More top-five finishes needed
Kevin Harvick is hanging on for now. And, under this points system, that's good enough.
In eighth place, and still winless, Harvick has not met the lofty standards he sets for himself and his No. 29 Richard Childress Racing crew. The team has notched only three top fives this season.
Thanks to the talent and resources on his team, he's salvaged many a trying race day and come out with an average finish of 14th. Good enough to sit eighth; good enough to make the title playoffs if the cutoff were today; good enough to be within 40 points of the leader when that title chase begins over the last 10 races.
It's a good place to be, within attacking distance. But Harvick is more focused on figuring out how to get things clicking for his team so it will be competitive should it make the title playoffs, and maybe even notch a victory.
"I think this team has just been a little bit off this year and we've made some mistakes that have kept us from obtaining that first win," Harvick said. "Whether it was a loose lug nut in Sonoma or running out of gas in Las Vegas, we just haven't had a weekend where everything worked in our favor.
"With the racing as close as it is in the Cup garage right now, you're not going to get that win unless everything works out just right."
Though "just right" has eluded the 29 team thus far, good enough is a standard frequently met. For instance, last weekend at Chicago -- a track where he excels and has won twice -- Harvick battled back from a terrible set of tires that could have relegated the team to a sub-top 20 finish and managed to leave in 10th.
That's the kind of racing that's kept him among the top 10.
"We gave it all we got," Harvick said after the race. "These guys worked hard all week and to come back from a lap down and finish 10th is pretty impressive. I don't know what happened with that set of tires. I had the worst vibration and I couldn't handle it so we decided to pit early to fix it.
"We caught a break on that next caution because we had just got our lap back. That got us back into the race, but we never could go anywhere being stuck back in traffic with a tight racecar. The GM Goodwrench Chevy just didn't have enough motor to make the pass most of the time. We really need to go back and work on that."
|“||With the new system, anybody in the top 10 after Richmond has a chance. That's really what it comes down to. If you're there for the last 10, it's a shootout. ”|
|— Todd Berrier, Harvick's crew chief|
Harvick's crew chief, Todd Berrier, believes the team's up to the task, though.
"You won't find a more dedicated group," he said. "We have been a little bit off, but I guarantee you there isn't anybody working harder to figure it out than these guys."
The team's hard work is apparent in the 29 team's record -- it's finished every race this season. In fact, Harvick has a modern-era record 57-race streak of finishing races. His last DNF came in 2002.
"Building good race cars has always been one of the fortes of RCR," he said. "They do whatever it takes to finish the race no matter what. That's what keeps us in a lot of these championship battles. We've struggled a little bit this year, but we've been running at the end of every race.
"We have to make sure we make laps. We have to be reliable in the motor department. The guys on the crew make sure we do that. In the Busch Series we hold that record for the most consecutive races without a DNF, I believe. That's always something we've been pretty good at."
That's helped buy the team some time. As has his squad's determination to work through whatever problem arises on race day, and salvage as high a finish as possible.
But the team knows that if it wants to win the title, race days like last Sunday aren't going to be good enough. Top fives are necessary. Wins are key.
"With the new system, anybody in the top 10 after Richmond has a chance," Berrier said. "That's really what it comes down to. If you're there for the last 10, it's a shootout."
For now, it looks like the 29 is good enough to be around for the shootout. The question is whether they'll elevate to their own expectations -- and be good enough to win the championship.
"As long as we can put everything together and not have any of those little hiccups," Harvick said, "I'd say we'll be one to contend with for sure."
Rupen Fofaria is a freelance writer living in Chicago and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.