By Jenna Fryer
AP Auto Racing Writer
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Kevin Harvick has found himself against the ropes in NASCAR’s playoffs in each of the last two years. Tired of having to fight his way into the championship race, he is determined to leave nothing to chance.
A win two weeks ago at New Hampshire earned him an automatic berth in the second round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. He’d like a win Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway to push him right into the third round.
For this three-race segment, the 2014 NASCAR champion has eyed Charlotte as a track that gives him a good shot at a victory. The round also goes to Kansas next week before concluding at Talladega Superspeedway.
“Charlotte is probably the one I’m looking forward to the most,” Harvick said. “We’ve had so much success there. We’ve run well there, really, every time we’ve been there with our Stewart-Haas Racing cars.”
Harvick has three career points victories at Charlotte, including the October race during his championship season. That victory pushed Harvick into the round of eight of the Chase.
He’s also has had success racing at night, something Charlotte Motor Speedway President Marcus Smith noted this week. He dubbed Harvick “Nighthawk” because Harvick has not finished outside the top 10 at night in the last seven races. He’s only been outside the top-five twice in that span.
Harvick has also won six times in night races on the NASCAR schedule since 2012.
But with practice time during the daylight this weekend, he’s not sure what to expect.
“Charlotte is a really finicky racetrack and, with the way we practice, most of the practice will be done during the day with the race being at night,” he said. “Temperature has a huge factor in how the racetrack changes, how the pace changes, so you have to try to guess a little bit on that. You have to try to plan and balance all those things to have a good plan, but you have to be ready to abort that plan and come up with a new one on the fly at any given point.”
The late Bryan Clauson was honored as the fan’s favorite driver in the IndyCar Series during a remembrance for the three-time Indianapolis 500 starter.
Clauson died from injuries suffered in a sprint car crash in Kansas in August. He was leading when he was involved in the accident, which came in his 116th race of the year. Popular throughout the paddock, Clauson was attempting to race in 200 events this year and was one of the most well-liked drivers in every series.
He was remembered during IndyCar’s season-ending awards ceremony Tuesday night by Conor Daly, who was teammates with Clauson during this year’s Indianapolis 500 and, like Clauson, grew up in Noblesville, Ind.
“You could always tell Bryan had such a strong positive impact on the racing world because everyone across the sport was happy to see him get a shot in the Indy 500,” Daly said. “It was a true pleasure getting to work with Bryan this year at Indy and to see the whole crowd and everyone around us support him and love seeing him there. He was and forever will be a driver to look up to, a person to strive to be like, and a hero.”
RACE OF CHAMPIONS
Juan Pablo Montoya and Tony Kanaan will both compete in this year’s Race Of Champions all-star event, which will be held in their adopted hometown of Miami.
Kanaan competed in the event in 2004, the year of his IndyCar championship, when it was held in France. The Brazilian partnered with Felipe Massa and the duo advanced to the semifinals.
“Having the race here in my backyard is the perfect opportunity to be part of it and to race against the biggest names from motorsport around the world,” Kanaan said.
Montoya will be making his Race of Champions debut. He and Kanaan bring the field to eight confirmed drivers for the event. Also committed to date for the Jan. 21-22 race at Marlins Park Stadium are Ryan Hunter-Reay, Sebastian Vettel, nine-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner Tom Kristensen and Kurt Busch.