DOVER — Kevin Harvick did exactly what he needed to do to save his season.
And his son Keelan now has a brand new toy.
Harvick led 355 laps, a career-high, on his way to his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory at Dover International Speedway on Sunday to clinch his spot in the next round of the Chase for the Cup.
The only way Harvick could have advanced to the 12-driver second round was with a win. He ran into bad luck in the first two Chase races, crashing in the first and running out of fuel in the second which had him 15th in points entering Sunday.
But it was apparent from Lap No. 24, when Harvick first took the lead, that unless he ran into another problem he would be the one taking home the Monster Mile trophy — much to Keelan’s delight.
“Keelan keeps asking for Miles the trophy,” Harvick said. “That will probably be the only one we don’t put in storage with the rest of them. It will get to go in his playroom. That’s what he asked to do with it and I’m just glad we didn’t let him down.”
For the other drivers left in the Chase, Harvick winning is bad news. He is the defending champion and has been the dominant car most of this season too.
They came into this weekend at Dover hoping their biggest threat to their own championship hopes could be eliminated.
“They way he ran hell yeah (it’s bad news),” said Kyle Busch who finished second. “That was a guy that we wanted to knock out, you know, that’s a guy that can win all these races and you don’t want to have to compete against a guy like that.”
The starting lineup was set by points due to rain canceling Friday’s qualifying session. It meant Harvick had to start mid-pack in 15th.
Twenty-four laps later he was in the lead where he stayed for a majority of the race.
Busch and pole-sitter Matt Kenseth were the only two other drivers to lead a lap.
The one time when it looked like someone would challenge Harvick was when late pit stops had some drivers on different strategies. Kenseth stayed out to take the lead while the rest of the field pitted under caution on Lap No. 356.
Harvick took two tires to keep good track position while Busch took four. Harvick easily passed Kenseth and pulled away from Busch despite Busch’s four new tires.
“For as fast as Kevin was I don’t know if I could have had eight tires and would have beat him,” Busch said.
But Harvick had been in that position before and things didn’t go his way. Just look at last week where he was in first at New Hampshire but the car wasn’t full of fuel, making him run out a few laps short of the finish.
So his team was still nervous despite how dominant the No. 4 car looked.
“Every lap I would turn around to (turns) three and four where I could see the center of the corner and make sure the car was there again,” said crew chief Rodney Childers. “There’s just so many things that can go wrong and we’ve had a lot of them this year. It was nice to have a fast car and to have things go smoothly.”
It all went smoothly and Harvick didn’t even have to go to his backup plan for a toy for Keelan.
“We got him a stuffed animal at the start of the day just in case things didn’t go very well,” Harvick said. “You got to cover your bases as a parent.”