DOVER, Del. — Kevin Harvick views his chase for the NASCAR Cup Series championship as him against the field. His budding rivalry with Denny Hamlin, however, has turned into a can-you-top-this showdown that promises to last until the finale.
"You don't want to be so narrow-minded to think it's going to be you against one other team," Harvick said.
A day after Hamlin's victory in a 1-2-3 finish for Joe Gibbs Racing, Harvick regained the Cup Series lead for wins this season with his seventh, earned by dominating Sunday at Dover International Speedway.
Harvick and Hamlin have emerged as the clear contenders to win it all — and again they proved their mettle in a doubleheader. At Pocono Raceway in late June, Harvick won the Saturday race and Hamlin followed with his own checkered flag 24 hours later.
Harvick won the finale of the final scheduled twinbill of the season, an adjustment forced by the coronavirus pandemic hiatus. Harvick and Hamlin long ago clinched their spots in NASCAR's playoffs and can rest easy — though they won't — heading into the regular-season finale Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway. Under the lights, the final three playoff spots will be up for grabs, with seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson virtually needing a win to make a run at a record-breaking eighth title in his farewell season.
Harvick secured his status as the best in this odd regular season, and he has 57 playoff points that he can build up all the way to the finale at Phoenix Raceway in November. He plans to be racing for the title, and Hamlin could stand in his way — not that Harvick sees it quite like that.
"I don't think I want to narrow it down to one guy, obviously," Harvick said. "It really has been fun to kind of go back and forth with Denny and his team."
The 44-year-old Harvick, who won the 2014 Cup Series championship and has finished among the top four in the season standings 10 times, continues to rack up milestones at Stewart-Haas Racing. He has 56 career Cup victories, tied with JGR's Kyle Busch for ninth on the career list. Harvick swept the stages in the No. 4 Ford on Sunday, when he won for the third time in seven races. He gave Ford its 700th Cup Series victory.
All seven of Harvick's wins have come in the 14 starts since NASCAR resumed May 17.
"With Denny winning yesterday, we needed to win today and we need all the points we can get," said Harvick, who finished third in the final standings the past three years. "I think as you look at these playoffs, you never know what to expect, but I know that as we go week to week we will give it all we have."
With just Daytona left before the 16-driver playoff field is set, SHR's Aric Almirola, Busch and older brother Kurt of Chip Ganassi Racing all wrapped up spots on points.
JGR's Martin Truex Jr. finished second in both Dover races. He had finished third in five straight races heading into the weekend.
Said Truex: "We can definitely make the final four with the way we've been running."
Johnson, whose 11 Cup Series wins at Dover are a record, was third. His Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet team gambled on a late two-tire pit stop that gave him a late surge.
Johnson is on the playoff bubble, four points outside of the cutoff, and might have clinched a spot had his car not failed inspection in May at Charlotte Motor Speedway, negating his runner-up finish. That cost him 45 points. He also sat out the Brickyard 400 when he failed a COVID-19 test.
"I've been doing this too long to worry too much," Johnson said. "Maybe that's where experience will pay, though, this weekend. I'll keep my emotions in check and be able to race with a clear and open mind. "
He is the biggest outlier to have a chance at crashing the field — unless there's a surprise winner. He'd also have to knock off Hendrick teammate William Byron and former crew chief Chad Knaus, who was atop the pit box for all seven of Johnson's titles.
There are 13 drivers with a spot in the playoffs. SHR's Clint Bowyer, Wood Brothers Racing's Matt DiBendetto and Byron hold the final three spots on points. DiBendetto finished 20th and 17th in the two Dover races to derail his playoff momenteum.
"If we miss them, I will be a pretty grumpy individual the rest of the year," DiBendetto said. "It is what it is. We have worked hard to be in that position. I hope we make it. I don't want to be negative at all, but it is hard after coming out of this weekend and getting a huge deficit in points and a ton of points chopped from us because we ran so bad in both races."