FORT WORTH (Sports Network) – These are indeed “happy” times for Kevin Harvick in the Sprint Cup Series.
Harvick has been on a roll, and he’s hoping that momentum will carry into Saturday night’s race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Last Sunday at Martinsville, Harvick passed Dale Earnhardt Jr. with just four laps remaining for his second straight victory. He won at his home track in California after taking the lead from Jimmie Johnson on the final lap.
It’s the second time in Harvick’s Cup career that he has won back-to-back races. He won at Richmond and New Hampshire in September 2006. Harvick will attempt to become the first driver in the series to win three consecutive races since Johnson won four in a row in the fall of 2007.
Harvick’s two wins so far this season puts him in a comfortable spot to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup. NASCAR tweaked its Chase format during the off- season. After the September race in Richmond (the 26th event of the season), the top-10 drivers in the point standings, as well as two drivers who are ranked between 11th and 20th and have the most wins, qualify for the playoffs.
“I’ll take our chances on making the Chase with the wild card stuff,” Harvick said. “Here we are six weeks into the season, and I feel like we can take more chances than we did last year.”
Harvick currently holds the fifth spot in points. He is 15 points behind leader Kyle Busch. Harvick began the season with a 42nd-place finish in the Daytona 500.
Earnhardt Jr., who finished second, climbed up four positions in the standings to eighth. His winless streak is now at 99 races.
Will Texas be the 100th race in Earnhardt Jr.’s drought, or will the streak end at the same track where he recorded his first career Cup win 11 years ago?
“We got some work to do still,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “We are faster, and we are more competitive than last year. But we still got a little ways to go.”
Johnson, the five-time defending series champion, has also elevated in points since Daytona, where he finished 27th. He is presently third in points (-12).
A pit-road speeding violation potentially cost Johnson the win at Martinsville. Johnson was running among the top-five late in the race, but during a round of green-flag pit stops, he was penalized for speeding onto pit road, which put him at tail end of the lead lap. He ended up finishing 11th.
Johnson disagreed with the penalty and then criticized NASCAR for its officiating. He publicly apologized to the sanctioning body during a teleconference with the media on Tuesday.
“At the end of the day, I called out NASCAR’s credibility and judgment, and I apologize for that,” Johnson said. “I was wrong. I guess I was right about the segment I thought I was speeding in.”
Johnson has faired well at Texas, where he has notched one win and 11 top-10 finishes in 15 races.
The spring race at Texas this year will be unlike any other one here in the past. Not only does the series race at Texas on a Saturday night, but practice at this fast 1.5-mile track begins a day earlier.
“My first thought is what the hell are we doing with this weird schedule at Texas,” Johnson jokingly said. “We practice on Thursday night and all the other stuff that’s going on, so I’m still trying to get my head around that.” But we’re excited to go back to Texas. Obviously, it’s a great spot for our circuit with a lot of great fans. Night races are always good.”
Denny Hamlin won both events at Texas last year. He will try to become the first driver to win three Sprint Cup races in a row here.
Carl Edwards, who trails Busch by five points, leads all drivers with three wins at Texas.
Forty-four teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Samsung Mobile 500.
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