CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Richard Childress guaranteed one of his drivers would dethrone Jimmie Johnson this year, and for a portion of this season, it seemed as if Kevin Harvick could indeed be the very guy to wrest the title from the five-time defending champion.
But that was when Harvick had driven to a pair of wins through the first six races. A third victory at Charlotte all but locked him into the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field, and it was believed he could use the rest of the ``regular season'' to prepare for a run to the title.
Now he's in a slump that seems to have hit the entire Richard Childress Racing organization. With only two races to go to set the 12-driver Chase field, Harvick may be the only RCR driver to make the cut.
He guaranteed himself at least a wild card berth with an underwhelming 22nd-place finish at Bristol last Saturday night. RCR teammates Clint Bowyer and Paul Menard struggled at Bristol, too, and saw their Chase chances take a hit.
Bowyer was off the pace early, fell several laps down and finished 26th. At 12th in the points, he either needs to win one of the next two races or crack the top-10 to get into the Chase.
``To come out (at Bristol) and be this far off was the last thing we needed right now,'' Bowyer said. ``We had the opportunity to gain major ground on the other Chase contenders and we blew it. We aren't out of this thing yet, but we must get better these next two weeks to survive.''
Menard is likely at the mercy of others. His win at Indianapolis pushed him into wild-card contention, but he's not capitalized since. His 30th-place finish at Bristol dropped him to 20th in the standings.
To have any shot at making the Chase, he has to first stay ranked inside the top-20. Then he's got to hope that Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin, who have race wins this season, both don't need a wild card to make the Chase. Should one of them crack the top-10, and Menard is still ranked inside the top-20, he could get the second wild card providing no one ahead of him in the standings wins a race.
``This was definitely not what we needed in our effort to make the Chase,'' Menard said after Bristol. ``We have two races to go and really need to capitalize on things. I think a second win is going to be what it takes for us. But we have a great team and I know we can do it.''
Menard also knows he struggles at Richmond, the final race to set the Chase field. With an average finish of 28.3 at Richmond, it's the worst make-or-break track possible for Menard. So he's got to perform this Sunday at Atlanta to improve his positioning.
But Bowyer and Menard aside, the real concern is Harvick, who once again was venting over his team radio as he struggled at Bristol. He's always outspoken when his car isn't performing, and he's not shy about calling out team members after sloppy pit stops. He scolded the No. 29 crew midway through the race for a month of struggles, and his postrace response came via Twitter.
``Not a good night we gotta figure some things out fast ... `` he posted on his page.
The next day was met with mandatory meetings at RCR, where presumably the team discussed how to get back to the level it was at in the spring.
Harvick hasn't had a top-five finish since Pocono in June, and he's led only 22 laps since then. He's also had only one top-10 finish in the last seven races.
Asked about his struggles before Bristol, he said the pit crew needed immediate attention - something it got last week when pit crew coordinator Matt Clark was released.
``Right now we are working on making sure that we have the pit crew in order for the consistency on pit road that you are going to need for the last 10 weeks,'' Harvick said. ``A lot of that comes with the experience with the guys that are doing it. The guys have done a great job. They have kind of hit a slump over the last few weeks.
``We are working on getting that in order before we get started.''
Harvick, however, still thought he was in good shape for the Chase.
If Childress' claim is going to come true, he is going to need to get into excellent shape, and quickly.

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