NASCAR & Auto Racing

Off to a so-so start in the Chase, Harvick needs big day at Lowe's

Kevin Harvick has to wonder what else can go wrong.

Since NASCAR’s latest version of the Chase for the championship began four races ago, Harvick has seemed to be under some kind of cloud.

Flat tires relegated him to 17th at New Hampshire and 20th at Dover. Harvick finished a solid sixth at Kansas, but ran into more problems last Sunday at Talladega in a 20th-place finish.

It could have been worse for the Richard Childress Racing driver.

Four other drivers using engines built by the new RCR-Dale Earnhardt Incorporated alliance blew up, sending Jeff Burton, Harvick’s teammate, and DEI drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr. and Aric Almirola to the garage early.

Harvick’s engine lost power midway through the race, but he somehow got to the finish to preserve a 20th-place finish.

“With 50 laps to go, we dropped a cylinder,” crew chief Todd Berrier said. “Somehow, it hung together to the end. It could have been a lot worse. It was worse for 23 other guys.”

Talladega also extended Harvick’s string of races he has finished to 38, dating to the Dover event in Sept. 2006. He and RCR teammate Clint Bowyer are the only two Chase drivers to have finished every race this season.

But the double-digit finish at Talladega left Harvick, going after his first Nextel Cup title, fifth in the 12-man Chase, 202 points behind Talladega winner and new series leader Jeff Gordon with six races remaining.

And Harvick isn’t real secure in that spot, with Carl Edwards three points behind and 2004 champion Kurt Busch 13 points back.

In between Harvick and the two front-runners are RCR teammate Clint Bowyer in third and two-time Cup champion Tony Stewart. But Harvick is better off than Burton, who is now last in the Chase standings and all but eliminated from championship contention.

“Yeah, it’s been a fight so far,” Harvick said. “I think, in the first two weeks we got three flat tires. Then, it was the engine at Talladega. You can only afford so many situations like that before it takes you right out of the Chase.”

“Our approach hasn’t changed, though. We go and try to be as aggressive as we can every week and make our car run as fast as we can to put ourselves in a position to win. If you can’t do that, then you have to make the best day possible out of the days that you’re having.”

For Harvick to get back into the championship battle, some of the drivers ahead of him will have to suffer some of their own misfortunes and he will have to overcome his less-than-successful Cup history on the 1.5-mile oval at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.

Heading into the Bank of America 500 on Saturday night, Harvick’s only real success at the track in suburban Charlotte, N.C., came in May when he won the non-points All-Star race.

Otherwise, the 31-year-old has only one top-five finish in a points-earning race since his first Cup race there in 2001. The Bakersfield, Calif., native has an average finish of 20.2 at Lowe’s.

In the 600-mile race in May, Harvick survived an early wreck to finish 21st.

“Charlotte seems to be a track where we just haven’t had the finishes we need,” Harvick said. “We have always run pretty well there, but just haven’t been able to put everything together.

“During the Coca-Cola 600, we were running pretty good and just got caught up in a wreck. We have to find a way to keep everything together. If we can do that, I think we can leave Charlotte with a top-five finish.”

If he does that, chances are Harvick will also be back in the championship race.