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NASCAR.com's Jonathan Merryman talks with the winner of the AAA 400, Kevin Harvick , in Victory Lane at Dover International Speedway.
Kevin Harvick dominates at Dover International Speedway to advance in the 2015 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
RELATED: Full race results " Updated Chase grid " Series standings SHOP: Harvick gear DOVER, Del. -- By Jove, he's done it again! Forced to win at Dover International Speedway to keep his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship hopes alive Sunday, Kevin Harvick did just that, dominating Sunday's AAA 400 to stave off elimination from the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . In a virtual carbon copy of last year's Chase race at Phoenix, where the 2014 premier series champion had to win to advance to the Championship Round at Homestead-Miami Speedway , Harvick led 355 of 400 laps (a career best at any track) in winning for the third time this year and the 31st time in his career. "I think we're better than we were last year, just because of the experiences and things that we've had," Harvick said after the race. "I think when we look at everything that’s gone on over the last couple of years, it's just been a lot of fun. "So, it's just that never-quit attitude. That's what (team co-owner) Tony Stewart said when we went to Homestead last year. He said, 'Whatever you do, do not quit until they throw that checkered flag.' " Harvick won the race and secured his first Sprint Cup title by a half-second over Ryan Newman in the 2014 race. But there was one major difference between last year's must-win race and the one on Sunday. Phoenix is Harvick's best track. At Dover, on the other hand, he had never won before and had posted just four top-five finishes in 29 previous starts. As fast as Harvick's No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet was, however, none of the statistics mattered. After a restart with 24 laps left, he pulled away to a 2.639-second victory over Kyle Busch , who, likewise, secured a berth in the 12-driver Contender Round with his second-place finish. Nor did the stats help Jimmie Johnson , whose shocking ouster from the playoffs took place at the Monster Mile where he holds a record 10 victories. The six-time series champion pitted his No. 48 Chevrolet at Lap 104 and brought it to the garage shortly thereafter, with a failed rear axle seal. Johnson lost 36 laps while his team replaced the rear end housing and was credited with a 41st-place finish, leaving him 12 points shy of the Chase cutoff, which came down to a tiebreaker for the 12th and final spot between third-place finisher Dale Earnhardt Jr . and fourth-place Jamie McMurray . Joining Johnson and McMurray on the Chase sidelines were Paul Menard (25th Sunday) and Clint Bowyer (14th), who, like Harvick , faced a win-or-bust scenario at the one-mile oval track. Narrowed to 12, the field for the Contender Round now includes Challenger Round winners Matt Kenseth (Chicago), Denny Hamlin (New Hampshire) and Harvick , as well as Carl Edwards , Martin Truex Jr ., Kurt Busch , Jeff Gordon , Brad Keselowski , Kyle Busch , Newman and Earnhardt Jr. But on Sunday, Harvick showed his hand as the speed horse in the Chase, just as he was last year. Harvick's car was fast last week at New Hampshire, but he ran out of fuel while leading with three laps left to create the must-win scenario at Dover. "Anytime you can go through moments like this and gain some momentum and prove to yourself that you can do things like this, there's no way you can't be stronger," Harvick said. "I'm just so proud of those guys and so proud of our fans and everybody for all their support all week. There it is -- stay the course." Kyle Busch conceded Harvick's victory was bad news for everyone else still in the Chase. "The way he ran today -- hell, yeah," Busch said. "That was a guy that we wanted to knock out. That's a guy that can win all these races, and you don't want to have to compete against a guy like that. "But that's why they're as good as they are, and they were last year's champion, so they're going to have an opportunity to continue on. We'll see what happens. There's still two more rounds to figure out who's going to make it to Homestead."
Editor's note: The views expressed in this column are solely those of the author. RELATED: Harvick and the most clutch moments in sports history DOVER, Del. -- How strong was Kevin Harvick and the Stewart-Haas Racing team in Sunday’s AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway ? "If we would have had qualifying on Friday," crew chief Rodney Childers said Sunday evening, "we'd have led 400 (laps)." Folks laughed and Childers smiled. But beneath the euphoria of another victory, Childers wasn't kidding. Harvick , the defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, didn't lead every lap in the series' 29th race. He led 355. The dominating performance came one week after the No. 4 Chevrolet was out front for 216 of 300 laps at New Hampshire Motor Speedway . A miscalculation cost Harvick that particular victory -- his fuel cell ran dry just three laps from the finish to drop him from first to 21st. Combined with a crash at Chicagoland Speedway the previous week, Harvick arrived in Dover with seemingly little chance of advancing out of the Challenger Round of this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . Fifteenth in a field of 16 that would see four drivers eliminated from Chase contention, Harvick didn't accomplish the impossible at Dover. The improbable? Yes. The impossible? No. We've seen this movie before. Faced with elimination last year, Harvick thrashed the field at Phoenix and then went on a week later to win the race and the championship at Homestead. Pressure rolls off the 39-year-old like rain off a freshly waxed car. Being put in a must-win situation isn’t pressure in Harvick's world. It's opportunity. Pressure is being thrust into the spotlight following the loss of one of the sport's legendary figures. "That was pretty high," Harvick said of the call-up to fill the ride formerly held by seven-time series champion Dale Earnhardt in 2001. "There will never be anything close to that one. "When you look at the sport's biggest hero gone, you look at millions of race fans that are depending upon somebody to drive that car and you have 350 people that have jobs and families and you're their guy, never done it before, but good luck. You know what I mean? That's a lot of pressure." Before Sunday, Harvick had never won at Dover. Cross the 1-mile concrete track off the list. Only Sonoma , Texas, Pocono and Kentucky remain to be conquered. In a span of barely three-and-a-half hours Sunday, Harvick and his team went from the best team not expected to advance to the team to beat from here on out. Runner-up Kyle Busch , extending his own amazing season by racing his way into the next round from outside the top 12, said as much. "That was a guy," Busch admitted, "that we wanted to knock out ... that's a guy that can win all these races and you don't want to have to compete against a guy like that." Harvick has finished second 10 times this year, and to come so close without closing the deal can be disheartening. It can also build character. "If you're going to get frustrated over running like we've run this year, you're probably going to be a detriment to your team," Harvick said. Win or lose, he said, you show up at the start of a new workweek and begin anew. "It's just the nature of this team and what they do, and the character of it is deep, and they all believe in each other," he said. "When you have a group of people like this that doesn't do things out of the ordinary for situations like this, you know, they just look at it as another task at hand." He has led more than 2,000 laps for the second consecutive season, a mark as impressive as this year's 19 top-five and 23 top-10 finishes. It was a demoralizing defeat for those who thought they had the defending champion on the ropes. But there are more opportunities ahead for Busch and others in the Chase field. "We'll see what happens," the Joe Gibbs Racing driver said. "There are still two more rounds to figure out who's going to make it to Homestead." In the meantime, Harvick and his group aren't making any apologies for Sunday's runaway. "“We're not going to ride around fifth all day and wait to take the lead at the end," Childers said. "That's not what we're made out of. "We came here to lead laps and to do our job and to end up with that car in Victory Lane." And at the end of the day, that's exactly what they accomplished.
Kevin Harvick celebrates a much needed win at Dover International Speedway.
RELATED: Chase-clinching scenarios " Weather updates If there's any consolation for Kevin Harvick to be sitting just one rung up from the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup basement, it's that he's been there before and still managed to extricate himself -- all the way to his first premier-series title last year. The defending champion's task is no less difficult this year, but it's an almost all-or-nothing scenario, a circumstance where Harvick seems to thrive. "Obviously, for me personally, I like these types of situations," Harvick said in a Thursday morning teleconference as he made media rounds in New York. "I think they're different and fun and it's all in the approach and how you react to them. So I think as a team, we'll do everything in our … from a preparation standpoint the same. But I think if you can get the result and get that sensation of winning and all the things that come with the type of situation that we're in, it's even more fun." That situation comes to a head this weekend at Dover International Speedway , site of Sunday's weekend's AAA 400 (2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN/Live Extra, MRN, SiriusXM). Harvick enters the elimination event -- the finale to the Chase's opening three-race Challenger Round -- staring down a 23-point deficit from the 12th-place cutoff point for advancement. Barring mathematical dives from a significant number of the remaining 15 drivers in the Chase field, a victory Sunday and the accompanying automatic berth seem to be Harvick's best route to the next round. Harvick staved off elimination in 2014, rising from last place among the eight title-eligible drivers remaining by winning the penultimate race of the season at Phoenix International Raceway to keep his title march rolling. Though he has recent history to rely on, his sense of perspective in dealing with pressurized situations goes back much further, all the way to his debut in NASCAR's major leagues. "I think as you look at the things that we have been through as a team over the past couple years, we have been in a lot of pretty intense situations, but for me personally, I think that these things are kind of a, they're kind of a walk in the park compared to the Earnhardt situations of taking over his car and having to deal with that and all the things that we dealt with back in 2001," Harvick said in a nod to his inheritance of Dale Earnhardt's ride after his death in a crash at Daytona International Speedway . "It kind of makes these scenarios a little bit easier to deal with because you've dealt with things that are on a much bigger scale than the current things of just performing on the race track." As for the here and now, Harvick finds himself in his precarious plight after successive weeks of trouble. A tire rub after midrace contact led to his subsequent crash, saddling him with a 42nd-place finish in the Chicagoland opener. That tumble in the standings was exacerbated by a fuel gamble gone wrong last weekend in New Hampshire, leaving him with a 21st-place result after leading 216 of the 300 laps. Harvick said Thursday that he didn't see either of those situations as risks, nor has he played the blame game with crew chief Rodney Childers or any of his Stewart-Haas Racing team. For now, the focus remains on performance at Dover. "It's a really, really tight knit bunch of guys and we're all going to support each other, because we're all going to make mistakes in different situations and I don't think we have necessarily made a mistake, but I think we have definitely had to react to some situations throughout the last couple years and I think it's made us stronger as we move forward and better from on a weekly basis as a team," Harvick said. "So, it's just part of what we do, and I think when you look at the performance of the race cars on the racetrack is really, it's absolutely unbelievable. "I mean, I'm just lucky to drive the cars and to let certain situations affect something like that would be absolutely crazy on any of our parts."
RELATED: Weather updates for Dover weekend Three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams, including the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 with defending series champion Kevin Harvick , received written warnings for issues stemming from the inspection process last weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway . Harvick's team was cited for failure of the laser inspection system (LIS) three times in pre-qualifying inspection as well as twice in race inspection. As a result, the team received two written warnings and will forfeit the opening 15 minutes of practice at the next scheduled session. UPDATE: Because of the condensed practice schedule at Dover due to the weather, this penalty will carry over to Charlotte. The Team Penske No. 2 team with driver Brad Keselowski and the Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 team with driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr . each received one written warning for failing qualifying inspection. Two other teams, the Premium Motorsports No. 62 ( Timmy Hill ) and No. 7 of Tommy Baldwin Racing ( Alex Bowman ), will also be held out of the opening 15 minutes of practice. The Premium Motorsports team was late in line for qualifying inspection. The TBR entry was late to race inspection. The Sprint Cup Series is scheduled to compete at Dover International Speedway this weekend, with opening practice scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. ET. Also at NHMS, the Trophy Girl Racing No. 44 entry with driver Josh Reaume (DNQ) will serve a 15-minute practice hold at its next scheduled event in the Camping World Truck Series. Warnings were given to the Richard Childress Racing No. 3 and the Athenian Motorsports No. 25 teams during the XFINITY Series stop last weekend at Kentucky Speedway . Both teams received warnings for failing the LIS portion of the inspection process too many times. Athenian Motorsports officials announced earlier this week that the organization had withdrawn its entry in this weekend's XFINITY Series event at Dover and that future events for the No. 25 team would be made on a race-by-race basis. Every fourth warning received by a team will result in the loss of pit selection. If the fourth warning comes before pit selection at an event, the penalty will be assessed at that event. If it occurs after pit selections have been made, it will be enforced at the next scheduled event. Warnings do not carry over into the following season.
RELATED: See the full lineup for Sunday's race MORE: Driver standings " Chase Grid DOVER, Del. -- The second-guessing began after Chicago and escalated a week later following New Hampshire. Back-to-back finishes outside the top 20 have put defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick in a must-win situation heading into Sunday's AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). "Everybody's an armchair quarterback on Monday morning," Rodney Childers, crew chief for Harvick and the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 team, said Saturday prior to the start of practice at Dover. "I think you're always going to have that." Contact with fellow driver Jimmie Johnson led to the blown tire at Chicagoland in the opening race of this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup ; last weekend at Dover, Harvick had a dominant car and led for a total of 216 laps, but ran out of fuel while leading just three laps from the finish. As a result, Harvick finds himself 15th among the 16 Chase drivers; only the top 12 remain in title contention following this weekend's Challenger Round cutoff race. Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth took the first two Chase races to guarantee they will be around for the Contender Round, which begins next weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway . "The deal at Chicago, it smoked that first corner and the next lap it didn't smoke at all," Childers said. "We had the rear bumper camera on our pit box; if there is anything coming out of the back of the car you can see it on that rear bumper camera. The second lap it didn't smoke at all. Timmy (Fedewa) on the spotters' stand said it didn't smoke. I think really ... ( Kevin ) ran the car easier that lap and we didn't really know that. The next lap, when we told him it wasn't smoking anymore, he ran it hard through (Turns) 1 and 2 and it smoked again and then blew the tire out." Running out of fuel at Loudon, he said, was tougher to swallow. "There shouldn't have been any issues," he said. "But there were a few things during the pit stop that looked like the pit crew could have done differently to try and do more to get it full and it wasn't. "Most of the time you know. But to be honest, he never really ran hard all day so we didn't have good readings on what it should be. Even that last run, our mileage was the best it had been all day. Everybody thought Matt (Kenseth) was pushing us but he really wasn't, we were never really running hard the whole time he was behind us. It's not too often you have a car like that. It was just so fast that he could do whatever he wanted." Harvick was fourth fastest in the opening, abbreviated practice Saturday at Dover. Rain had canceled all on-track activity on Friday. Technically, Harvick can advance based on points, but the scenarios that would allow that to occur are a mathematician's nightmare. "Really, those guys (ahead of us) would have to crash out early in the race," Childers said. Win the race and the rest will take care of itself. Harvick has two wins, at Las Vegas and Phoenix earlier in the year, and 10 runner-up finishes. He's never won at Dover, a high-banked 1-mile track. "We try every week to win; if you don't, that's pretty much it," Childers said. "You just hate that it comes down to that, to lead the points all year, have the consistency that we've had, just hate to see that it's come down to this. "But on the other hand I feel like we've got the team to do it and the driver to do it. "I think if you're going to back any team against the wall, this is the one to do it."
RELATED: Full final practice results Kevin Harvick topped the speed chart in final practice for Sunday's AAA 400 at Dover International Raceway (2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR). He wheeled the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet around Dover's 1-mile track at a top speed of 156.033 mph in the 14 laps he ran before rain resumed, ending the session. Carl Edwards was second-fastest in the No. 19 Joe Gibbs racing Toyota at 156.013 mph, followed by Kasey Kahne in the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet at 155.783 mph. Harvick's teammate Kurt Busch and the No. 41 Chevrolet posted the fourth-fastest speed in the final Sprint Cup practice session at 155.588 mph. Sitting on the Chase bubble going into Sunday's race, Dale Earnhardt Jr . got the fifth-quickest speed out of his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet at 155.434 mph. Amid a schedule compressed by rain that wiped out all of Friday's on-track activities and cut into Saturday's first practice, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers lost the track to rain again about 15 minutes into the second session. RELATED: First practice results After more rain doused Dover International Speedway Saturday morning, canceling NASCAR XFINITY Series practice, NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series got a 25-minute practice in and Kasey Kahne made the most of it. Kahne wheeled his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet around Dover's 1-mile track at 160.506 mph, topping the speed chart. Carl Edwards was second quickest in the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota at 160.442 mph. JGR teammate Denny Hamlin was right behind Edwards at 160.285 mph. It was the first time Sprint Cup cars had been on track after rain washed out Friday's practice and qualifying. Kevin Harvick was fourth on the leaderboard at 159.964 mph in the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet. The No. 4 team and No. 2 team of Brad Keselowski had been docked 15 minutes of practice time for infractions at New Hampshire in the inspection process. Given the amended schedule, neither the Stewart-Haas entry nor the Team Penske entry was required to serve the time -- it will instead carry over to the next race at Charlotte. Aric Almirola rounded out the top five with a speed of 159.943 mph in the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford.