2014 champ Harvick needs Dover win to stay in Chase

DOVER — Plenty of big names are facing elimination from the Chase for the Cup today as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series hits the track at Dover International Speedway.

Kevin Harvick, last year’s champion and one of the dominant drivers this season, needs a victory in today’s AAA 400 at Dover (2 p.m.).

Harvick isn’t the only contender who is suddenly fighting for his season. Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch are also in some danger of missing the cut.

Entering today’s race the bottom four in the 16-driver Chase field is made up of Busch, Paul Menard, Harvick and Clint Bowyer. Harvick is 23 points back of the final advancement spot (currently held by Earnhardt Jr.) and Bowyer is 39.

But don’t expect the other drivers to feel sympathy if Harvick misses the cut for the round of 12.

“Everyone in this Chase knows that they are the biggest threat for the championship,” Jeff Gordon said. “If they get eliminated then that takes the biggest threat out of it.”

“But I think if there is any team that is capable of coming through in a must-win situation — it’s that team,” added Gordon.

Harvick, who starts 15th, did have the fastest car in Saturday’s final practice which was cut short by rain. In the spring race at Dover, Harvick finished second to Jimmie Johnson.

The only two drivers who are assured of making the next round are Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth, the two race-winners from the first round of the Chase. Kenseth will lead the field to the green flag from the pole since qualifying was rained out on Friday.

Drivers like Carl Edwards, Joey Logano, Johnson, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. should be good enough on points to advance provided they stay out of trouble.

So how do that group of drivers from third to ninth in the points standings treat this race?

“If you can win, win,” Keselowski said. “If you can’t, don’t screw it up.”

Gordon, who is retiring after this season, is in 10th place and 12 points clear of elimination. He does have a cushion of 10 points on Jamie McMurray who is in 11th and a 11-point gap separates Gordon from Earnhardt Jr. in 12th.

Kyle Busch is a point back of Earnhardt Jr. for the final Chase spot in the next round. He is in this position thanks to some bad luck last week at New Hampshire where he blew a tire and ended up 42nd.

“It was a bummer deal but it puts us in a position now where we have to fight through this round and it’s no different than any other year,” Busch said. “You’ve always got to fight through the Chase and there’s been no give up in this 18 all year long and there’s none right now. We’re just going to have to power on through and do what we need to do to get to the next round.”

And don’t expect Hamlin and Kenseth to take it easy today just because they are going to advance.

“It really doesn’t change my approach,” Kenseth said. “I believe you want to do the best you can every week. You want to keep performing at the same level for the next eight weeks I guess. I think you want to run up front, you want to be a contender, you want to be in that mix to be in position at the end of the day and keep your pit crew performing at a top level. I think you just want to keep the whole thing rolling.”

Another thing to look for is Johnson, the all-time winner at Dover with 10. He was eighth in final practice.

If he leads one lap today, he will become the seventh driver to lead 3,000 laps at the same track.

“I clearly love coming to this racetrack and excited to be back for a Chase race,” Johnson said. “I wish all 10 events of the Chase could be here at this race track. I think that would be a good thing for the No. 48.”

Reach staff writer Tim Mastro at tmastro@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.