The Chase: Kevin Harvick Is the New Jimmie Johnson

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By Jerry Bonkowski

Cool, calm and collected, ignores pressure and does what he needs to do with a virtually effortless and surgical precision.

How many times have those types of words described Jimmie Johnson?

Much like we used to talk about being like Mike – NBA great Michael Jordan, of course – the only way to beat Jimmie is to be like Jimmie, and that’s exactly what Kevin Harvick did Sunday at Dover.

It didn’t matter that Johnson had won a record 10 times at Dover coming into the race. It didn’t matter that he was a six-time Sprint Cup champion.

Harvick drove like Johnson was behind the wheel. He didn’t get rattled, he didn’t lose faith, he knew he had the best crew chief and team – and most importantly, he knew he had the best car in the field.

Just like Johnson has done so many times en route to his six titles and 74 Sprint Cup victories.

Faced with a must-win situation to advance to the second round of the Chase, Johnson … uh, err, make that Harvick (old habits die hard sometimes) … did his best imitation of the driver of the No. 48.

And when the checkered flag fell, Harvick had emerged victorious, while Johnson – who was tied for the lead when the Chase began three weeks ago – was relegated to elimination oblivion.

All the talk that this was going to be the year Johnson tied NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for most championships by a driver (seven each) has now been silenced.

Instead of winning No. 7, for Johnson it’ll be wait until next year for the second straight season and fourth time in the last five seasons.

It almost makes you wonder if maybe Johnson never will win that elusive seventh title, and Petty’s and Earnhardt’s record will live on intact forever.

As Johnson slips away, Harvick’s star is definitely on the rise. Just when it looked like he would make an early exit from the Chase after wrecking at Chicagoland and running out of gas at New Hampshire, the driver of the No. 4 Chevrolet is now the man to beat the rest of the way in the Chase.

In several ways, Harvick has picked up where Johnson left off:

* Johnson won the 2013. Harvick then went on to win 2014 – and could very well do so again this season.

* Johnson has the best equipment Hendrick Motorsports can provide. Ditto for Harvick, as Stewart-Haas Racing gets all its engines and chassis from HMS.

In other words, if you want to be the best, you have to buy from the best. And that’s a big part of why SHR has won two of the last four Cup crowns – with a third one in the last five now potentially looming ahead.

* Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus seem to have lost their old magic, while Harvick and Rodney Childers seem to have found it.

* Just when it looked like Johnson would be eliminated in the 2006 Chase, he rallied back to not only win the championship that season, he began a five-year roll.

In turn, just when it looked like Harvick would be eliminated in the 2015 Chase, he rallied back to not only preserve his championship hopes, but very likely could make it two championships in a row seven weeks from now.

Harvick has long studied Johnson, absorbing ideas, trends and nuances that he’s converted for his own benefit.

Now, Harvick is maximizing the education and lessons learned.

While some are starting to wonder if Johnson may ever win another Cup championship, others are starting to wonder how many championships Harvick still has ahead of himself to win.

If he keeps racing like he did Sunday, the answer is simple: “A lot!”

Jerry Bonkowski writes for NBCSports.com’s NASCAR Talk and MotorSportsTalk. Follow him on Twitter @JerryBonkowski.

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