The first race in the Chase goes to Kevin Harvick.
LOUDON, N.H. -- Kevin Harvick saw the hole in front of him, a small patch of open track between two other cars.
Driving through it would be risky, but Harvick's never shied away from taking chances. So he shoved his Chevrolet in between Denny Hamlin and Jeff Burton, forcing his way to the front and running away with the win Sunday at New Hampshire International Speedway.
This is how Harvick plans to run for his first Nextel Cup title: Unafraid, unapologetic and with everything he's got.
"At this point, it's all about the championship and going for it and throwing caution to the wind," Harvick said of his three-wide pass just 37 laps into the race. "If you look back on it, I probably wouldn't do that again."
Harvick turned New Hampshire International Speedway into his personal playground, dominating the entire weekend to take the early lead in NASCAR's Chase for the championship.
Harvick, who started from the pole and paced almost every practice session, led 196 of the 300 laps to run away with the first round of the 10-race Chase. He moved to the top of the points standings for the first time in his career, and holds a 35-point lead over rookie Denny Hamlin, who finished fourth.
"We sure have the momentum right now," said Harvick, who won for the second straight week and fourth time this season. "We just have to keep doing what we're doing. If we keep winning races, we're not going to get outscored in points."
Defending series champion Tony Stewart, who did not make the Chase this season and isn't eligible for the championship, finished second in one of the more nerve-racking races of his career. Although he wants to run hard these final 10 races, he's struggling to find the balance between doing so and being respectful of the 10 drivers battling to take his title.
"I don't feel like we have to prove anything. I think 26 (career) wins and two championships is proof enough -- we just had a bad year this year," he said. "It's just a matter of will at this point. We want to go out and win races for ourselves.
"But it is a frustrating day when you are racing those guys that are in the top 10 in points. You are just so cautious around them and it is hard to race real hard and be around those guys, worrying about getting into them."
Jeff Gordon was third and jumped all the way up to fourth in the standings, the lone bright spot in an otherwise dismal day for Hendrick Motorsports. Chase drivers Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson both wrecked early, finished 38th and 39th, and dropped to the back of the 10-driver championship field.