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NASCAR playoff leader Kevin Harvick isn't sweating his recent tailspin

Alex Andrejev
Charlotte Observer

Kevin Harvick’s latest NASCAR finishes have been un-Kevin-Harvick-like compared to his performance throughout most of the season. The regular-season Cup champion placed below the top 10 in the last three playoff races, including a 20th place finish – his second-lowest of the season – at Talladega two weeks ago.

Harvick finished 11th at Las Vegas in the first event in the round, and 10th at the Charlotte Roval on Sunday, but the veteran driver still leads the series in points and will advance to the playoff Round of 8 starting at Kansas this weekend.

Kevin Harvick

The 2014 Cup champion isn’t sweating the last three weeks, however, and said there won’t be major adjustments heading into Sunday’s race.

“There’s really no change for us,” Harvick said. “We’ve been here, done this.”

The Round of 12 was a “wild-card round” with races at Las Vegas, followed by Talladega’s superspeedway and a road course elimination race at Charlotte, which saw the grid use wet tires at the green flag for the first time. Harvick finished third at last year’s Roval and ninth the year prior, but he said the wet conditions set him back this year.

“In the end, we had a sixth- or seventh-place car and as you look at that, it was fine,” Harvick said. “Talladega was just Talladega. Vegas we just missed it a little bit.”

The next two races, though, at Kansas and Texas, are historically in the wheelhouse of the No. 4 Ford Mustang team. He has three career wins at Kansas and posted a fourth-place finish at the track in July, although Harvick noted that conditions will be cooler this time around. Texas is where the team can capitalize. Harvick has won three times in the last six races at the 1.5-miler, and finished in fifth at the latest race.

And if Harvick holds on through Martinsville, where his average finish is 14.9, to make it to Phoenix for the championship, the odds are in his favor there, too. He has achieved nine wins and 18 top-fives in 35 starts at this year’s championship track. His most recent finish was second place behind race winner Joey Logano in March.

“It’s definitely three or four racetracks – however you want to look at it – that lay out better than the last three,” Harvick said. “So that’s a good thing.”

The mindset heading to Kansas, Harvick said, is still “survive and advance.” He’s 13 points up on Denny Hamlin in second place in points standings and has a 45-point cushion from dipping below the four-driver cutoff, but a straight win this round would allow the team to concentrate on the final race.

“You just have to see what the first week brings and then go to the next week and try to do the same thing and in the end you want to try to win,” Harvick said. “That’s the safest path forward …

“And hopefully we can do that and put ourselves in a good position and try to move on to Phoenix.”

Hollywood Casino 400

When: Sunday, 2:30 p.m.

Where: Kansas Speedway, Kansas City, Kansas (267 laps, 400.5 miles)

TV: NBC

Last year: Denny Hamlin won after starting 23rd.

Last race: Chase Elliott came from far back in the field to win on the Roval in Charlotte, his second consecutive win there and fourth in a row on a road course in the Cup Series.

Playoffs: Kevin Harvick will take a 13-point lead over Hamlin and a 32-point edge over Brad Keselowski into the weekend. Elliott is fourth, 40 points back.