer as people, and I think as we move forward will probably make us closer as friends.

“You don’t want to put yourself in those particular situations just for the fact that it makes you look dumb, first off, and you want to go out on top.”

It will be difficult to stop Johnson’s run to a sixth series title.

Thanks to a sub-par day by Matt Kenseth (23rd), Johnson will enter the final race with a 28-point lead. Harvick is third. Aside from Johnson, Kenseth and Harvick are the only drivers with a mathematical chance at the championship.

Johnson, who finished third, can clinch the title by finishing 23rd or better in the finale.

“Everybody is so eager to predict the champion, but you’ve got to play the game. You’ve got to run the race and stuff happens,” Johnson said. “There’s so many variables in one of our races, I think more variables than any pro sport out there.

“There’s a lot of variables, so we don’t take any of these weekends lightly, even with a nice points lead I’m not going to take any week any differently.”

Kasey Kahne finished second, Dale Earnhardt Jr. fourth and Kurt Busch fifth.

Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter.

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