Kevin Harvick’s predicament isn’t as dire as it was last year at Phoenix

LOUDON, NH - SEPTEMBER 26:  Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Ditech Chevrolet, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 26, 2015 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

LOUDON, NH – SEPTEMBER 26: Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Ditech Chevrolet, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 26, 2015 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

LOUDON, N.H. – In the final race of the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup last November at Phoenix, Kevin Harvick had no choice. A victory at his most productive track was the only way he could remain in the running for a series championship.

Harvick won at PIR, and a week later he secured his first title with another victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

After a 42nd-place finish at Chicagoland Speedway in this year’s Chase opener, Harvick’s presence in NASCAR’s playoff again is in serious jeopardy. This time, however, Harvick may be able to advance from the Contender to the Challenger Round without winning one of the next two races, provided some of the drivers he’s pursuing also have serious issues at New Hampshire or Dover.

“I still think there are a few different ways that you make it into the next round,” Harvick said on Friday afternoon, after putting his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet on the outside of the front row for Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN). “In this situation last year, when we were in Phoenix, a second-place finish still wouldn’t have gotten us into where we needed to be to move on in the Chase without a win.

“So, I think you still have to go out with the mentality of trying to win a race. I think everybody around us knows that. I think they are very aware of the aggressive nature that we need to go after that win.”

In other words, if Harvick has a shot at a checkered flag on Sunday, discretion might be the better part of valor for drivers who might be in his way.

SHORT STROKES
Qualifying trim? Race trim? It didn’t matter. Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick set the fastest two laps in Saturday’s first Sprint Cup practice session, just as they had, in the same order, during Friday’s time trials. … Harvick led the way in Happy Hour, followed by Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski. … Chase drivers grabbed the top nine positions on the speed chart during Saturday’s first practice session. Austin Dillon (10th) was the fastest non-Chaser. … Dillon (eighth) and Kasey Kahne (sixth) were the only non-Chase drivers to crack the top 10 in final practice.

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