When I was watching Kevin Harvick lead 355 of 400 laps and triumph at Dover last Sunday in a must win situation, all I could think about was the coolest of competitors in all sports in big situations.
Yes, his performance was like Joe Montana on the final Super Bowl drive against Cincinnati, Michael Jordan in any of his six NBA Finals or Madison Bumgarner in the playoffs last season.
There’s a certain trait that separates athletes from one another that when it’s “go-time”, with everything on the line, they seem to come up with their best performances. Clayton Kershaw can line his entire living room up with regular season MVP and Cy Young trophies, but there’s that gene within him that routinely fails when it matters most for his club in the postseason, while Bumgarner is the complete opposite.
Harvick was on the verge of being eliminated Sunday and had to win to stay alive in the Chase, which he did. It was almost a repeat of last season when he had to win at Phoenix to stay alive and advance to the Championship race at Homestead, a race he also won.
What makes Sunday’s victory even more remarkable is that Harvick had never won at Dover in 29 starts. It was his first win since March at Phoenix. His first win of the season came at Las Vegas, which was also a first-time victory there.
While we celebrate Harvick in his great run yesterday, which keeps his chances of repeating as Sprint Cup champion alive, we also said good bye to six-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson as a championship contender with his 42nd-place finish at Dover, a place where he holds almost every track record. It was a bizarre turn of events, because in the first race of the Chase at Chicagoland, Johnson had bumped Harvick into the wall putting Harvick in 42nd-place and in the desperate position he was in at Dover. Karma?
Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte kicks off the second leg of the Chase called the “Contender Round” where 12 drivers all start with the same amount of points. Win any of the next three races between Charlotte, Kansas and Talladega and it’s an automatic ticket into the “Eliminator Round.”
This will be the eighth race this season held on a 1.5-mile track and second of five we’ll see during the Chase. A Chevrolet won the first four with Johnson taking three and Harvick getting the other.
Things started to shift for Chevrolet and Toyota at Charlotte in May when Denny Hamlin won the All-Star Race and then Carl Edwards won the Coca-Cola 600 the following week. Kyle Busch would win at Kentucky’s 1.5-mile layout in July and Hamlin would win at Chicagoland to kick off the Chase.
That’s four straight Joe Gibbs Racing wins (All-Star race was non-points event) on the 1.5 cookie-cutters and they’ve won 10 of the past 14 races overall coming into this week. Needless to say, they are on a roll and should be considered the favorites to win again this week – all four of them almost equally as good.
Joey Logano has been the top Ford entry and while he’s never won at Charlotte over his young career (13 starts), he does lead all active drivers with a 10.2 average finish. He finished 13th there in May and was fourth in this race last fall.
You can also expect Harvick to give the Gibbs cars a strong run as well. He’s a three-time winner at Charlotte including the Chase race last season. He’s finished ninth or better at Charlotte in nine of his past 10 starts.
Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, one of The Linemakers on SportingNews.com , and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Twitter: @MicahRoberts7 Email: [email protected].