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article imageNASCAR: Harvick is dominant in must-win Dover race

By John Duarte     Oct 5, 2015 in Sports
Dover - Kevin Harvick stepped into his car at Dover International Speedway on Sunday afternoon knowing only a win would save his 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
The reigning series champion did exactly what he had to do — win the AAA 400 and move on to the Contender Round in the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup.
“We weren't in a good situation coming into today, but that's what this team is made of,” said Harvick. That's what it's all about — those big-time moments.”
Harvick started the race in the middle of the field — 15th place — and said it took him “15 to 20 laps” to get a feel for the race. Once he got to the front, Harvick stayed there. He led the race for 355 of its 400 circuits of the Monster Mile, a track where he had never won in his 29 races there.
“I never really felt any pressure,” Harvick said. “I felt like I was in way more control today as the leader. I definitely felt like I was in more control today.”
Second-place finisher in the AAA 400, Kyle Busch, said after the race that Harvick was on everyone's radar and, frankly, the reigning Sprint Cup title holder is one driver who championship hopefuls want to see eliminated because he is capable of winning anytime.
“That was a guy that we wanted to knock out,” Busch said. “That's a guy that can win all these races and you don't want to have to compete against a guy like that.”
There were only three race leaders on the afternoon. Harvick was out in front for 355 laps, with Busch and Matt Kenseth being the other two drivers leading the race, for 19 and 26 laps respectively.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished third in the race on a late move to get past Jamie McMurray after a restart on Lap 373. Earnhardt said he was caught a bit by surprise with both McMurray and Kenseth were slowing ahead of him.
“They really slow-rolled for some reason, both of them,” Earnhardt said. I just went to the outside because it was about the only shot I had.”
After the race at Dover International Speedway, four drivers were eliminated from further contention in the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup. Among them is six-time series champion Jimmie Johnson. Despite starting fifth, but a broken seal in the rear axle sent Johnson to the garage for 36 laps and ended his shot at a seventh championship.
Johnson was still shaking his head at how things turn out. He said the last thing a driver thinks about is a $5 part ending any championship run.
“It's tough having a very inexpensive axle seal be the culprit and take your championship hopes away,” a despondent Johnson said after the race. I worry about things. I worry about a flat. I worry about a pit call. I worry about hard racing, something going on. I don't worry about an axle seal failing.”
Also eliminated for the Chase were the three other drivers finishing in spots 13 to 16 in the drivers standings. Failing to advance along with Johnson are McMurray, Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer. The end result was heartbreaking for McMurray, who finished fourth in the AAA 400. He was knocked from the Chase on a tiebreaker with Earnhardt Jr., who finished third at Dover to tie McMurray on points, but made it through to the Contender Round based on better average finishes in the three Challenger Round races.
McMurray, though disappointed, said Earnhardt's pass on the final restart of the race kind of wrapped up his season.
“That was a deserving pass he put on to be able to make it through to the next round,” McMurray said. “I really thought just being consistent would get us in and it was close. We just needed one more point.”
With the Chase grid completely filled in and the points reset, 12 divers will continue their dreams of winning a Sprint Cup title in the opening race of the Contender Round, the Bank of America 500, at Charlotte Motor Speedway, in North Carolina, on Oct. 10, 2015.
More about Nascar, Sprint cup series, chase for the Sprint cup, kevin harvick, Jimmie Johnson
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