by Lindsay Gibbs, Featured Columnist
Lincoln Electric is a proud partner of Stewart-Haas Racing.
Charlotte, NC (October 12, 2014) - For the last six months, Kevin Harvick has been the bridesmaid of the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. But on Saturday night at the Bank of America 500, it was finally his turn to shine.
After a wild night at the Charlotte Motor Speedway that began with no television coverage and ended with a brawl in the garage, Harvick stole the show by crossing the finish line first and booking his ticket straight into the next round of the Chase.
With Talladega coming up next week, that's a pretty nice place to be.
"This is the night that we needed to win," he said on ABC after the race, as he celebrated with his crew.
Harvick began the Chase five weeks ago as the favorite, but after finishing outside of the top 10 in the last two races, he was more an afterthought.
Since his last win back in April at the Bojangles' Southern 500, Harvick has eight top-five finishes and seven poles, but he hasn't been able to get back to Victory Lane. His reputation was beginning to take a hit.
After Harvick won the pole last week in Kansas but finished 12th, Jerry Bonkowski of NBC's Motor Sports Talk wrote this:
Kevin Harvick has become NASCAR’s version of Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day.
No matter what he tries or does, Harvick just keeps getting the same outcome: bad luck and misfortune.
It’s like a broken record, second verse same as the first.
Most of Harvick's strokes of bad luck this year have been pit-road related. He switched pit crews with Tony Stewart before the Chase began because of repeated issues with his group, and last week he pitted for a flat tire that he didn't even have.
It looked like his bad luck might strike again in Charlotte. The No. 4 had been leading for most of the race, but that's nothing new for Harvick, who has led more laps than anyone else in NASCAR this season.
With just seven laps to go, Harvick had a good lead on Jeff Gordon, but then a caution flag was waved. With only two laps remaining, there was a restart. Anything could happen.
However, Harvick quickly took the suspense out of things by getting a great jump on the restart and leaving the rest of the field in the dust to win his third race of the season.
The 38-year-old started the day in sixth place in the Chase and is now in third. The most important thing, however, is that he knows his fortunes don't have to come down to the unpredictable track in Talladega.
This is the first year that NASCAR is adopting an elimination format in the Chase, and tensions are riding higher than ever. On Saturday night, on-track drama led to an off-track fight between Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth. Kelli Bartik of WCCB Charlotte shared Harvick's comments on the post-race confrontation:
Now, while superstar drivers such as Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson are sweating it out, Harvick can shift his focus to winning the whole championship for the first time in his career. That's quite a turnaround for a driver whom many were writing off just a week ago.
The key for Harvick was belief. As Dave Skretta of The Associated Press (via Philly.com) reported before the race in Kansas last week, despite his many near-misses, Harvick never lost confidence this year, which is echoed in his comments:
With a little bit of good luck we can beat every car on the race track any given week at any style of race track, and that's really positive feeling to have as a driver. If the chips fall right we have the cars and the speed to do what we need to do.
Joey Logano is into the next round of the Chase as well after his win in Kansas last week, and Jeff Gordon is looking good after his runner-up finish at Charlotte. Everyone left in the Chase is dangerous. But don't sleep on Harvick.
The Stewart-Haas driver is experienced, consistent and having one of the best stretches in his career. He's finished third in the points standings in three of the last four years, and this new elimination-based Chase format might just give him the boost he needs to make up for his lack of victories during the summer months.
Harvick is no longer a contender by label only—he's once again a threat to win the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup. What a difference a race makes.