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Ingram: Harvick A Contender If Not The Winner

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 19 2010

Kevin Harvick's fight to win the 2010 Sprint Cup championship begins all over this afternoon in New Hampshire. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer

He’s got momentum. He’s got championship experience. His team has championship experience. He led the points standings for the bulk of the “regular season.” He may be the closest thing to an old-style racer that NASCAR has. So why don’t any of my fellow racing writers think Kevin Harvick can win the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship?

I ask this question aloud for a couple of reasons. While headed north to the zMAX Dragway earlier this week, I had a brief chat with the man in charge of your favorite motor racing web site, otherwise known as Ped the Ed. I mentioned to him who my pick would be to win the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

As usual, we talked about various aspects of the wide world of motor racing and when I went back to grappling with traffic I mistakenly thought the deadline for casting a vote in RacinToday.com’s writer’s pole was Saturday night, not Saturday morning. Oh well. At least I was on the record for my pick of Harvick.

OK. Denny Hamlin has more momentum after scoring his sixth victory of the year at Richmond.

Jimmie Johnson has more points than Harvick after the re-set following five victories. And, he’s got more championship trophies. Plus, his Chad Knaus-led team put together good finishes in Atlanta and Richmond headed into a part of the schedule where the Lowe’s Chevy of Hendrick Motorsports has always been strong. As always, Johnson has the motivation of proving why he’s the champion in the eyes of so many naysayers.

Kyle Busch appears poised to post his first good showing in the Chase for the Joe Gibbs Racing team after hanging up three wins and finishing third in the regular season.

Harvick has the stats, too. He’s won three races this season and two on the restrictor plate tracks with one plate race at Talladega remaining on the schedule. He’s been running at the finish on the lead lap in all but two races and led the points at the end of the regular season. It may have been a while since his Richard Childress Racing team won a championship, but there are six trophies residing in Welcome, N.C. from the days of Dale Earnhardt Sr.

This year Childress has been able to accomplish what Rick Hendrick learned long ago – in the current era of multi-car teams, it’s important to delegate. The former hands-on driver turned team owner continued to make all the strategy decisions in an organization that lost its momentum in the process.

Harvick, who certainly was looking at other team options, helped prompt the re-organization of the RCR team, which is once again running on all cylinders with three drivers in the Chase.

Having watched Harvick succeed Earnhardt Sr. – one of the toughest jobs in motor racing at the time – I’m surprised that the 35-year-old driver does not have more than 14 career victories. He would have had a breakout season in 2006 with five victories except for the fact that Kasey Kahne won six for Ray Evernham Motorsports and Johnson won his first Sprint Cup title in addition to five victories that year.

It’s not as if Harvick, a Daytona 500 winner, doesn’t have championship experience. His Camping World Truck team has won two titles with Ron Hornaday Jr. and he’s driven to the Nationwide Series title twice. This will be his fourth appearance in the Chase in the last five seasons.

Harvick now seems to have intangibles working for him as one of the team leaders at RCR. A firebrand who once danced on walls in order to jump into fist fights, Harvick has become the epitome of the modern driver turned team owner who always keeps sponsors in mind (his sometimes acerbic comments to his pit crews in the Truck or Nationwide series during races withstanding).

Having toned down his comments during interviews but not without sustaining an occasional lack of respect for the print media, Harvick is not a favorite among the types who write in the media center. His gradual move to the middle sometimes puts him in the perspective of an actor rather than a character.

If NASCAR needs an antidote to Johnson’s California cool – and that’s not necessarily the viewpoint here – then the man from the high desert fits the bill as well as any other trying to depose the four-time champion.

Starting in the roughneck town of Bakersfield, Calif., Harvick comes closer to resembling the type of driver often championed in NASCAR’s earlier days. He worked his way up through the ladder system, then immediately won in relief of Earnhardt Sr. in Atlanta en route to the rookie title. Since then, three of his career wins have occurred at New Hampshire, scene of this weekend’s Chase opener, and Phoenix, the penultimate track on the schedule.

Now known for working his way to the front at the end of races and for keeping the fenders on his Chevy before the race is on the line, Harvick is likely to be a factor in the Chase even if he doesn’t win it.

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 19 2010
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