KANSAS CITY, Kan. – After departing the celebration in victory lane at Kansas on Sunday, Kevin Harvick reflected on how his Stewart-Haas Racing team always seems to rally when its back is against the wall.
Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski just may need to follow suit.
Harvick dealt with a mechanical issue a week ago at Charlotte that put him in a big hole heading to the second stop in the Chase's round of 12. But he rebounded by winning the Sprint Cup race at Kansas, not only locking up his spot in the next round but taking the pressure out of Talladega.
"Things are going to happen," said Harvick, who also rebounded from a poor Chase opener to win at New Hampshire. "Things can break and you just have to be able to rebound from them."
Elliott and Keselowski are in precisely that situation.
While several contenders were busy wrapping up top-10 finishes – Carl Edwards was second, followed by Joey Logano, Charlotte winner Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon – Elliott and Keselowski had been snared by late-race trouble that leaves them in desperation mode.
Elliott was running near the front when his left rear tire began rubbing on his fender, forcing a stop that left him a lap down. He managed to get back on the lead lap, only to have the same issue with another set of tires that forced him into another unscheduled stop.
"I don't know if we got the left rear getting up on the track or something, and it got into the fender and it cut it down. I don't know," Elliott said. "We had such a good car today."
He wound up finishing 31st and is now 25 points out of the eighth and final spot in the next round, which basically turns the unpredictable race at Talladega into a must-win scenario.
"Race our hearts out and try to win, I guess," he said. "That's about all we can do."
Keselowski had a similarly dreadful day. He began wiggling with 78 laps left and Denny Hamlin was unable to check up in time, the gentle tap sending the No. 2 car shooting down the track. He slammed into the grassy turf and tore up the front of his car.
Keselowski wound up 38th, putting him seven points out of the final Chase spot.
"I like Talladega. Talladega has been good to me," said Keselowski, who has won four times there, including earlier this year. "I'm going to drive my butt off and at the end of the day I have faith that if it is meant to be, it is meant to be. We can't get down. There is a long way to go still."
Things are more comfortable for other Chase contenders.
Edwards ran up front all day and thought he had the car to beat at Kansas before Harvick pulled away from him on a late restart. He still finished second to move up two spots in the points race and now has a 24-point buffer between himself Logano in eighth place.
Of course, that was of little solace to the Missouri native. He considers the speedway just across the Kansas border his home track and always has thousands of fans in the stands. He's wanted to win at Kansas more than anywhere else on the circuit but has yet to reach victory lane.
"There's so many people that come to this track that support me," he said. "Maybe a day or two will pass and I'll be more excited about the points situation going to Talladega."
Martin Truex Jr. had issues with the refueling mechanism that forced him to pit out of sequence and wound up 11th. Kurt Busch finished two spots back in 13th after having to go to his backup car following a spin in practice. Hamlin dealt with an issue with the front splitter and was 15th.
As a result, Logano sits in the tenuous eighth spot in points – tied with Dillon and six ahead of Hamlin – as the Chase heads to the elimination race at Talladega.
"We came out swinging. That's what we had to do. We did everything we were supposed to do," Logano said. "It's not comfortable being tied with Austin going into next week but that'll be fun."