Harvick on a late-season roll

Published 2:08 pm Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Check out the favorites to win NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup championship and you’re not likely to find Kevin Harvick listed among them.

Before the postseason got going, most everyone was touting regular-season sensation Kyle Busch, who has gotten off to a devastating start in the 10-race Chase, finishing 34th and 43rd in the first two races, virtually eliminating the 23-year-old from contention.

Jimmie Johnson, who has won the past two titles, was another popular choice after winning the last two races before the Chase began. And he’s off to another strong start in the playoffs, tied for second with Greg Biffle, who has thrust himself into a contending position with two straight wins.

And, of course, there’s Carl Edwards, whose six victories this season are second only to Busch’s eight. He is leading the points and has established himself as the guy to beat.

But Harvick, getting little attention so far, is on the best streak of them all with a career-best eight straight top-10 finishes.

After running sixth last Sunday at Dover — and moving up five spots to fifth in the standings, 101 points behind Edwards — Harvick said, “I am just really proud of all my guys and I really think we still have the momentum to win this thing.”

He could be right.

With eight races to go, beginning with Sunday’s Camping World RV 400 at Kansas Speedway, Harvick figures the championship remains wide open, giving him as good a chance to win it as any of the leaders.

“I think it is way too early to tell if anyone is out of championship contention,” the Richard Childress Racing driver said. “In 2006, Jimmie (Johnson) struggled in the first couple of weeks and came back and won. I think you have to wait until you get about halfway through the Chase to count anyone out.

“Right now, Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson seem to be on a roll, but that could change next week. So, I think for us, we just have to go out and race as hard as we can, get the best finishes possible and see where we end up in (the finale at) Homestead.”

Crew chief Todd Berrier likes the way the No. 29 Chevrolet team has started the Chase. But he acknowledged that just earning top-10s probably won’t be enough.

“We need to win a race,” Berrier said. “But, if you can run 10th or sixth or fifth, you can win a race. That’s what you’ve got to do.

“You’ve got to crawl before you can walk. I think we are consistently a lot better and looking for a little something to take that next step.”

It isn’t going to be easy.

Harvick, who has 11 victories in eight seasons, has not won a Cup race since the 2007 season-opener at Daytona.

But it’s the third straight year Harvick has made the Chase, and his career-best finish of fourth came in 2006.

Harvick, who replaced the legendary Dale Earnhardt at RCR after NASCAR’s biggest star was killed in a crash at Daytona in February 2001, would love to give team owner Childress his first title since Earnhardt won in 1994. But he understands that it’s just too early to build up anybody’s expectations.

“I have been on both sides of it,” Harvick said last week at Dover. “We have won the first race and run good and got halfway through the Chase and didn’t make it happen. We’ve run bad and got to the halfway point of the Chase and ran good the rest of the year.

“I have been involved in Chases where guys have wrecked the first couple of weeks and Jimmie (Johnson) came back and won and then Tony (Stewart) went through the whole Chase and didn’t win a race but won the championship. It all depends on the complexion of the Chase and how it all builds up, and you just race as hard as you can.”