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In the Rearview: Darlington

April 14th, 2014 1:07 pm by Dave Ongie

In the Rearview: Darlington

Kevin Harvick celebrates in Victory Lane after winning Saturday night's Sprint Cup race at Darlington Raceway in Darlington, S.C. (AP Photo)

For Kevin Harvick, the three-race stretch from Las Vegas to Bristol to California was an unmitigated disaster.

His appearance at Texas Motor Speedway was nothing more than a 28-lap cameo.

And yet, on the Monday following Harvick's taming of the misshapen oval in Darlington, S.C., that was previously thought to be untamable, he was the only driver who knows with absolute certainty that he will be racing for a championship come September.

That, in my opinion, is the way NASCAR racing ought to be.

Let the Europeans race for points. This is America, and in America, we race for wins.

The combination of engine problems, assorted parts failures and a wreck at Bristol Motor Speedway have relegated Harvick to 22nd in the points standings. In years past, we would have been focused on the lack of consistency and lamenting the fact that his inability to run well every week had negated his great runs at Phoenix and Darlington.

Now we can simply focus on those great victories and discount the days when it didn't all come together. And if there's a win that ever deserved to be celebrated, it's Harvick's triumph in South Carolina last Saturday night.

No driver had won a Sprint Cup race from the pole at Darlington since Dale Jarrett did it in 1997. The 238 laps Harvick led were the most by a race winner at the track since Dale Earnhardt led 239 laps en route to a win over Bill Elliott in the TranSouth 500 in 1987.

In order for fans to be engaged in every single race on a 36-race schedule, that sort of performance has to be rewarded over an endless string of top-10 finishes achieved with the perfect blend of finesse, pragmatism and risk management. A conservative approach is great when you're managing your stock portfolio, picking out a sweater vest or shopping for a sedan, but it sure does make for lousy television.

From an entertainment standpoint, there is nothing more interesting than Harvick's new home over at Stewart-Haas Racing, the "Animal House" of NASCAR's fraternity row. The cast of characters under that roof have reality show written all over them because the storylines are endless.

Tony Stewart is battling back from injury. Danica Patrick is battling inexperience. Kurt Bush is battling the voices in his head. Kevin Harvick is battling to prove he made the right decision by leaving Richard Childress Racing.

Well, that and male pattern baldness (I joke because I share Harvick's fight).

Meanwhile, co-owner Gene Haas is fighting an uphill battle to start an American Formula One team while competition director Greg Zipadelli is fighting to keep his sanity after trying to tell everyone at SHR that they didn't have the infrastructure to add a fourth Cup team to accommodate Busch.

Under the old system, this season would have been a disaster. At 12th, Stewart would be the highest-ranking driver in the points standings followed by Harvick at 22nd. Busch would be 26th followed by Patrick in 29th.

Instead, Harvick and Busch are likely in the Chase with Stewart, who is still recovering from a horrific leg injury, one good day away from joining them. The new system is rewarding this bawdy band of misfits for swinging from their heels and connecting every now and then.

Darlington is the sort of track I could see Carl Sandburg writing a poem about, and Harvick's stormy, husky, brawling domination of the place would certainly capture his imagination.

Nobody ever writes poems about a solid top-five finishes. On second thought, maybe they do in Prague ...

Dave Ongie covers motorsports for the Times-News. On Twitter, he is @KTNSportsOngie. Reach him via email at dongie@timesnews.net. You can hear him Monday mornings at 9:10 on "Good Morning Tri-Cities" with Tom Taylor on 870 AM and 100.7 FM.

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