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CUP: Harvick Finishes Strong Third

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For the last two weeks, Kevin Harvick has maintained that he was the loosest of the three NASCAR Sprint Cup championship title contenders, because he had the least to lose.

And although he couldn’t overcome his 46-point deficit to Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson in Sunday’s season-ending Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Harvick still came out of the race in a mostly positive frame of mind. Harvick finished the race third behind winner Carl Edwards and now five-time defending series champion Johnson, and third in points behind Johnson and Hamlin.

Last year was a miserable year for Harvick and the entire Richard Childress Racing organization; to get things turned around to the point where Harvick led the Sprint Cup regular-season points by 228 over Kyle Busch and had a 5.8 average finish in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, best of any driver, was an epic win for Harvick and RCR.

No way was Harvick leaving Florida feeling bad.

“I remember where we sat when I left this race last year,” Harvick said. “You always want to win but I'm not going to be sitting here and be disappointed. We raced as hard as we could race this year, with everybody putting up every piece of effort that they had, week in and week out, and I know what it feels like to run like we did last year.

“So I'm more excited about looking to be consistent and racing this way than I am — I'm not going to look back,” he said. “This is going to make us stronger. We have got a good race team that's going to stick around for a while, and you know, I'm just happy to be a part of it right now.”

In truth, the Ford 400 was a typical Harvick race. He qualified poorly, ran well, although he failed to lead a lap, and got busted for speeding on pit road, a penalty he bitterly disputed and one that didn’t factor into the outcome of the race. It was just another day at the office for Harvick and his crew.

Although he did not win a race in the Chase, Harvick scored top-five finishes in half of them, and his only finish worse than eighth was a 15th at Dover.

“Well, it's a 180 for us,” Harvick said of his 2010 season. “Last year at this time we all wanted to — we all wanted to put a gun in our mouth. Didn't know what we needed to do to fix it, and we were running better but we didn't know if that was going to continue into next year. The guys, we came out of the gate strong. We ran strong all year.”

True, RCR is still looking for its first Sprint Cup championship since 1994, but Harvick feels like the elements are in place — finally — for years to come.

“Last year we weren't in the Chase. We got that accomplished by a bunch,” Harvick said. “And you know, once you get to the last week, you're supposed to enjoy that part of it. You've got a shot and that's really all you can ask for. How the circumstances play out from there is really kind of — there's a lots of things in your control but there's a lot of things out of your control, too, especially with the position that we were in today. “So you go out and you race as hard as you can and you try to put yourself in position to gain points and do the best you can with that team,” he said. “And I just wasn't going to get caught up in worrying about where the 11 (Hamlin) or where the 48 (Johnson) was. We needed to go out and win and put ourselves at the front of the pack to try to do that. I have enjoyed it.”

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.