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One year after bitter ending, Harvick has the winning moves at NHMS

  • Kevin Harvick celebrates after winning the Bad Boy Off Road 300 Sprint Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday. BELOW: Harvick (4) leads Matt Kenseth (20) in the final laps. ELIZABETH FRANTZ photos / Monitor staff

  • Kevin Harvick (4) leads Matt Kenseth (20) in the final laps of the Bad Boy Off Road 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Carl Edwards (19) took charge of a selfie with Daniel Finlay (left) of Milton, Fla. as Janie Mahaffey of Hamptonville, N.C., looks on before the start of the Bad Boy Off Road 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Martin Truex Jr. (78) laps Regan Smith (7) during the Bad Boy Off Road 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Martin Truex Jr. (78) maintained a lead for much of the Bad Boy Off Road 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Matt Kenseth gets fresh tires during a pit stop at the Bad Boy Off Road 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday. BELOW: Carl Edwards takes a selfie with a fan. ELIZABETH FRANTZ photos / Monitor staff

  • Kevin Harvick (4) is seen during the Bad Boy Off Road 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Tony Stewart (14) waves to the crowd before the start of the Bad Boy Off Road 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Scenes from the Bad Boy Off Road 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Martin Truex Jr. (78) walks to the stage during the Bad Boy Off Road 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Scenes from the Bad Boy Off Road 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Scenes from the Bad Boy Off Road 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Scenes from the Bad Boy Off Road 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Scenes from the Bad Boy Off Road 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Carl Edwards (19) helps Daniel Finlay (left) of Milton, Fla. and Janie Mahaffey of Hamptonville, N.C., work a phone so they can take a photo with him before the start of the Bad Boy Off Road 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Scenes from the Bad Boy Off Road 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Scenes from the Bad Boy Off Road 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Tony Stewart (14) is seen during the Bad Boy Off Road 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Jimmie Johnson (48) makes a pit stop during the Bad Boy Off Road 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Kyle Busch (18) is seen during the Bad Boy Off Road 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Scenes from the Bad Boy Off Road 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Scenes from the Bad Boy Off Road 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Trevor Bayne (6) is towed off the track during the Bad Boy Off Road 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)



For the Monitor
Monday, September 26, 2016

LOUDON – This time, Kevin Harvick couldn’t get to the interviews fast enough. 

Once again, there was drama in the final laps in September at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Once again, Harvick’s No. 4 Chevrolet was right there, front and center.

So much looked familiar, and so much ended up different. On Sunday, Happy was the one beaming in the setting September sun, celebrating in victory lane after a jubilant burnout that sent smoke billowing down the length of the frontstretch.

One year after a heartbreaking finish at Loudon left him furious and frustrated, Harvick got to play the opportunist, using a superb restart with six laps to go to pass Matt Kenseth and hang on for victory at the Bad Boy Off Road 300, the second race of the Cup’s Chase for the Championship.

“All in all, we wound up where we should have been last year, this year,” he said.

Harvick ran in the top 10 for almost all of the race, but still seemed to come out of nowhere as he pounced on a rare slip by Kenseth and seized a win that was his first at the track since September 2006 – and that, more importantly, punched his ticket into the second round with cuts looming in Dover.

“It’s definitely going to be nice,” Harvick said about not having to race his way into the next round. “One of our main goals this year was to not stretch ourselves out so bad. … The things that we’re doing are good enough to be competitive, and we just need to not make mistakes and go from there.”

The ending was poetic considering the events of the previous September. Last year, Harvick dominated throughout the regular season but scuffled in the Chase opener in Chicagoland, rupturing a tire and sinking to 42nd. No worry – a win advances a driver, and with the laps dwindling down in the next race at New Hampshire, Harvick was cruising with nothing but victory in front of him. 

Then disaster struck. Harvick and his team miscalculated their fuel mileage, and with three laps to go, the No. 4 machine sputtered. Kenseth won the race. Harvick fell to 21st. The best driver all season was suddenly a long shot to survive the first cut.

Harvick was beside himself. He declined comment after the race, storming off the premises and leaving crew chief Rodney Childers to explain the team’s strategy on Twitter later that evening. Harvick’s thoughts on the matter were brief: a six-word message, posted on Twitter.

“Fast car. Great day. Bad ending,” he wrote.

Compare that to Sunday, when Harvick was at ease while doing everything from discussing the win to sharing lighthearted stories about his son. Twelve months after he was the embodiment of exasperation, he had transformed into a picture of joviality.

“Man, that worked out really good,” he said. “The car was pretty good on the restarts. Once we got clean air there at the end, it wound up being really good up front. I’m just really proud of our team. They did a great job.”

Did they ever. Harvick spent the first 290 laps putting himself in position to win, then spent the final 10 making his move. Restarts after cautions on laps 264, 285 and 292 brought dominant cars belonging to Martin Truex Jr. and Kenseth back to the pack, and Harvick navigated the first two to stay in the top five and within range of the lead.

On the third, Kenseth faltered at the start line, and Harvick sprung from his fourth-place spot. He pulled even with Kenseth at the turns, nudged ahead in the backstretch and then slipped in front of him for the lead in the third turn of the 295th lap. Harvick quickly built on the lead, wasn’t touched the rest of the way and didn’t stop until it was time to burn rubber at the finish line.

“(I) just didn’t do a good job on that last restart and Kevin did a better job than I did there,” Kenseth said. “He was laying back just a little bit, which you should (do) to try to get a run. I spun the tires in the restart box a little bit, and once he got alongside of me through (turns) 1 and 2 it was pretty much over.” 

“I was content with where we were,” Harvick said. “But once you get up there in the front like that, you’ve got to take a chance to try to win.”

As uncanny as the similarities between the situations were - Harvick led much of the race before getting passed by Kenseth in 2015, while Kenseth led much of the race before getting passed by Harvick on Sunday – Harvick wasn’t ready to wax poetic on fate, destiny or anything of the sort.

“That stuff all goes in a cycle,” he said. “You’re going to win some, you’re going to lose some, and that’s the fortunate part about our sport. When you have a lot of experience and have been around a long time, you know how that cycle works. You don’t let the highs get too high and the lows get too low.”

Nevertheless, last year was one of those lows, and Harvick was thinking about it when it was his turn to experience one of the highs.

“It’s nice to be on the side of not leading all the laps, and be able to capitalize on a late-race caution and come out with a win where you didn’t dominate all day,” he said. “We were able to capitalize on that today, and that’s making up for one of those we lost the other way.”

It’s a more satisfying way to run a race. Seeing Harvick in the media center – both his demeanor and his presence – was enough evidence of that.