Just when we thought the fight for this year’s Sprint Cup championship was going to be among three drivers, Kevin Harvick sits on the pole and goes on to win the fourth race of the 10-race Chase. It was a maximum point day for the Richard Childress Racing driver who moved into third place, 25 points behind points leader Matt Kenseth.
Earlier in the year when Harvick announced that he would be leaving Childress at the end of this season to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014, he and his team immediately began wearing the lame duck label. You have to give it to Harvick and crew chief Gil Martin, they never did compete as if this was their last season together. Instead, they continued to show the consistency that not only put them in the Chase but they have also made three trips to victory lane this season.
It would have been easy for Harvick to just play out the string as he prepared for his move to Stewart-Haas, but he has put himself in a position that all of the momentum with which he ends this season will carry over when he starts next season with his new team. He will still be driving a Chevrolet next season so he will carry that manufacturer identity with him and maybe more importantly, he will be bringing his sponsor Budweiser along with him. So for Harvick’s fans, it will be business as usual with the only difference for them being they will root for a new car number.
Kansas may turn out to be the race that goes a long way in determining this year’s champion as Harvick firmly established himself as a contender for the crown, but there were some other drivers that may have seen their championship hopes taken away. The biggest loser on the day was Kyle Busch, who was having the best Chase of his career and was considered as of the ones to beat for the title.
Busch’s problems at Kansas began long before Sunday’s green flag as he wrecked his Cup car on the first lap of Saturday’s practice. Problems continued that day as he competed in the Nationwide race where he finished fourth, but the finish was overshadowed because of a run-in with Brad Keselowski. The two made contact late in the race that sent Keselowski in the grass and immediately after the race he promised to get back at Busch in Sunday’s Cup race. That never happened, but it sure was “the” topic of conversation in all of the media coverage leading up to the start of the race.
None of this should have come as a surprise to Busch as his last three Kansas finishes prior to Sunday had been outside of the top 30. Sunday’s result continued the trend as his day featured having to avoid a first-lap wreck when Danica Patrick spun, a run-in with Juan Pablo Montoya that sent him into the grass, and finally contact with Bran Vickers that ended his day behind the wall in 34th place.
He entered the race in third place and along with Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson had established themselves as the drivers to beat. Busch’s started the Chase with two runner-up finishes at Chicagoland and New Hampshire followed by a fifth-place finish at Dover, but now the question will be asked if he can overcome his Kansas finish. He now finds himself in fifth place, 35 points behind the leader.
Busch’s problems at Kansas show that it can happen to any driver but Harvick’s win also shows that it is still possible for a driver to race his way back into contention. There is a lot of racing left, but with each passing race the window to remain a contender continues to shrink.
TRACK SMACK: The only night race of the chase will take place this Saturday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Unlike the track’s May race with a length of 600 miles, the October version is “only” 500 miles in length. Jimmie Johnson leads all Chase drivers with six Charlotte wins, but the defending race champion is Clint Bowyer. Kevin Harvick will come into Charlotte with a ton of momentum not only from his Kansas win but also from the win that he posted in the May Charlotte race.
Event: Bank of America 500
Track: Charlotte Motor Speedway (1.5-mile tri-oval, 240 degrees of banking in the turns)
Date: Oct. 12, 7:30 PM
Defending Champion: Clint Bowyer