NASCAR

Harvick dominates in must-win race to advance in Chase

kevin-harvick-nascar.png

Harvick dominates in must-win race to advance in Chase

DOVER, Del. (AP) -- Kevin Harvick stood by his confetti-coated car and used it as a resting spot for a couple of crushed beer cans, when his crew belted out a catchy rallying cry.

"I believe that we will win! I believe that we will win! I believe that we will win!"

Believe it.

Harvick has mastered his Game 7 races, nerves steeled and never rattled from any pressure that should come in a must-win spot.

He delivered one more time and dominated a race he had to win to advance to the second round of NASCAR's playoffs. Mired in 15th in the standings, Harvick went out and led 355 laps Sunday at Dover International Speedway and earned the third automatic berth in the 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field.

"Never quit. That's why right here, guys," Harvick said over the radio as he took the checkered flag.

Harvick's title defense lives on.

Jimmie Johnson's bid for a record-tying seventh championship came to a shocking end when a busted part sent the No. 48 Chevrolet to the garage and sent him plummeting in the standings.

NASCAR had the drama it craved Sunday when it revamped its playoff format last season. Dale Earnhardt. Jr. earned the final transfer spot over Jamie McMurray on a tiebreaker. Earnhardt finished third and McMurray was fourth on Sunday.

Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer also were eliminated as the Chase field was sliced from 16 to 12. Four more drivers will be eliminated in the next three-race segment that starts next week at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth had already earned berths in the next round with wins in the first two Chase races. Carl Edwards also advanced along with Joey Logano, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch.

They all had a shot at knocking out Harvick.

Now, they all have to deal down the stretch with a driver who has led 571 of 700 laps run the last two weeks. That's bad news for the field.

"Hell, yeah," race runner-up Kyle Busch said. "That was a guy that we wanted to knock out. That's a guy that can win all these races and you don't want to have to compete against a guy like that."

Harvick brushed some stout circumstances against him to reach victory lane: He hadn't won since going back-to-back in the third and fourth races of the season and had been 0 for 29 at Dover. An easy title favorite, he finished 42nd in the Chase opener at Chicagoland and 21st at New Hampshire.

But for a driver who faced the colossal responsibility in his first Cup start of replacing Dale Earnhardt Sr., winning races isn't much of a concern.

It was only three weeks ago when a confident Harvick said about the JGR drivers, "We're going to pound them into the ground."

He never wavered in his approach even as his title chances were bruised.

"If you're not ready for it, it'll eat you up," Harvick said.

Harvick is simply clutch for Stewart-Haas Racing. He was eighth out of eight teams and had to win last season at Phoenix International Raceway to advance into the championship finale. He won, then won it all the next week when his second straight checkered flag gave him the highest finish among four championship drivers to earn the crown.

Harvick would love to win another championship not just for himself, but for friend and team owner Tony Stewart. Stewart announced this week he will retire from Sprint Cup racing after next season.

Stewart and Harvick grabbed hands in celebration window-to-window with their Chevrolets parked on the track.

"We weren't in a good situation coming into today, but that's what this team is made of," Harvick said. "This is what it's all about, those big-time moments."

One more big moment eluded Johnson.

He entered fifth in the standings and, with 10 career wins at Dover, seemed a lock to advance. His No. 48 Chevrolet was forced off the track for 36 laps with a torn rear axle seal and his title shot was gone. He's 14th in the standings.

"It's tough having a very inexpensive axle seal be the culprit and take your championship hopes away," he said.

Johnson won championships in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2013, putting him one shy of matching Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for most on the career list.

Truex survived after he was sent to the back of the field after his team made an unapproved adjustment to the right rear after inspection. Gordon's drive for a fifth championship is still alive in his final season.

Earnhardt made the pivotal outside pass on McMurray on the race's final start and earned that last Chase spot because he had the best finish in the three playoff races.

Earnhardt climbed out of his car and immediately walked over to McMurray and consoled one of his close friends.

"That was a deserving pass he put on to be able to make through to the next round," McMurray said. "Our car wasn't that good on the outside and I didn't expect anyone else's to be that good."

Tales of the Turtles 400 coming to Chicagoland Speedway Sept. 17

Tales of the Turtles 400 coming to Chicagoland Speedway Sept. 17

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, titled Tales of the Turtles 400, is coming to Joliet on Sept. 17, Chicagoland Speedway and Nickelodeon announced last week.

It will mark the seventh straight year Chicagoland Speedway will kick off NASCAR's playoffs.

Nickelodeon Sr. Vice President of Sports Marketing Anthony DiCosmo and President of Chicagoland Speedway Scott Paddock joined SportsTalk Live to discuss it all, and even had a few special guests join them as well.

Check it out in the video above.

Kurt Busch steals a monster of a win in Daytona 500

Kurt Busch steals a monster of a win in Daytona 500

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) - Kurt Busch had a monster start to the season with a last-lap pass to win the crash-filled Daytona 500.

Busch is sponsored by Monster Energy, which kicked off its first season as the title sponsor for NASCAR's top series Sunday with the season-opener. It wasn't NASCAR finest moment, though, as multiple accidents pared down the field and had a mismatched group of drivers racing for the win at the end.

"The more that becomes unpredictable about Daytona, the more it becomes predictable to predict unpredictability," Busch said. "This car's completely thrashed. There's not a straight panel on it. The strategy today, who knew what to pit when, what segments were what. Everybody's wrecking as soon as we're done with the second segment.

"The more that I've run this race, the more that I just throw caution to the wind, let it rip and just elbows out. That's what we did."

It appeared to be pole-sitter Chase Elliott's race to lose, then he ran out of gas. So did Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr. and Paul Menard. As they all slipped off the pace, Busch sailed through for his first career Daytona 500 victory.

It also was the first Daytona 500 win for Stewart-Haas Racing, which is co-owned by Tony Stewart. The three-time champion retired at the end of last season and watched his four cars race from the pits.

"I ran this damn race (17) years and couldn't win it, so finally won it as an owner," Stewart said.

Ryan Blaney finished second in a Ford. AJ Allmendinger was third in a Chevrolet, and Aric Almirola was fourth for Richard Petty Motorsports.

The win was a huge boost for Ford, which lured Stewart-Haas Racing away from Chevrolet this season and celebrated the coup with its second Daytona 500 victory in three years. Joey Logano won in a Ford in 2015.

The first points race of the Monster era was run under a new format that split the 500 miles into three stages. Kyle Busch won the first stage, Kevin Harvick won the second stage and neither was a contender for the win. NASCAR also this year passed a rule that gave teams just five minutes to repair any damage on their cars or they were forced to retire.

But the race was slowed by wreck after wreck after wreck, including a 17-car accident at the start of the final stage that ended the race for seven-time and reigning series champion Jimmie Johnson and Danica Patrick. It was a particularly rough incident for Patrick and her Stewart-Haas Racing team, which had all four of its cars collected in the accident.

"Just seems like that could have been avoided and was uncalled for," Johnson said of the aggressive racing behind him that triggered the accident.