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Harvick has shown mediocrity in lead-up to Chase

September 01, 2012, Seth Livingstone, Special to NASCAR.COM, NASCAR.com



Harvick has shown mediocrity in lead-up to Chase

HAMPTON, Ga. -- Heading into August, Kevin Harvick appeared to be sitting pretty, sixth in the points standings, secure with his equipment and well on his way to making the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the sixth time in the past eight years.

But heading into September and Sunday night's AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Harvick is flailing.

AdvoCare 500

Practice 2
Pos.DriverSpeedTime
2.M. Kenseth180.73430.675
3.D. Earnhardt Jr.179.90130.817
4.M. Truex Jr.179.59230.870
5.C. Bowyer178.96630.978
Pos.DriverSpeedTime
2.J. Gordon180.19330.767
3.D. Hamlin179.95930.807
4.Ky. Busch179.83730.828
5.G. Biffle179.48130.889

With no finish better than 13th -- or worse than 16th -- in any of the past five races, Harvick has drifted from true contender to Mr. Mediocrity.

The run of so-so results has dropped Harvick to ninth in the standings, still 37 points ahead of 11th-place Kasey Kahne but in a position where he must avoid calamity in the final two races leading to the Chase.

Unlike Kahne, who has two victories this season, Harvick has not won in 2012. The winless status exaggerates Harvick's points predicament because he will need to finish in the top 10 in points to earn his Chase berth.

"We can run in the top 10 pretty much everywhere if we get everything right, but we need a little bit more in order to challenge for the wins," Paul Menard, Harvick's Richard Childress Racing teammate, said this week.

While not necessarily a sign of panic, it was certainly preventive medicine when RCR replaced Harvick's crew chief Shane Martin with his former crew chief Gil Martin last week in a move Childress described as "definitely temporary."

Martin acknowledged the team was "trying to get things turned around" prior to a 15th-place effort at Bristol, where Harvick never led.

Saturday's Happy Hour was another session in mediocrity for Harvick, offering little evidence that he is ready to challenge for checkered flags.

Harvick was 13th fastest in the final practice, his best lap of 176.949 mph paling in comparison to Matt Kenseth (180.863 mph) and Jeff Gordon (180.193 mph), the only two drivers to break 180 mph. Harvick had been 15th fastest in Saturday's early session.

If there was a ray of hope, it was that Harvick posted the third-fastest qualifying time for Saturday night's NRA American Warrior 300 Nationwide event.

Harvick, 36, recorded his first Cup victory at Atlanta, but that was in 2001, in just his second race after the death of Dale Earnhardt hastened his promotion to the Cup Series. Since then, he's made 20 Cup starts at AMS, with just six more top-10s. His average finish at Atlanta is 19.9 and his driver rating since NASCAR began keeping loop data is 87.4, 15th best among drivers during the past seven years (13 races) at AMS.

He looks at the bright side when it comes to his chances at the 1.54-mile track.

"We had a runner-up finish recently [September 2009] where we dominated the race all day," Harvick said. "It came down to a late-race restart, and we lost in the last five or six laps."

One thing Harvick knows to expect on a slick-yet-rough track that is showing its age is that tires will fall off rapidly.

"On new tires, Atlanta carries a lot of speed all around the race track," he said. "You can get a lot of speed out of the tires for one or two laps. It's definitely fast, but it slows down quite a bit as the tires wear out, and you slide around and bounce all over the place."

As for Harvick's teammates, Menard, 17th in points, was 15th in Happy Hour. Jeff Burton, 20th in points, was 19th.

Tony Stewart, Sunday's pole-sitter, turned the seventh-best lap (178.758 mph). Joey Logano, in need of a victory to have any shot at making the Chase, sat out Saturday's practices with stomach flu. Michael McDowell drove the No. 20 Toyota and posted the 18th-fastest lap in Happy Hour.

Early on, Kyle Busch posted the fourth-best lap of the final practice but brushed the wall and went to the garage for repairs. He managed to run 15 laps, a far cry from the 50 run by brother Kurt Busch.