Kevin Harvick hot, Kyle Busch not
LOUDON, N.H. -- There's a sort of variation on the Hippocratic Oath that applies to Cup drivers this early in the Chase: First, do no harm to yourself.
That's how Kevin Harvick sits atop the playoff standings now. That's why he doesn't have to dig himself out of a hole Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, at a venue where in the past, when the playoffs opened here, drivers sometimes dug themselves into a hole right out of the gate.
But Kyle Busch, who was co-top seed with Harvick entering this Chase, is now ninth, 19 points behind, and "This isn't quite the place that we always look to try to turn things around," Busch said Friday of the flat, 1-mile oval that can be maddening to some drivers. "But we need to."
In the opener at Chicagoland last week, Harvick didn't win but he did no harm, surviving a fuel-mileage cliffhanger to finish second to Tony Stewart, while Busch and others ran out of gas in the final laps to plummet in the standings.
Harvick isn't exactly claiming momentum or even breathing easier. Not with nine races left.
"I think anything you can do that's better than everybody else is a good thing," Harvick said. "You don't want to beat yourself in the first week; you don't want to do anything to take yourself out of the hunt."
This early, the lead is "one of those things where you just have to roll along with it," Harvick said. "We're one week in. There's a long way to go. ... We're happy about the way it started, but we're definitely not going to get too confident about it."
And, there wasn't any choice on strategies at Chicagoland, Harvick figured.
"Last week, you had to take a risk to be a part of the race," he said. "There was no way you could just pit under green and come in and lose a lap. You were going to have a bad finish anyway."
On the 29 team, "they told me we were 3.8 laps short when we left pit road to start that [final] run," Harvick said. "I felt like I had done an OK job of saving gas, but you're never really confident. If I'd just listened, and went [all-out], we probably would have won the race.
"But the flip side of that is, you might run out of gas too."
Limping home 22nd at Chicagoland was "a disappointing finish and guys were upset," Busch said of his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team. But, "it's not indicative of how we ran ... "
As for dropping from first to ninth in one week, "I don't know if it's significant yet or not," Busch said. "We won't know until the end."
Coming in as the top seed in 2008, Busch stumbled in the Chase opener here and never recovered. But he sees no slippery slope this time -- just the ups and downs he has experienced all season.
"There's been periods of time this year where we come into the race as the points leader, have a bad week and fall back to fifth in points, 20-something points behind the leader, and in three or four races we make it back up," he said.
But this track "has been tricky for some, and mostly because of the track-position fight," Busch said. "Here, you have one or one and a half lanes that you can race in, and when you have to pass somebody, you have to move them out of the way, or slide-job them, or push them up into the third lane, or something like that. It's a lot harder to make moves here than other places."
Kevin Harvick expects to win at New Hampshire. Plus, we have more on Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Carl Edwards.
And, "if you get behind late, you're not going to make it up," Harvick said. "There's definitely a track-position game that comes into play here, because it's harder to pass than most places."
But, "They can all be land mines," Harvick said of the tracks in the Chase. "There's not one specific racetrack that I look at that sticks out and says, 'This is gonna be a disaster.' They can all be disasters, and they can all be beneficial."
And so, "When we come here we expect to win," said Harvick, who hasn't won here since 2006. And, he added with a shrug and a smile, "Last time, we came expecting to win and finished 21st.
"All in all, we come here with a car that's won on two flat tracks [Martinsville and Richmond] this year, and we don't expect anything less than that."
Ed Hinton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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