Long before Kevin Harvick qualified for this season's Chase for the Nextel Cup and an opportunity to win his first Cup championship, he was already in position to claim another NASCAR title.
When Harvick clinched his berth in the Chase with his victory at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway on Sept. 9, he already had a 619-point advantage over his nearest rival in the Busch Series standings. Although technically not the title holder at that point, he had long since been destined to win the championship.
With five races remaining, including Friday night's Dollar General 300 at Lowe's Motor Speedway, Harvick has all but clinched his second Busch championship. He also won the 2001 series title.
He needs only to leave Charlotte, N.C., with at least a 761-point lead - he's up by 729 - and the title is his, even if he sits out the final four races.
Were he to also win the Chase, he would become the first driver in NASCAR history to win the Cup and Busch championships in the same season. Heading into Saturday night's Cup race at Lowe's Motor Speedway, he's fourth in the Chase standings, 33 points behind leader Jeff Burton.
"To be able to compete for the Cup championship is what we all wanted to do at the beginning of the year and we gave ourselves that opportunity. I'm really proud to have that opportunity this year," Harvick said.
"We don't like to think about things too far in advance, but it would be an incredible accomplishment (to win both titles) if we could pull that off.
"You have to enjoy it while you can. You never know when you've made your last trip to Victory Lane. It's been a lot of fun to be a part of."
Harvick has driven three Busch cars this season. He's run one race in Richard Childress Racing's No. 29, 26 races in RCR's No. 21 - with whom he has won all seven races - and three races in the No. 33 fielded by Kevin Harvick Inc. He will drive the No. 33 this weekend.
"This has been unbelievable. I'm proud of everyone at the No. 21 team and RCR. They have worked hard to get to this point," team owner Richard Childress said.
"We still have some work to do; we're working hard on next year, but it's still too early to take the eye off the ball this year."
Harvick's season has rivaled that of 2000 champion Jeff Green, who won the Busch title with a 616-point margin over Jason Keller.
Harvick already has more wins (seven) than Green (six) had in 32 races and the same number of top-10 finishes (27).
"This No. 21 car has been good week in and week out no matter where we've been, and the days we've been off, we've been able to make a good day out of it," Harvick said. "It's one of those years where everything has gone our way and the cars have been fast and we've been able to capitalize on our fast cars and wind up in Victory Lane."
Working the schedule Harvick has - three teams, three crew chiefs - also requires good planning and communication.
"The success for this operation realistically started in 2005 with Gil Martin and (driver) Clint Bowyer working on these cars. Gil is a good crew chief and went out and helped draft all the good people we have working here," said Shane Wilson, Harvick's crew chief on the No. 21.
"The RCR Busch teams have been established for a while, and I think we came out of the box a little better prepared to start the season than some of the others."
Wilson said RCR and Harvick were on the top of their games.
"We've stayed out of the trouble all year. We have had times that could have been disastrous and we came out smelling like a rose," he said. "It's not all luck. You make your luck a lot of the time."