Harvick takes hit at Indy
By Jenna Fryer
CHARLOTTE ó When Kurt Busch wrecked out of the race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he just might have taken Kevin Harvickís title hopes with him. A victim of Buschís slip, Harvick finished 37th and fell to 13th in the Chase for the championship.
Of course, heís been out of the top 12 before this season, and heís well within striking distance now at just two points out of the final qualifying spot.
At the same time, there are just six races to go to decide the field, and Harvick and the rest of the drivers on the bubble canít afford any more slip-ups.
Harvick, who was on the bubble last year and still made the Chase, wonít let his precarious spot change his strategy.
iIt doesnít really matter ó you just race as hard as you can every week,î Harvick said. iWe have had some really good cars since Sonoma but havenít been able to capitalize every weekend. We have had some bad weeks that have been out of our control. I am very confident in my team, and I think we will do everything we can do to make the Chase.î
If the Chase began this weekend, the field would consist of Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton, Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Greg Biffle, Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, and Clint Bowyer.
But the standings are so close from seventh to 15th that the field could change weekly between now and the Sept. 6 iregular seasonî finale at Richmond.
For example, Hamlin used a third-place finish last week at Indianapolis to move off the bubble and gain a bit of breathing room. Ranked 12th before Indy, he moved up four spots to eighth.
Kahne gained two spots and moved up to ninth. Now he heads back to Pocono with the same car he won with in June, intent on solidifying his spot in the Chase.
iWe saved the same car. The car was brand new for the first Pocono race and itís been waiting to go back,î he said. iI donít see why we canít have a shot at another win. As good as it was the first race, if we do the right things, we should have another shot.î
Bowyer was the beneficiary when his Richard Childress Racing teammate fell out of the top 12. Bowyer is now in the final qualifying spot, albeit with a mere two-point advantage over Harvick.
Kenseth was the biggest victim of the tire problems that plagued Indianapolis. He blew a right rear fairly early in the race, and the explosion tore a chunk of the quarter panel off his Ford before it went spinning through the grass.
He finished 38th and dropped three spots in the Chase standings to 11th. Heís only six ahead of Harvick now, in position to fall out at any time.
iLast weekend was a huge disappointment for us,î he said. iWe unloaded pretty good, with high hopes for a good finish. So, blowing a tire like we did and tearing up our car was pretty embarrassing. This weekend weíre looking to bounce back at Pocono, which has really been one of our tougher tracks.
iA solid finish at Pocono would go a long way toward gaining some momentum in this stretch run leading up to the Chase.î
So who does that leave on the bubble?
Well, Harvick for one. He was in a similar position last year when he hovered at the bottom of the top-12 during the stretch run. Although he grew weary of being asked about strategy, he never changed a thing and earned a spot in the field.
Now heís vowing to do the same.
iI am planning on just going out there and racing as hard as I can,î he said. iI mean, you might not take a chance on fuel or a different pit strategy to win a race, but you really donít do much different.î
Right behind Harvick is David Ragan, the surprise of the Chase contenders.
The second-year Roush Fenway Racing driver is having a remarkable season considering his rookie year struggles, and heís just 56 points out of 12th.
But Pocono could be the make-or-break race for Ragan, who has qualified 30th or worse in his three starts there and has never finished higher than 24th.
iIíve struggled,î he admitted. iBut weíve had some good runs recently, so hopefully we can build off of that momentum. We need to go there and get a good run ó itís all about points and having solid finishes at this point in the season.î
Behind Ragan is Brian Vickers, who is 132 points out after engine issues in Indy led to a 42nd-place finish. But Vickers can make some ground when the series returns to Pocono and Michigan over the next month. He was second at Pocono in June and followed it with a fourth-place finish in Michigan.
Beyond Vickers, the last driver with a chance ó albeit an outside one ó is Ryan Newman. The Daytona 500 winner is 16th in the standings with significant ground to make up.
Heís also got to deal with finding a new job for next season: Newman said two weeks ago heís leaving Penske Racing at the end of the year, and heís believed to be the top candidate to join Stewartís new team.
But Newman, who finished 13th in Indy, also wants a strong close to his Penske career.
iWe had a really good points day at Indianapolis, and thatís what we need right now,î he said. iOur goal is to get the No. 12 Dodge into the Chase, and to do what we can to have solid runs without any issues for the next several races. We have to take that mentality and the momentum we have into this weekendís race and have another good one.î