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Professional

NASCAR: Harvick continues to prove skeptics wrong

CONCORD, N.C. – Kevin Harvick remembers how little interest he drew at the start of the season.

He sat practically alone at a preseason media day, waiting as nobody ever came, because few expected much as he entered his final year with Richard Childress Racing.

Win races? Probably not. Make the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship? Not a chance.

"I saw two of you when I sat in my media session coming into Daytona," Harvick said Thursday. "Everybody has written us off from the beginning of the year to not be in the Chase, and let alone be competitive and winning a race in the Chase."

Harvick has carried that slight with him the entire season. He mentioned it after he won the unofficial season-opening exhibition Sprint Unlimited at Daytona, and again after his win in a Budweiser Duel.

If he has used it as motivation, he wasn't saying. But Harvick picked up regular-season wins at Richmond and Charlotte to become championship eligible, and now he's an actual threat to win his first Sprint Cup title.

A victory last week at Kansas Speedway moved Harvick to third in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship standings, allowing him to look back on that lonely day at Daytona, when most everybody had written him off as a non-factor in what was supposed to be a lame duck year.

"We will just keep bucking the system, and hopefully it works out," he said.

His win at Kansas last week pulled Harvick to 25 points behind leader Matt Kenseth as the series heads into Saturday night's race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Harvick had a nearly perfect weekend, winning his first earned pole in 7 years and leading 138 laps.

"I think for us, we controlled the things that we could control last week and that was by scoring max points," Harvick said. "Running good and running up front you will probably get more good breaks than you will running mid-pack, because you will just have more options."

A week after the Chase seemed to be shaping up to be a three-driver race between Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson, there's a new player involved in Harvick.

"Kevin has got it all. He's won championships, he understands the pressure," said five-time champion Johnson, who trails Kenseth by three points. "He is a hard-nosed racer. Things don't rattle him. He's got that all there and the cars have been trending faster and faster, and he showed that last week with a dominating weekend."

Now Harvick heads into Charlotte, a track where he has two career Cup victories, feeling confident in his No. 29 Chevrolet team.

They didn't give up when he said he was moving to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014 — Harvick won at Phoenix last season on the same weekend news of his decision leaked — and he said maintaining professionalism and closing this season with RCR with their heads held high has been their goal.

"Last week went about as well as you could write it down on a piece of paper for us," Harvick said. "Sitting on the pole and winning the race is a little bit out of character from what we have done in the past. But I think for us it gives us a lot of confidence in the things that we can do and need to do to keep ourselves in position to continue to race for this championship over the next several weeks."

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