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Harvick's win puts him in the Chase

BROOKLYN, Mich. — He already had horsepower, handling and NASCAR's Sprint Cup points lead. Now Kevin Harvick has a win this season at a track other than Talladega or Daytona.

Harvick passed Denny Hamlin with 11 laps to go Sunday, then held on to win the Carfax 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

It's yet another sign that Richard Childress Racing is back after a disappointing 2009, and Harvick is the title favorite with three races left before the Chase for the Championship.

"Everybody was embarrassed last year, and we've really been running pretty well since probably the last six or eight weeks of last year," said Harvick, who formally clinched a spot in the Chase. "It didn't just happen today."

Harvick's No. 29 team gambled by staying on the track instead of making a pit stop during a late caution. It paid off with Harvick's third win of the season and his first this year on a nonrestrictor plate track.

The victory was a significant step in the resurgence of RCR — and it came at a track where it typically hasn't been strong.

"Somebody's got to beat Jimmie (Johnson) this year, and it might as well be RCR," Richard Childress said.

Hamlin finished second, followed by Roush Fenway Racing drivers Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth.

Team owner Jack Roush was at the track, days after his release from a hospital after suffering injuries in a plane crash. Roush, who lost vision in his left eye, was expected to watch from a suite, but he made his way to pit road early in the race.

"We really wanted to get a win for him, but that's a strong performance for us," Edwards said.

Edwards has finished seventh or better in six straight races and likes his chances in the Chase.

Still, nobody has been as consistent as Harvick this season.

"I really don't see how he can't be, really, the favorite going into it," Hamlin said.

With the Chase looming, Hamlin, who is third in points behind Jeff Gordon, acknowledged that his Joe Gibbs Racing team is lagging behind Harvick and RCR.

"Their cars are handling really well, and they've got horsepower," Hamlin said. "Those are two things that are tough to beat."

Harvick won't embrace the role of favorite, ceding that to Johnson, the four-time defending champion. "Until you beat that guy, there's no reason to put that pressure on yourselves," Harvick said.

It was a rough day for several Chase contenders. Kurt Busch blew an engine, Mark Martin damaged his car early and spent most of the afternoon running outside the top 30, and Gordon was in the top 10 when he had a flat tire with 47 laps to go.

Gordon finished 27th, Martin 28th and Busch 40th.

Ryan Newman and Joey Logano tangled on the track when Logano got loose and tapped the left-rear fender of Newman, causing Newman to spin out with 53 laps remaining.

Newman confronted Logano after the race, but NASCAR officials stepped in.

"He races me way too hard, he races everybody too hard," Logano said. "I'm not the only one that complains about it every week."

Race leaders Tony Stewart and Harvick stayed out instead of pitting when a caution came out with 32 laps left — leaving them at the front with 28 laps left, though most other drivers were on fresher tires.

Hamlin took the lead from Stewart with 23 laps left, but Harvick stayed on his tail and finally got past him with 11 left. Stewart slipped to sixth at the finish.

Busch sustained a "catastrophic" engine failure, slipping from fourth to 10th in the points.

Things didn't go much better for Martin, who had to spend extra time in the pits after scraping his car's nose early in the race. Martin slipped to 13th in points, one spot behind Clint Bowyer for the final Chase-eligible spot in the standings.

Harvick's win puts him in the Chase 08/16/10 [Last modified: Monday, August 16, 2010 7:51am]
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