Chase Watch: Harvick is moving on, but will Earnhardt Jr., Keselowski and Johnson?

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Chase Watch: Harvick is moving on, but will Earnhardt Jr., Keselowski and Johnson?
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Kevin Harvick's map to victory lane didn't have any unexpected road blocks Saturday night.

Two weeks ago at Dover, Harvick had a flat tire and was forced to pit from the lead. Last week at Kansas, Harvick, who started on the pole, wondered if he had another flat and pre-emptively pitted to prevent a possible crash.

He finished 13th at Dover and 12th at Kansas.

Saturday, Harvick once again had one of the fastest cars in the field and led for 162 laps. And this time nothing went wrong, even though there were a couple of scares.

The first was in the middle of the race when Harvick thought he had a loose wheel. Instead of potentially pitting under green and losing a lap, a caution came out not long after Harvick reported the problem. He was able to pit under caution with the rest of the field and maintain his track position.

The second came on a green-white-checker restart. As the race was winding down, Harvick had a sizeable lead over second-place Jeff Gordon. However, Brian Vickers blew an engine with five laps to go. A caution flew, Harvick's lead over Gordon was gone and a green-white-checker finish was looming.

It didn't matter. Instead of letting the race slip away because of the late caution, Harvick got a great restart and pulled away from Gordon as the field headed into turn one. No one had a chance to make a race-winning pass.

"We know that we've had the cars to run up front and lead laps and do the things that we need to do," Harvick said. "Things just hadn't gone right. We'd made some mistakes, things hadn't gone right more than not."

"This is the night we needed to win. I didn't want to go to Talladega next week."

Talladega is the last race of the second round of the Chase. Harvick's win means he doesn't have to worry about points at Talladega; he's moving on to the third round no matter what. However, every other Chase driver except Harvick and last week's winner Joey Logano will have to worry about the specter of a big pileup at Talladega.

Some have to worry more than most, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski. They're the bottom three drivers in the points standings after Charlotte. Here's how the standings look after five of 10 Chase races.

1. Joey Logano, 3,088 points: Since he's guaranteed to advance past Talladega, Logano has an interesting choice: run up front for the fun of it or stay the heck away? Or could he be teammate Keselowski's designated wingman?

2. Kyle Busch (-6 to Logano): Busch's strategy for Talladega is simple.

"Run dead last all day – survive," he said. "If there's one big wreck then it puts us in and we're good."

And that's not a bad one. He's got a 26-point cushion on ninth place, so staying way at the back and avoiding trouble should be good enough to get Busch in. And it doesn't matter where he is in the final eight, because the points will reset after Talladega. It's simply about getting in.

3. Kevin Harvick (-7): Harvick has the same dilemma as Logano, albeit without the teammate angle to it.

4. Ryan Newman (-11): Newman battled back to finish seventh after he had one hell of a save to dodge Danica Patrick's crashed car. And somehow, through that save-induced spin, Newman didn't hit anything.

5. Carl Edwards (-12): Edwards and Newman seem to be always around each other this Chase and it continued Saturday. Edwards finished eighth.

6. Jeff Gordon (-14): After finishing second, Gordon was very intrigued by the fireworks show after the race among Hamlin, Keselowski and Kenseth.

7. Denny Hamlin (-15): Hamlin finished ninth after restarting third. And yeah, there was all that stuff post-race too.

8. Kasey Kahne (-31): Mirror driving happens a lot at Talladega, but Kahne will be doing more of it than usual because of his precarious position in the points. He was 10th at Charlotte.

9. Matt Kenseth (-32): If Kenseth finished fourth (where he was when he hit the wall with 63 laps to go) instead of 19th like he actually did, he's one spot and 15 points higher in the standings.

10. Brad Keselowski (-50): Keselowski was 16th after restarting fifth. His car simply fell like an anchor over the last two laps, and he said it was because of right-front damage from Kenseth.

11. Jimmie Johnson (-57): Johnson was briefly in third place late in the race but decided to take four tires under the final caution flag. He restarted 10th, and instead of charging through the field with fresh rubber, he fell backwards to 17th. How did it happen? He was caught in the middle immediately after the restart and sunk back as cars around him had the preferred bottom and top grooves. He's going to Talladega needing a win, or a lot of cars in front of him to be in a crash.

12. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-57): Junior's promising day turned miserable. The shifter handle broke on his car and his team was unable to fix it. He then went a lap down and never recovered, finishing 20th.

"We had a bad vibration and we ended up just breaking the – the vibration broke the shifter in half," Junior said. "It wasn't a good night. The car wasn't handling well and the vibration was really giving us a lot of problems. We had it in practice, changed some hubs and stuff and didn't fix it."

If there was ever a place for Junior to pull off a win-and-move-on-to-the-next-round-of-the-Chase scenario, it's Talladega. But with the roulette-wheel nature of restrictor plate racing, it's not something to count on. But because of his deficit in the points standings, winning may be his best hope for moving on.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!