KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Kevin Harvick entered the second race of the second round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup last of the 12 drivers still eligible for a championship. Once again, he had them right where he wanted them. NASCAR’s great escape artist did it yet again on Sunday at Kansas Speedway, extricating himself from a seemingly untenable situation to advance in the elimination-style playoff format with a victory. Harvick goes from in jeopardy of elimination to a participant in the third round with Jimmie Johnson.
"You know these races are hard to win and these guys are just so good at the details. You put their backs against the wall and they just get better," Harvick said from victory lane. “We prepare the same for every race. I try every week to find something to motivate myself. To be able to do that now for three years says a lot about the character of this team. There's going to be some bumps along the way, some obstacles. We just have the mindset of every race in the Chase to just go for it.”
The final six spots will be decided next week at Talladega Superspeedway, where such heroics – or even saving a seemingly safe spot in the transfer envelope – is risky business. Harvick won the penultimate race of the 2014 season to advance to the final at Homestead-Miami Speedway, then in South Florida the next week to earn his first Cup title. He escaped elimination last year with a win at Dover, also an elimination race.
Harvick took the lead on a restart with 30 laps remaining. "I just got two good restarts against the 19 (Carl Edwards), and I knew I just needed to go for it," Harvick said, noting he has improved on restarts since the beginning of the season. Edwards was second, just missing his first win at his home track. Joey Logano was third, Jimmie Johnson fourth and Kyle Busch fifth.
Now, the playoff moves to Talladega Superspeedway, where Brad Keselowski won in May. He will need another outstanding performance. Keselowski appeared to get too high coming out of Turn 4 and didn't leave Denny Hamlin enough room. Hamlin couldn't slow in time, hitting Keselowski and sending him spinning through the extensive grassy stretch. The No. 2 Ford suffered heavy damage and the 2012 champion is in danger of missing the cut for the final eight. Also below the cut line, Austin Dillon, Chase Elliott and Hamlin.
"If my team keeeps putting out this kind of effort, we'll keep winning races. ... I probably could have raced a little bit less hard, but I want to race hard. I don't care what the format is," Keselowski said during an interview on NBC from the garage as his crew worked on his car. It was an interesting turn of events for Keselowski, who earlier in the week suggested drivers with a points cushion - as he had - coming to Kansas could be more conservative:
“If you’re a car that has any kind of gap right now, you’re going to just go and lay up at Kansas,” he said then. “You’re going to try really hard to not put yourself in any situations. … The reality is if you have a pretty good gap, you’re going to take a log off the fire.”