Ingram's Flat Spot On: Harvick headed for title?

Ingram's Flat Spot On: Harvick headed for title?

Ingram's Flat Spot On Harvick Headed For Title? by Jonathan Ingram This year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup boils down to four guys with the most momentum. Of those four, I like Kevin Harvick's chances. He's evolved as a driver and...


Ingram's Flat Spot On


Harvick Headed For Title?
by Jonathan Ingram

This year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup boils down to four guys with the most momentum. Of those four, I like Kevin Harvick's chances.

He's evolved as a driver and above all, he's got momentum.

Kevin Harvick, Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet celebrates Michigan victory in August..
Photo by Action Sports Photography.

OK. Denny Hamlin, who scored his sixth victory of the year at Richmond, has more momentum. But the Joe Gibbs Racing team's Toyota Camrys have suffered mechanical issues at inopportune times. That never bodes well in a title chase.

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. Plus Johnson always 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 Gibbs' 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 the big decisions in an organization that lost its momentum in the process.

At RCR, Harvick, who certainly was looking at other team options, helped prompt the team's re-organization, which is once again running on all cylinders with three drivers in the Chase. But neither Jeff Burton nor Clint Bowyer have appeared in victory lane.

Chase for the Cup top 12: Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton, Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer.
Photo by Action Sports Photography.

It may be a sign of the times that Jack Roush, who has three drivers in the Chase but only one victory, will also rely more on Robbie Reiser to run his teams, a process begun as a result of his plane crash.

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 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 on eye on sponsors. Having toned down his comments but not without sustaining an occasional lack of respect for the print media, Harvick is not a favorite among writers. His gradual move to the middle sometimes puts him the perspective of an actor rather than a character.

But 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.

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 better than any others trying to depose the four-time champion.

Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jonathan@jingrambooks.com.

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Series GENERAL , NASCAR-CUP

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