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Kevin Harvick clutch again as Dover victory pushes him to next phase of Chase

Kevin Harvick celebrates with son Keelan after advancing in the Chase with a victory at Dover International Speedway.

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Kevin Harvick celebrates with son Keelan after advancing in the Chase with a victory at Dover International Speedway.

DOVER, Del. — Kevin Harvick stood by his confetti-coated car and used it as a resting spot for a couple of crushed beer cans, when his crew belted out a catchy rallying cry.

"I believe that we will win! I believe that we will win! I believe that we will win!"

Believe it.

Harvick has mastered his Game 7 Sprint Cup races, nerves steeled for any pressure that should come in a must-win spot.

He delivered once more, dominating a race he had to win to advance to the second round of NASCAR's playoffs. Mired in 15th in points, Harvick led 355 laps in Sunday's AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway to earn the third automatic berth in the second phase of the Chase for the Championship.

"Never quit. That's why right here, guys," Harvick said over the radio at the checkered flag.

Harvick's title defense lives on.

Jimmie Johnson's bid for a record-tying seventh title came to a shocking end when a busted part sent the No. 48 Chevrolet to the garage and sent him plummeting in the standings.

NASCAR had the drama it craved Sunday when it revamped its playoff format last season. Dale Earnhardt. Jr. earned the final transfer spot over Jamie McMurray on a tiebreaker. Earnhardt finished third and McMurray was fourth on Sunday.

Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer were also eliminated as the field was sliced from 16 to 12 for the next three-race segment.

Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth had already earned berths in the next round with wins in the first two Chase races. Carl Edwards also advanced along with Joey Logano, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex, Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch.

They all had a shot at knocking out Harvick. Now, they all have to deal down the stretch with a driver who has led 571 of 700 laps run the past two weeks. That's bad news for the field.

"Hell, yeah," race runnerup Kyle Busch said. "That was a guy that we wanted to knock out. That's a guy that can win all these races and you don't want to have to compete against a guy like that."

And Harvick did it with his first series victory at "The Monster Mile" in 30 attempts.

Harvick had to win in last season's penultimate race to stay in the Chase for the finale. He did win at Phoenix, then nabbed his first Cup title with a victory the following week at Homestead.

"If you're not ready for it, it'll eat you up," Harvick said.

As for Johnson, one more big moment eluded him. He entered fifth in points and, with 10 career wins at Dover, seemed a lock to advance. But his Chevrolet left the track for 36 laps with a torn rear axle seal, ending his title shot.

"It's tough having a very inexpensive axle seal be the culprit and take your championship hopes away," he said.

Trucks: Austin Theriault suffered a compression fracture of his lower back in a head-on crash into a wall in late Saturday's NASCAR truck series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Theriault was driving Brad Keselowski Racing's Ford when he made contact with teammate Tyler Reddick's truck on Lap 14 then hit the wall on a part of the track not protected by a SAFER barrier. Theriault was released from the hospital and will be treated in North Carolina. John Wes Townley earned his first series victory.

NHRA: Antron Brown remained perfect in the first three Top Fuel Countdown to the Championship events, winning the Keystone Nationals in Reading, Pa. Brown had a 3.717-second pass at 328.46 mph to beat teammate Tony Schumacher. Jack Beckman won in Funny Car, Chris McGaha in Pro Stock and Andrew Hines in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

Gearhead stats

Winner's average speed: 119.870 mph

Time of race: 3 hours, 20 minutes, 13 seconds

Margin of victory: 2.639 seconds

Caution flags: Eight for 43 laps

Lead changes: 14 among three drivers

Lap leaders: Kenseth 1-23; Harvick 24-41; Kenseth 42; Harvick 43-112; Ky.Busch 113; Harvick 114-195; Ky.Busch 196; Harvick 197-232; Ky.Busch 233-247; Harvick 248-312; Ky.Busch 313; Harvick 314-354; Ky.Busch 355; Kenseth 356-357; Harvick 358-400

Sprint Cup points

Through three of 10 races in the Chase for the Championship. After Sunday's race the Chase field was cut to 12 drivers, who all had their points reset to 3,000:

Driver Pts Back

Matt Kenseth 3,000—

Denny Hamlin 3,000—

Kevin Harvick 3,000—

Carl Edwards 3,000—

Joey Logano 3,000—

Ryan Newman 3,000—

Kurt Busch 3,000—

Brad Keselowski 3,000—

Martin Truex 3,000—

Jeff Gordon 3,000—

Dale Earnhardt Jr. 3,000—

Kyle Busch 3,000—

Jamie McMurray 2,098 902

Jimmie Johnson 2,086 914

Paul Menard 2,075 925

Clint Bowyer 2,048 952

Up next

Bank of America 500, 7 p.m. Saturday, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Concord, N.C.

TV/radio: Ch. 8, 102.5-FM

Kevin Harvick clutch again as Dover victory pushes him to next phase of Chase 10/04/15 [Last modified: Sunday, October 4, 2015 9:30pm]
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