NASCAR champ Harvick on the ropes in New Hampshire


LOUDON, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire Motor Speedway had some fun with NASCAR’s latest prize fight and stuck a free standing heavy bag with a pair of red Everlast gloves in the motorhome lot.

The sign next to the boxing equipment read: “Chase Stress Reliever.”

There was no reason for any drivers to lace up the gloves and channel their inner Floyd Mayweather and spar a few rounds Friday against the bag. The only bobbing and weaving came in their responses for reaction to the bout Sunday between Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson.

“I didn’t see it and I don’t know,” 2003 champion Matt Kenseth said. “I practiced that one this morning.”

Added Daytona 500 champ Joey Logano: “Emotions seem to get fired up pretty quick and I don’t really have a reaction.”

Harvick and Johnson didn’t have much of one, either.

Gracious in signing autographs for fans, Harvick brushed past reporters in the garage. Johnson, the six-time champ, also had no comment.

Harvick could have used some MMA pointers from his stable of UFC fighters in his athlete-representation company before he challenged Johnson at Chicagoland.

Surely, client Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone wouldn’t have an eight-fight winning streak in the lightweight division if he threw the kind of closed-fist jab to the chest that Harvick delivered on Johnson.

“Did he hit him? I wouldn’t call that a hit,” said Jeff Gordon, Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate. “I thought it was kind of a shove/hit.”

Round 1 may have gone to Harvick in the motorhome lot. But Harvick is on the ropes on the track as the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship shifts to New Hampshire.

The big question is, can Harvick win a race to stay in the Chase.

Harvick — The reigning! Defending! — Sprint Cup champion is buried in 15th in the standings and will likely need a win Sunday or next week at Dover to advance to the next round.

Don’t count out the Stewart-Haas Racing star just yet.

He has finished 42nd three times in the last two years — and followed up with a third, a second and a win.

His lone win at New Hampshire came in 2006 and he is winless at Dover. But he led 163 laps at the last two New Hampshire races and earned a pair of third-place finishes, and he led 314 laps in the last two Dover races and was second there in June.

Johnson is seventh in the standings, with three career wins at Loudon and a track record 10 at Dover.

Johnson and Harvick’s beef began when they connected at Chicagoland. Harvick’s No. 4 Chevrolet would blow a tire — and he blew his top because he felt Johnson could have avoided the contact. Harvick finished 42nd.

Johnson waited outside of Harvick’s motorhome to talk, but Harvick was looking for a confrontation when he came out the door. He shoved Johnson with a closed fist before someone stepped between the two, and after Johnson pointed his finger at Harvick, he had to be held back from getting at Johnson a second time.

Harvick’s wife, DeLana, exited a waiting car to walk over to the bickering drivers and Harvick eventually retreated to the backseat of the car as Johnson walked away.

“I think we all agree that maybe Jimmie should have waited a little bit longer before he approached Kevin on that one,” Gordon said.

With one win, Harvick can look at this as a standing eight count on his way toward championship contention.

Kenseth leads the standings and has four wins. Denny Hamlin, who once called his shot at New Hampshire, guaranteeing a win with a tweet, then following through with a mighty swing of an invisible baseball bat moments after taking the checkered flag, won the Chase opener at Chicagoland.

Logano, in sixth, would love to see a Chase heavyweight in Harvick eliminated after one round.

“You want to knock out the fastest cars you can. It’s not a bad thing,” Logano said. “Obviously, the 4 car is one of the fastest cars every week.”

The 16-driver Chase field will be cut to 12 after Dover. Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard, Harvick and Clint Bowyer are all in danger of being KO’d.

By Dan Gelston

AP Sports Writer

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