Kevin Harvick nailed it.
Asked why it was so tough to come from behind in the closing races of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Harvick was crystal clear.
“You’re going to have to go take it,” said Harvick, driver of the No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. “I think all three teams are capable of performing. Denny (Hamlin) did it last week – he went out and took it at the end of that race and I think over the next two weeks, it’s going to be who takes that control and there’s no room for defense. If somebody’s going to go out and win the race, you’re going to lose points. You just have to go on offense and take, take, take.”
Harvick comes into today’s Kobalt Tools 500 at Phoenix International Raceway third in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings, 59 points behind the leader Hamlin and 26 back of second-place Jimmie Johnson, the four-time defending series championship.
The only other championship races this tight at this point in the season were in 2004, when Kurt Busch led Jeff Gordon by 41 points, Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 47 and Jimmie Johnson by 48; and 2005, when Tony Stewart led Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle by 35 points each. In both cases, the points leader with two races to go went on to be the series champion.
Whether that happens again this year remains to be seen.
Then again, all three of the title hopefuls could be fighting for second-place behind the suddenly speedy No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford of Carl Edwards. Four times this weekend, the Sprint Cup cars have been on the track. During all four timed sessions — three practices and qualifying — Edwards has been the fastest car on the track. And, oh yeah, he crushed the field in Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race at PIR, too.
“This is the fastest car we’ve had for a long time and it’s nice. I like it a lot,” said Edwards of his Sprint Cup car. “Hopefully, we can run well on the long run because that’s gonna be the true test. I feel like we’re pretty decent and now we just have to go do it.”
Nevertheless, he is confident of doing just that.
“The race is the race, but we still have the best pit stall and we’ve got the fastest race car in all the practices,” said Edwards. “If you could have that every race, you’d be really happy, so I think we’ll do well and I think we’re gonna be good.”
During Saturday’s final Happy Hour practice, Edwards was fastest as he’d been all weekend, with Hamlin fourth, Harvick fifth and Johnson seventh. In terms of history at the one mile PIR oval, Johnson far and away has the best record, with four victories and an average finish of 4.929 to Hamlin’s 11.600 and Harvick’s 15.000.
But as we’ve seen so far in this wild and wacky Chase, history doesn’t mean all that much. What matters is who can go out there and take it. We’ll know who took it at Phoenix by tonight.
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100 and e-mail him at Jensen is the author of “Cheating: The Bad Things Good NASCAR Nextel Cup Racers Do In Pursuit of Speed,” and has appeared on numerous television and radio shows. Jensen is the past President of the National Motorsports Press Association and an NMPA Writer of the Year.