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!"
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.