JOLIET, Ill.–Nonplussed by Joe Gibbs Racing’s red-hot ride into NASCAR’s playoffs, Kevin Harvick confidently predicted they wouldn’t get in his way of a second-consecutive championship.
“We’re going to pound them into the ground,” Harvick said of JGR’s four-car title push.
Instead, it’s Harvick who is on the ropes after the opening race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
Contact with Jimmie Johnson led to a blown tire for Harvick that caused him to crash and finish 42nd yesterday at Chicagoland Speedway, where he had a brief post-race scuffle with Johnson.
Denny Hamlin, meanwhile, won the race for Gibbs and earned an automatic berth into the second round of the playoffs.
Hamlin declined to comment on the irony of Harvick’s situation.
“I’m not going to get into a verbal thing,” he remarked.
“We’re one race in,” Hamlin added. “It didn’t work out well for him today.”
No, it didn’t—and Harvick is last in the 16-driver “Chase” field with two races before four drivers are eliminated.
He minced no words when asked what he needs to do either next week at New Hampshire or Oct. 4 at Dover.
“We’ve just got to go win one of these next two races,” Harvick stressed.
He has one career victory (in 2006) at New Hampshire and is winless at Dover.
But he led 163 laps at the last two New Hampshire races and earned a pair of third-place finishes.
And he led 314 laps in the last two Dover races, and was second there in June.
“This ‘Chase,’ the way it is, it can be taken away from you in a week; it doesn’t matter if it’s the first week or last week,” said Harvick crew chief Rodney Childers.
“You just have to go race the next two and see how it works out, and go from there,” he reasoned.
Meanwhile, the contact between Harvick and Johnson on a restart led to a post-race confrontation in the motorhome lot between a pair of drivers who have known each other since their early days racing in California.
It also was expected by Johnson, who knew Harvick was going to be angry with him over the situation.
Asked after the race if he planned to speak with the defending champ, Johnson seemed to forecast what was ahead.
“Hopefully he’ll want to talk. There’s no telling what he’ll want to do,” said the six-time champ.
Johnson waited outside of Harvick’s motorhome to talk, but Harvick was looking for a confrontation as soon as he came out the door.
He shoved Johnson with a closed fist before someone stepped between the two.
And after Johnson pointed his finger at Harvick, he had to be held back from getting at Johnson a second time.