You cannot blame Kevin Harvick if he were to be bitter about NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship. After all, under the pre-Chase system, Harvick would have ran away with the title in 2010. Instead, he watched Jimmie Johnson celebrate an unprecedented fifth consecutive Sprint Cup championship.
Many felt as if Harvick would have a difficult time duplicating his 2010 successes. While he has talent, he had yet to consistently contend for the title. Former drivers who challenged Johnson were unable to maintain that momentum the next year. Take Matt Kenseth in 2007 for example. He was Johnson’s chief challenger in 2006 but was not the same driver in 2007. In 2008, Jeff Gordon fell off the map, failing to win a single race. He was the driver putting a scare into the 48 team in 2007. In 2009, Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle failed to win a race after giving Johnson a run in 2008. Mark Martin was Johnson’s closest threat in 2009, only to place a zippo in the win column while missing the Chase.
It remains to be seen if Harvick and Denny Hamlin will break that disturbing trend. After winning at Martinsville, Harvick appears to be the exception. Harvick won at California a week earlier by toying with Johnson’s bumper on the backstretch of the final lap and then flying by on the outside of turn 4. That was a popular win, as many of NASCAR’s fans enjoy watching the No. 48 lose. However, a week later, Harvick’s win may not be as celebrated.
His win was impressive, but he moved fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr out of the way with less than three laps remaining. Earnhardt Jr has not won a race since June of 2008, and after he rooted Kyle Busch out of the way a few laps earlier, it appeared as if the long and agonizing drought was over. Harvick followed Earnhardt Jr past Busch and then chased him down, moved him, and won his second consecutive race.
“We all want to see Dale Junior win. It would be great for the sport…I’m not going to back down,” Harvick said after his victory.
He acknowledged the fact that an Earnhardt win could prove beneficial to the sport, but at the same time, Harvick is in it to win it, and did exactly what he needed to do. He did what Earnhardt Jr would do if roles were reversed.
Harvick appears to be the early-season favorite to dethrone Johnson. While there is plenty of racing remaining before late-November, we are beginning to see who could be the drivers to give Johnson fits come autumn. Harvick is certainly one of them.