Kevin Harvick has found plenty of reason to celebrate during a season that could have been miserable.
Kevin Harvick's Sprint Cup season could have been miserable.
Having announced long before the season began that at its end he would leave Richard Childress Racing, the only employer he has ever known in NASCAR's top national touring series, for Stewart-Haas Racing, it appeared that the potential for a lost lame-duck year might very well be in order.
Instead, Harvick has indeed succeeded in living up to his nickname of Happy, winning for the third time of the season in the Hollywood 400 at Kansas Speedway on Sunday and in the process at least injecting his name back into the Chase for the Sprint Cup conversation. Now 25 points behind points leader Matt Kenseth with six races remaining in NASCAR's playoffs, Harvick at least has a chance.
He went into the race at Kansas needing to do something spectacular, and he did it.
On a day when at least one other Chase contender, Kyle Busch, succumbed to the perils of racing on a surface that Harvick likened to "driving on a razor blade" per the Associated Press via the Washington Post, Harvick pulled away from Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon to win a wreck-filled race on the recently repaved 1.5-mile track.
And while what Harvick did was mighty impressive, what happened to Busch actually may have provided Harvick and his No. 29 Chevrolet team with the most hope concerning Happy's title chances.
The Chase appeared to already be whittled down to a three-man race prior to the Kansas event, with Busch trailing Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson by the slightest of margins and everyone else seemingly on the outside looking in.
The general thought was that one of the three leading drivers might mess up over the final races, but not all three. And certainly no one expected one of them to self-destruct as quickly as Busch did, wrecking twice within moments and ultimately settling for a 34th-place finish that dropped him from third to fifth in the point standings, 35 behind Kenseth.
Now suddenly not only does Harvick have the confidence to know he can win races in the Chase, but that confidence is bolstered by hard evidence that the guys in front of him are hardly invincible. Plus, Harvick now needs only two teams ahead of him in the standings to mess up.
It's still a tall order, as the teams of Kenseth and Johnson have proven to be stout all season long and aren't likely to make many mistakes.
Can Kevin Harvick catch Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson to win the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup?
But that's what was being said about Busch's team prior to Kansas as well.
And all of these guys still have to race at Talladega, the real Chase wild-card stop where anything can and will happen.
All of which leads us back to Harvick. It's very appropriate that he won the Hollywood Casino 400—a race named after the gambling establishment that now looms over Turn 2 at Kansas Speedway.
That's because he's playing with house money in a season when he wasn't given much of a chance to rake in all the chips. Harvick wants to go out at RCR giving long-time car owner Richard Childress his first championship since the late Dale Earnhardt won the last of six with Childress in 1994, nearly 20 years ago.
Harvick may be off to Stewart-Haas Racing next season, but a piece of his heart will always remain with RCR. He's fast on the track, motivated and focused. But there is less pressure on him as the underdog chasing Kenseth and Johnson under all of these unique circumstances than there would be on the Chase stage at this point in almost any other season.
He's still a long shot. But Harvick is at least back on the radar in the rear-view mirrors of Kenseth and Johnson with six races to go, clearly ready to pounce or go out in spectacular fashion while trying.
Follow Joe Menzer on Twitter @OneMenz