Kyle Busch will lead off the History 300 at Charlotte
Kyle Busch dominates the day and takes the win in the History 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway
Host Matt Dillner walks you through the NNS garage as drivers gear up for History 300 .
Kevin Harvick talks about his fifth place finish in the History 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway
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.
In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, NASCAR shines a spotlight on the talented Latino Drivers successfully competing at all levels of the sport.
From Danica Patrick’s mid-race crash to Matt Kenseth passing Kevin Harvick for the win, check out the best scanner sounds from the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor 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."
Standing on stage holding his arms high above his head giving double peace signs, 10-year old Elijah Aschbrenner looked like a rock star – bright red hair, high wattage smile and unmistakable attitude. A year after being diagnosed with a rare childhood cancer, Epithelioid Sarcoma, Elijah struck the pose after joining NASCAR stars such as Dale Earnhardt Jr . and Danica Patrick walking the runway as part of the Martin Truex Jr . Foundation's "Catwalk for a Cause" pediatric cancer fundraiser this past May. Predictably, Earnhardt and Patrick got rousing cheers, but Elijah clearly stole the show -- afterwards be-bopping around the Mooresville, N.C., venue shaking hands with donors, grabbing snacks with his little brother Sam, 9, and posing for photos with the race car drivers. It was difficult to tell who was the celebrity and who was the cause célèbre. That was only five months ago. Unfortunately, a recent CT-scan revealed that despite the chemotherapy and the radiation and the surgeries -- despite great courage and faith -- Elijah's cancer has spread. And after a brief and hopeful time participating in a clinical trial in Atlanta last month, doctors have decided there is no further treatment to prescribe. A hospice nurse visits Elijah every Tuesday at his home outside Charlotte making sure he is comfortable. A hospice social worker also stops by regularly to counsel Sam and Elijah's friends, whom his mom, Becky Hughes, says "are having a real tough time with this." Though Elijah would much rather be riding a Ripstik outside with his brother and friends, he mostly spends his days in a wheelchair building elaborate Lego creations or watching television -- "Wheel of Fortune" is one of his favorites. "My mom and I are really good at it," he says. He loves the occasional trips to Target or Toys "R" Us, and the steady stream of visitors who bring prayers and love. The cancer has taken a real toll on Elijah's young body. His voice is softer and strained, his stamina greatly diminished, but cancer has not sapped his incredible spirit or lessened his intense resolve. "There are so many days I could just cry and let myself get buried in that, but I can't," his mom explained. "Elijah is strong and Sam is strong, always there to make us laugh and smile. "I have prayed to God to just give me this tumor. I would do that in a heartbeat. The worst pain in the world is seeing your child going through something like this, and you can't fix it, you can't do anything. "I could be an emotional wreck, but Elijah only allows me three minutes of crying a day. Some days I don't need it, but if I start to, he'll say, "Three minutes, Mom." Hughes has worked in the racing industry for years both as a driver public relations representative and now with sponsor Great Clips. She has been buoyed by the outpouring of support from the NASCAR community but not surprised. This weekend Elijah and his family will be guests of Ann and Ken Schrader at the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway . After some souvenir shopping -- his favorite part of the day -- Elijah is looking forward to stopping in the garage area and seeing his "friends" from the Catwalk event. So many of them have provided help to Elijah and his family. Drivers have lent their private airplanes to transport Elijah to various doctors around the Southeast. They have donated money to cover the escalating medical bills and sent messages of support using the hashtag #prayersforelijah on social media. More significantly, they have given their time and attention. Truex and his girlfiend, Sherry Pollex, herself undergoing treatment for ovarian cancer, are essentially on speed dial with the family and have been constant support for Elijah. Pollex organizes the Catwalk event and had been raising money ($ 300 ,000 this year) for childhood cancer long before she was affected personally by the disease. Team Penske put Elijah's name over the door of both of its Sprint Cup Series Chase contending cars last week. And 2012 Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski devoted one of the entries on his popular blogs to remind people about "perspective" in life. He used Elijah as a shining example. Roush Fenway Racing and Richard Childress Racing are among the organizations to publicly offer good wishes -- the entire team from shop foremen to drivers posing with a "Prayers for Elijah" sign. And while it is all a bit overwhelming and "very cool," Elijah joked this week that it does cause a minor problem when it comes to picking a driver to cheer for. "That's the hard part," Elijah said. "They are all so good to me. "The fact they know me is outstanding, I don't know how a kid like me would get that lucky to meet them. Just knowing them means a lot to me." His mother begins to cry when trying to explain the impact of those relationships. "He really looks up to Martin (Truex) and Dale Junior and Kasey (Kahne) and Jeff Gordon and feels like they are all his buddies because they have done events with him," Hughes said. "After the Catwalk, he'll talk about how Dale Junior is his buddy. During a race, he'll ask me to call Dale Jr. and get him to do this or that. I'll laugh. It shows how great these guys have been to Elijah. "Even if they were just with him for half an hour it made such an impact on him and made him feel comfortable and like a friend.That means everything to me. To see how happy he gets thinking he has all these buddies in all these different avenues of sports." Taking the cue from NASCAR's best, other sports have rallied about Elijah, too. WWE wrestling star Titus O'Neil changed a flight to detour to Charlotte and pay a visit to Elijah. Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton surprised Elijah at a block party in his honor -- a Halloween theme because that's Elijah's favorite holiday. News outlets from People Magazine to "The Today Show" shared the story. "I'm in disbelief. Every day we'll hear of another athlete doing something for him, last night someone sent us a picture of Kirk Cameron holding up a sign saying 'Prayers for Elijah,' " Hughes said. "It's just amazing to me, the outreach and the people that have been impacted throughout all this, from NASCAR, to WWE to the Panthers. Everyone's just put their arms around us and are supporting us. "He is definitely a loved little boy, and I am so blessed that God chose me to be his mom. He is the bravest little boy I know and I just pray for many, many more years to watch him grow up." It's not just famous people who have recognized and rallied for Elijah. Classmates from school visit him. The community organized a golf tournament fundraiser, and even local restaurants designated certain nights to donate funds. In some ways, "Prayers for Elijah" has grown from a sentimental hashtag or well wish into a movement. It is a plea for more funding and research into childhood cancers, which currently receive a very small portion of the overall funds. It is an inspiration reminding us if a 10-year-old boy can be this strong and positive despite all he's going through, then we should have great courage and a better attitude, too. It is a lesson in living in the present each day. As a breast cancer patient myself, I feel a special connection to Elijah. I was diagnosed a couple months after him and our chemotherapy treatments and surgeries often coincided. In fact, I had radiation treatment the morning I flew from Florida to Charlotte to attend May's Catwalk event. And I had to leave early the next morning to be back in the cancer center for my next round. That evening I asked Elijah what advice he had for other cancer patients. "Keep fighting," he said. "And breathe." His mom considers that evening a gift -- a time of pure happiness and excitement. How proud to know her son was an inspiration to every soul in the room. And still is. "He was amazing, he just shined that night," Hughes recalled. "It was like, 'Here I am and I'm not going to let cancer get the best of me.' And he's had that attitude from Day 1. "There have been many days when my faith is down and I’m scared and worried and he'll look at me and say, 'Mama, we're going to get through this.' So never once has his faith been in question. A few months ago he coined the phrase, 'Faith and believing are your cure.' And he really means it. "He is amazing and he gives me strength every day." He does the same for all of us.
The importance of Jimmie's Chase dismissal, Junior's close call at Dover RELATED: Subscribe to NASCAR Illustrated " Harvick shoves Johnson post-race If you're a regular reader of Herman Unplugged, you know that clairvoyant Kenny Wallace called for Kevin Harvick to win in "walk-off" fashion once again at Dover. He was on the record early and this wasn't Phoenix, where Harvick has a habit of making victories look routine. He'd never won at the Monster Mile … until Sunday. Now? "I really feel that Harvick's gonna win Charlotte and lock himself in again," Herman said. "When you look at the last two races at Loudon and Dover, two completely different race tracks, this is speed we haven't seen since the Jimmie Johnson glory days. He has utterly dominated these last two races, so I don't know why that would stop going into Charlotte. "The only thing that's gonna stop him is a blown tire, wreck or parts failure." NASCAR ILLUSTRATED: Speaking of that, a faulty inexpensive axle seal felled Jimmie Johnson at Dover and dropped him from the Chase. That's a bad beat… HERMAN: "Some of the smallest items in the history of building a car have cost such big deals. An axle seal is a complete fluke. I don't think I've ever seen one go out of a passenger car much less a Sprint Cup car. One would think that with all the engineering and all the machinery at Hendrick, they're probably making their own axle seals, so it was probably the rubber that they used that was a freak deal. Who in the hell would have ever thought it would be an axle seal?" NI: Pretty riveting back and forth battle between McMurray and Junior at the end of Dover race. How important was that for the sport with Junior grabbing the final playoff spot in this next round? HERMAN: "It was bigger than big, no doubt. I was asked on the prerace show: 'Will Dale Jr. make it into the Contender Round?' And I said no because I thought Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick would outrun him and they did. But what we did not see was Jimmie Johnson falling out of the race. Nine times out of 10, Dale Jr. is gonna outrun Jamie McMurray , right? These were two drivers that really wanted it bad and this incredible drama built and at the end it looks like Jamie is gonna do it. Even Dale Jr. said it was that caution. The caution came out and it changes our sport moving forward. If that last caution does not come out, 70% of our fan base remains depressed and sad. That was pretty incredible to see that last late race restart." NI: The other remaining Hendrick driver, Jeff Gordon , did what he needed to do as well but he's winless on the season. Do you have any problem if a winless driver claims the championship under this format like Ryan Newman nearly did a year ago? HERMAN: "I have never had a problem with someone scoring more points than the other person. Special things happen when things change sometimes. Every time you look up at the end of the year now, Ryan Newman is there without coming close to winning a race. If Jeff Gordon continues to run consistent and keeps getting better and buying himself more time, we still got seven races to go, and maybe that team can find him some speed. But how do you deny somebody scoring more points than the other person? I know people feel like you have to win but throughout our whole history as a sport it's never been based on wins, it's been based on points." NI: Logano would be leading Harvick by eight points under the old system with Junior in third 76 points back. Do you prefer one system over the other when it comes to crowning a champion? HERMAN: "I like this system; I don't like one race determining the champion and I'll tell you why. In baseball and football, we deal with human beings. In auto racing, we deal with parts and pieces that are made by machinery. To determine who is the greatest all year long on one race is brutal. That's the way I look at it. Last year, Joey Logano came down pit road and the jackman had the worst stop of his life and it took Joey out. I don't think he could have outrun Harvick anyway but it took him out of contending. I would like to see this system stay but give it something to add longevity in the end. Maybe we go 3-3-3 and let the last three determine a champion instead of one damn race." SUBSCRIBE NOW!