Sunday, June 20, 2010

For Kevin Harvick, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins matter

Kevin Harvick has to win another race. He has to win another four if he wants to maintain his lead in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings.
The way the Chase for the Sprint Cup playoffs is set up, the points are reset and each driver gets 10 bonus points for each win. Harvick has a 140-point lead over Jimmie Johnson in the Sprint Cup Series standings, but he is losing in the victory column big time.
Right now, the win leaders, not the Cup standings, are more indicative of how the Chase will look like when it starts in September.
Denny Hamlin has five wins. Johnson, who won the Sprint Cup Series race at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma on Sunday, has four. Next are Kurt and Kyle Busch each with two.
Harvick’s lone win at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama would put him fifth in the Chase standings if they were to start today.
Luckily for Harvick, the Chase doesn’t start until Sept. 19.
“Just got to keep at it,” Harcvick said. “I don’t know who is in second now, but just race hard, whoever it is. How many weeks we got left till the Chase?”
Ten weeks, 10 races. Harvick has to bat .400 over the next 10 races to have at least a share of the lead when the Chase starts. He also has to hope Johnson or Hamlin don’t win any more. It would help his cause if the Busch brothers went O-fer for the rest of the summer too.
Harvick said he is fortunate to be leading the standings. He has 11 top 10s in 16 races, the most of any driver in the Sprint Cup Series. His six top fives are second best among Cup drivers and he has finished every race. But the frustrations are mounting.
“We’re able to race hard every lap and really not have to worry about what’s going on with the points,” Harvick said.
Harvick finished third in the Toyota Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma. It was another good points day for him and his team, but even though he said he was happy with the way he raced hard, he has to start paying attention to the number of wins other drivers are collecting.
“So each race is a different race,” Harvick said. “Today we were racing in the top five all day. You’re just trying to figure out what you got to do to try to win the race.”
He better figure it out quick. If not, he’ll be chasing Johnson when the Chase starts. Harvick will be chasing Hamlin and the Busch brothers too. Being behind Johnson is not the place to be when the Chase starts. It’s certainly not the place to be when it ends either. But for the past four years, every Cup driver has been behind Johnson when the Chase ended.
Even though the wins during the first 26 races of the Sprint Cup Series season translate into bonus points when the Chase starts, Johnson said he tries not to get too caught up in them.
“You know, we want the bonus points,” Johnson said. “But there are times, I look at Charlotte, trying to really hustle the car when the car was loose, thinking I want bonus points, I want bonus points, then I’m wrecked and finished 38th. Those 10 points don’t mean a damn thing now because I just lost a hundred something points.”
The 40 bonus points Johnson gets for winning four races mean a lot to Harvick. They mean Harvick will have to figure out a way to beat Johnson and Hamlin and win some races before the Chase starts.
“At the beginning of the year, we were clicking them off,” Johnson said. “Right now, Denny has been clicking them off. All that said, it’s a long time until September.”
September will be here sooner than Harvick would like, especially if he has to win four races in 10 weeks.
“You know, I think we ran in the top five pretty much all day,” Harvick said. “We’ll just keep doing what we’re doing.”

Photo: Kevin Harvick leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings after 15 races. He was third in the Cup race at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma on Sunday and has won only one Cup race this year. That could hurt him when the Chase starts in September. (Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images for NASCAR)

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