This is intense: Kevin Harvick rising into Chase contention

Kevin Harvick still thinks of himself as an intense guy.

But he is more relaxed than ever.

He doesn’t have a racing organization to worry about anymore. He’s a new father. He’s got a nice ride set up for next year.

And on top of all that, he’s tied for third place in the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings, 26 points off the lead — shouting distance with four races to go, starting Sunday at Martinsville Speedway.

“My personal life situation, with no race teams, no pressure — the only pressure that I have is coming home from racing the car, and pushing to get good results — I have a good balance at home,” he said.

Harvick sold his race team, Kevin Harvick Inc., two years ago. He became a father last year. He is joining Stewart-Haas Racing next year.

And this year, he is giving his longtime employer, Richard Childress Racing, a shot at a championship.

“The 29 is showing their strength each week,” leader Jimmie Johnson said of Harvick’s team.

Harvick’s departure from RCR was announced before the season, setting up a lame-duck feel for the year. But Harvick is proud of the way he, Childress and the race team attacked the year and put themselves in contention.

No one’s intensity lessened, he said. Certainly not his.

“Every week matters,” Harvick said. “For us, we need to win another race to get ourselves back into it. Obviously, the team is capable of doing that, just like we did at Kansas. But every practice, every lap, everything is magnified; everything is a little bit more on edge with all the guys because everybody knows that everything matters.

“You make a mistake, and it’s magnified a lot more, being behind like we are.”

Harvick hasn’t made a mistake in the Chase, but he has had a couple of disappointments. He was 20th at Loudon after starting eighth, and despite a 12th-place finish at Talladega last week, he walked away wondering if he could have gained more ground out of the unpredictable restrictor-plate race.

But his third-place finish at Chicago, his sixth at Dover, his win at Kansas and his sixth at Charlotte have moved him ahead of Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon, and given the Bakersfield, Calif., driver a fighting chance.

“Last week was stressful,” Harvick said. “There are so many things out of your control. It’s the most stressed out getting into a race car I’ve been in a while, just ’cause it’s Talladega. We didn’t gain a lot of points, but the gap from where we are to first is smaller than it was when we went into Talladega. So you better not complain about that. You better move on and try to out-perform the guys in the next four races, which is obviously difficult, but we’ve done that already at Kansas. The cards are in there. They just have to line up perfect for four weeks.”

Which can happen for any driver, Gordon said.

“You’ve got those guys like Kevin and Kyle and myself and Junior that have the ability hopefully to make up some points,” he said.

Harvick can approach the last four weeks the only way he knows — with the intensity that resurfaces at the track.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself to try to think about everything that’s going on,” he said. “I’m a week-by-week guy, and it’s really day-by-day right now. Making sure you take care of yourself, managing your time, and thinking about the things that can make your race car better. And when you get to the race track, blocking everything out to make sure you know exactly what you can and can’t get on pit road. And not making mistakes; and making good restarts.”

Why such intensity?

“Every practice — and everything — matters.”

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