And Kevin Harvick moves along – surely and steadily.
Harvick enters the three-race Elimination Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup second in points and in a good position to challenge leader Joey Logano.
The points for the eight drivers who have made the third round of the Chase were reset to 4,000 each. But their positions in points did not change, save for Brad Keselowski’s elevation to eighth place by virtue of his victory at Talladega.
Harvick advanced by one position. He was third after his victory at Charlotte.
More important, that Charlotte win gave Harvick automatic admittance into the Eliminator Round. Therefore, he didn’t have to worry about how he finished in the always unpredictable and often treacherous Talladega race.
Talk about being relieved.
“I’m gonna park and watch the race at Talladega,” Harvick said. “It’s gonna be crazy, offensive racing.”
Talladega was indeed a tense affair. Four drivers would be eliminated from the Chase afterward and those in peril included Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth and Keselowski.
As it turned out Keselowski, of course, was saved by his victory. Kenseth advanced after his second-place finish.
Victimized were Johnson, Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne.
For his part, Harvick didn’t park and watch the race. But he kept pretty much out of the spotlight.
He led only once for two laps – and this is a guy who has led more laps than any other driver in every race but one in the Chase.
Truth be known, he likely wanted it that way. He wanted to run a safe race and figured that might be done best if he didn’t scrap for position at the head of the pack.
Not, however, that he ever planned not to race as strongly as possible.
“Obviously it takes a lot of pressure off by not having to worry about a strategy,” Harvick said. “You just go race. The guys have worked hard on the cars to make them as good as they can no matter the scenario.
“At the bare minimum, we owe it to them and the fans to race as hard as we can and take the same approach as we have all year – try to run well in practice, qualify well, lead laps and try to win a race.
“But the thing that comes out of Charlotte is, if it works out, fine and if doesn’t, fine. Just race hard.”
Turned out it worked out pretty well. Harvick finished a comfortable ninth at Talladega, his fourth top-10 finish in six races.
Harvick considers his Chase performance, including the win at Charlotte, all the result of a maturation process.
“I look at Charlotte as what we’re supposed to do and what we should have done a number of times if it wasn’t for crazy things happening, mistakes and different things,” Harvick said. “But I think that’s part of the building process.
“You look at last week as great timing for our circumstances. With building a new team at Stewart Haas Racing, having new people in new situations and a lot of things to learn, this format has allowed us to mature throughout the process of a year.
“Hopefully we’re getting to a refined point that you think is where you need to be to race for a championship.”
Given his points position it certainly appears Harvick has reached where he needs to be in an effort to race for a championship. After all, he’s only one of eight drivers in contention and only one – Logano – is in a better position than he at this point.
“We’re doing as good a job in anything I’ve been involved in,” Harvick said. “The main thing is the speed in the race cars. You know what piece has been there all year and you don’t have to worry about that.
“We’ve continued to have that and it becomes a matter of controlling all the things we can control.
“I feel good about all those pieces we have.”