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Chronicle: Harvick builds momentum ahead of NASCAR playoffs

CHARLOTTE, NC (AP) — Well, hello, Happy. Welcome to NASCAR championship racing.

Just when it seemed time to cancel Kevin Harvick, at least for this season, the old garage man figured out how to win again. He picked up two wins in eight days – after riding a 65-game losing streak dating back to 2020 – and all the momentum was headed towards the playoffs.

If you counted out Harvick, he’s now asking for a correction.

“It’s kind of like when they put these little boxes in the newspaper where they have to correct their story and you can barely read them. I feel like a lot of you should put them at the bottom of your story. I get great satisfaction out of it,” Harvick said after his win Sunday at Richmond Raceway.

His resurgence saved his season.

After winning nine races, a career high in 2020, Harvick is gone. He went winless last season for the first time since 2009 and only the fourth time in 22 Cup seasons.

This year, he seemed slow to grasp NASCAR’s new Next Gen car as a slew of new faces headed for victory. The Cup Series has so far had five first winners this season, with the playoff grid quickly filling up with new names, and Harvick found himself in a vulnerable position heading into the final month to qualify for one of 16 spots. in the playoffs.

His first well-deserved victory came on August 7 at Michigan, followed by Sunday’s at Richmond, making Harvick the only consecutive winner this season.

“At this point, a win is a win, right? I think we were 0 for 65 and we haven’t done anything different and here we are two weeks in a row. It’s racing, right? Harvick smiled.

The 60th Cup victory of his career tied Harvick with Kyle Busch for ninth place all-time in NASCAR. Next on the list? The late Dale Earnhardt is eighth with 76 career wins.

Having Earnhardt on hand comes full circle for Harvick: He replaced Earnhardt after Earnhardt’s fatal crash in 2001 in the Daytona 500.

“At the start of your career, it’s easy to say, ‘I want to win about 70 races’ and then you start doing it on a weekly basis,” Harvick said. “It’s just a lot harder because everyone in that garage is just a killer, from the team manager to the drivers to the guys changing the tyres. It’s the best of the best, and it doesn’t It’s not easy to keep your team and everyone within your organization competitive, stay competitive.

Now that he’s proven he’s still competitive at 46, Harvick is a serious threat to a second Cup championship.

And that’s great for NASCAR.

Harvick is one of the few throwbacks left in the Cup garage. A former West Coast racer nicknamed “Happy” when he first came to NASCAR, the stress of replacing Earnhardt turned Harvick’s nickname into unintended satire.

It was appropriate, however, as he gave up on and off the track and proved for two decades that he wouldn’t be pushed around. It’s a younger man’s game now – the average age of this season’s first winners is 27 – and the tricks Harvick has mastered no longer seem to apply with the Next Gen car.

But the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team began to understand the car long before the wins finally arrived. A crash at Gateway in June dropped Harvick to 13th in the standings and on the bubble of not making the playoffs.

Crew chief Rodney Childers kept the team calm knowing victory was at hand.

“Two months ago it was like, ‘We raced better and it’s better and it was better and it was better.’ The two months before that we had these meetings and it was like, ‘Well, it was worse, it was worse, it was worse, it was worse,’ Childers said. “It started two months ago, and you could just see – the communication and the trust and the cars we were building, it all got better.

The late push forces the competition to take note of Harvick’s potential. And the first round favors Harvick, who has nine career wins at Darlington, Kansas and Bristol, the top three playoff runs.

How he plans to attack the playoffs is not for public discussion.

“Listen, we’re boring. We never look to the future,” said Harvick, who noted his approach helped the No. 4 team overcome their losing streak.

“Obviously we all prefer to win, but I’ve had longer losing streaks. You can fall right into that trap and let it suck you in,” he said. “It was really nothing that ever affected us. It’s no different to what we’ve been doing for the last two weeks. We haven’t done anything different, but the cars have been running well for a few months, and now a few things have gone well and now we have won twice.

“That’s how it goes.”

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