Gloves Come Off
"I just held my line and the 48 just slammed into the side of my door. That was pretty much it. We can win anywhere. We could have won today. It's just a matter of putting a couple days together and being able to come back to victory lane." ~ Kevin Harvick
"He didn't leave me any space. He was pinning me down and I've got to get back up on the track." ~ Jimmie Johnson
NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup is a 10-round title bout, and the first round saw a pair of heavyweights take their on-track issue all the way to the driver's private motor coach lot after Sunday night's race in Chicago. As the Chase shifts to New Hampshire for round two, the SYLVANIA 300 on Sunday, reigning champion Kevin Harvick sits in last place and is on the ropes after an on-track run-in with six-time champion Jimmie Johnson led to a countering body blow from Harvick during a post-race altercation.
"It's champ versus champ. You never know what's going to happen when the pressure of the Chase builds, and with this new knockout format, the SYLVANIA 300 has all the makings of a true heavyweight championship fight," said Jerry Gappens, executive vice president and general manager of the speedway. "We've got 16 drivers coming here with a chance to win a championship. Sunday, Denny(Hamlin) punched his ticket to the next round by winning. But the other 15 are going to slug it out and do everything they can to make sure they advance. Winning at New Hampshire is guaranteed way to do that - who's going to deliver that knockout punch?"
A bad finish at New Hampshire would all but eliminate Harvick, unless he was able to win the following week. That puts all the pressure on the No. 4 team, which had an incredible regular season with two wins and 22 top-10s, including 18 top-fives through the first 26 races.
"If there's a guy in this sport that can rally back from a bad day, it's certainly Kevin Harvick," said Gappens. "He's a champion for a reason and the fire we saw from him after the race on Sunday night is an example of just how badly he wants to win. I can't wait to see what he brings to our one-mile ring this Sunday."
What will happen on Sunday in New Hampshire? Will Harvick put the last race behind him or will he take out his frustrations on whoever is in his way? Will Johnson be able to focus on racing or will retaliation from a punch to his chest be on his mind?
Gappens and his NHMS staff are preparing. Gappens plans to add a large punching bag to the driver motor home lot at New Hampshire. "Perhaps that might be a safer way to take out the aggression and frustration," Gappens said sheepishly.
It's sure to be an action-packed, drama-filled Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sept. 27. And there's still an opportunity to sit ringside when the bell sounds and the green flag flies on Sunday at 2 p.m.
To see Harvick, Johnson and the rest of the Chase drivers battle it out in the NASCAR playoffs, purchase tickets to the SYLVANIA 300 by stopping by our Ticket Office, visiting the speedway website at www.nhms.com, or calling our Ticket Hotline at (603) 783-4931.