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JOLIET, Ill. -- New rules and a well-sorted car made restarts a strong suit for Kevin Harvick on Sunday night at Chicagoland Speedway.
Harvick parlayed both into a hard-fought third-place finish in the first round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs, further establishing his credentials as a title contender in his swan song with Richard Childress Racing.
The podium finish wasn't short on drama. Three times in the Geico 400, Harvick battled back from pit-road adversity that knocked him from the top 10 -- once when his rivals all pitted took two tires instead of his four, once on a sluggish stop and once when he was blocked in by Dave Blaney as he tried to leave his stall.
That's when his prowess on restarts during the race's six second-half caution periods lifted him up the running order.
"Our car was really good on the restarts, so you could pick a bunch of them off pretty easy there going into Turn 1 and 2," said Harvick, who started 17th. "All in all, it was a good night, just too loose at the end to run with those guys up off the corner, but still a good night."
After questionable restarts in the Sprint Cup and NASCAR Nationwide Series the previous weekend at Richmond International Raceway, NASCAR added more layers to the restart procedure in the pre-race drivers' meeting at Chicagoland, saying that the second-place car was allowed to beat the leader to the start-finish line so long as the leader was in front when the green flag was displayed to the field. For Harvick, it caused him to look at restarts with a whole new approach.
On the race's final restart, Harvick was third behind a pair of Joe Gibbs Racing drivers, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch, as the field lined up double-file. Armed with the knowledge that he could be more assertive under the new rules, Harvick pushed second-place Kenseth past his teammate at the drop of the green.
"I think everybody can be a little bit more aggressive as you saw at the end, not worrying about shoving the other guy in front," Harvick said. "I think when the green flag goes, you just start going and make a decision as to whether you want to go low or push the guy in front of you. As you saw at the end with Matt, I was able to be really aggressive on that restart and keep shoving him."
Although race winner Kenseth and runner-up Busch remain 1-2 ahead of him in the standings, Harvick held serve in fourth place with nine races remaining in the season. He also gained ground thanks to the more than six hours' worth of rain delay, which changed a daytime event into a night race -- an unanticipated benefit for the No. 29 Chevrolet's handling characteristics after the team fought a tight condition in the early going.
The other unexpected perk from the down time? An increase in family time and a break from what had been a long weekend in the greater Chicago area.
"Honestly, I just went back and hung out with (wife) DeLana and my son, ate some dinner, relaxed and watched football," Harvick said. "That's what I did -- really not think about racing. When it was time to go, you get back into the right frame of mind."
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