Saturday Texas Notebook: Harvick isn’t waiting for Phoenix to correct Chase deficit

Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Busch Beer Chevrolet, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on November 5, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Busch Beer Chevrolet, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on November 5, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Busch Beer Chevrolet, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on November 5, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Getty Images)

FORT WORTH, Tex. – Kevin Harvick is at his best when he makes life difficult for himself.

A lackluster 20th-place finish last Sunday at Martinsville left the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion sixth in the Chase standings, 16 points out of the final transfer position currently held by Kyle Busch.

Then again, Harvick always has Phoenix, where he has won five of the last six races and six of the last eight. But Phoenix, the final track in the Chase’s Round of 8, is two weeks away, and Harvick seems ready to make his move toward the Championship 4 in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Harvick, nicknamed “The Closer” for his ability to excel under challenging circumstances, qualified third for Sunday’s race. And after three rounds of knockout time trials, Harvick felt he left something on the track, from a speed standpoint.

“I think the car was better than the decisions that the driver made,” Harvick said of his lap in the final round. “I went into Turn 1, and I didn’t get it all the way to the bottom and pointed in the right direction before the bump. I got greedy and tried to leave the throttle down, and then it hit the bump and then it got further out of the groove, so I had to wait longer.

“(But) that’s a lot better than the spring (when Harvick qualified 22nd).  We’ve worked hard on this particular race. … I feel like we’re in a good spot.  The car’s got good speed. If I could go back and do it again, I would do a lot better.”

Harvick hasn’t won a Sprint Cup race at Texas yet, but don’t be surprised to find him in Victory Lane on Sunday. That sort of reaction to pressure has become routine for the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team, which has advanced to the Championship 4 finale in each of the first two years of the Chase’s elimination format.

DIBENEDETTO’S CAR HONORS FALLEN DALLAS POLICE OFFICERS

A view of the car of Matt DiBenedetto, driver of the #83 ZAK Backs the Blue Toyota, honoring the Dallas Police Department during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on November 5, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Getty Images)
A view of the car of Matt DiBenedetto, driver of the #83 ZAK Backs the Blue Toyota, honoring the Dallas Police Department during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on November 5, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Getty Images)

No, Matt DiBenedetto’s No. 83 BK Racing Toyota isn’t about to pull you over.

But the police-oriented paint scheme is no accident. DiBenedetto’s “Back the Blue” Toyota honors the  Dallas Police Officers who lost their lives in a July 7 attack by a lone gunman and simultaneously embodies a fund-raising effort through the Assist the Officer Foundation.

Accomplished through the cooperation of sponsor ZAK Products, the official fuel additive of NASCAR, the paint scheme honors not only the officers slain on July 7 but all Dallas Police fallen officers since the formation of the department in 1881.

“It’s really neat to be able to honor the Dallas Police Department,” DiBenedetto said. “I don’t feel they get the respect they deserve sometimes, and it’s that all of us at BK can push for this effort to honor them. Vic Keller is the founder of ZAK Products, and he’s a lifetime Dallas citizen, so it hits close to home for him as well.

“(The response) has been incredible. So many people just thanking us. We don’t deserve any of the credit for it. We just felt it was something cool we could do as a NASCAR community and do together to honor them. But the response from the fans, and even other teams, has been really neat around here. People are really passionate about it.”

SHORT STROKES

Ford drivers paced both NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice sessions on Saturday, with Ryan Blaney leading the morning session with a lap at 188.515 mph and Brad Keselowski topping the speed chart at 190.685 mph in Happy Hour. … Chase driver Denny Hamlin, along with Roush Fenway Racing’s Greg Biffle and Trevor Bayne, are paying the price for incurring fourth warnings during the at-track inspection process. Those three drivers lost their choice of pit stalls for Sunday’s race. Hamlin got pit stall No. 7, behind the No. 88 Chevrolet of Alex Bowman and in front of the No. 43 Ford of Aric Almirola.

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