Defending champion Kevin Harvick cruising through NASCAR season

TWENTY RACES into Kevin Harvick's first season as a defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion and things are going as smoothly as a happy child gliding down a water slide. Harvick has two wins, eight runner-up finishes and four other top-fives in the No. 4 Chevrolet. He leads the Sprint Cup standings; No. 2 Joey Logano is 69 points behind.

Harvick was thisclose to winning his second Cup race at Indianapolis Sunday, but struggled on the next-to-last restart and finished third.

"I don't ever get down after a day like Indy," Harvick told the Daily News earlier this week. "It's a fickle game. I've won that way and lost that way. You look at what you would do differently and move forward."

Restarting next to Kyle Busch with two laps remaining, Harvick hoped for a push from Martin Truex Jr.

"The 78 [Truex] just didn't get to us," Harvick recalled. "The 22 [Logano] and 18 [Busch] were hooked up."

Busch surged into the lead and won the prestigious race.

Now in his 15th Cup season, Harvick knows it's best to stay on an even keel during the interminable NASCAR season. He's looking ahead to Sunday's Windows 10 400 Cup race at Pocono Raceway, where he is winless in 29 starts.

Referring to his second places in two of the previous three Pocono events, Harvick said: "I've been really close there since I've been with SHR [Stewart-Haas Racing]. I've led some laps. It's refreshing to run competitively there."

Harvick led the second-most laps (39) in the June Pocono race won by Truex.

Clearly, Harvick is handling his stature as defending Cup champion with skill and poise.

"The team has done a phenomenal job," the 39-year-old Californian said. "We've won a couple races. The goal is to win another championship.

"Coming into the season, one of our main goals was to make the same decisions as last year. We want to use our experience to make necessary adjustments [to new rules]. Some things outside [of racing] have changed, from a [public relations] or sponsorship standpoint. We've done some things for NASCAR, but we've blended them into [our schedule]."

Harvick is one of four Cup drivers in tomorrow's Camping World truck race at Pocono. The others are Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Austin Dillon.

Waltrip Racing jolted

Michael Waltrip Racing was rocked yesterday when it was announced that co-owner Rob Kauffman has purchased part ownership of Chip Ganassi Racing. MWR's teams feature Clint Bowyer (15th in points) and David Ragan (24th). Jamie McMurray (ninth) and Kyle Larson (20th) drive Chevrolets for Ganassi.

MWR doesn't have a manufacturer deal for next season; nor does it have a sponsor for Ragan. MWR has been aligned with Toyota. Speculation has Ganassi adding Bowyer next year. Kauffman could continue as a co-owner with MWR and Ganassi, but that would appear awkward.

"My focus is on 2015 and fulfilling the commitment we have made to our partners and Toyota which is placing our teams in the Chase," Waltrip said. "There are a lot of details yet to be sorted regarding 2016. I will work closely with Rob Kauffman and our sponsors to formulate the best way forward."

Racer dies at wheel

Family and friends are grieving over the sudden death of Grandview Speedway racer Mike Bailey at age 39.

He was preparing to start Tuesday's Thunder on the Hill modified feature at the Bechtelsville, Pa., track when he slumped over the wheel of his race car and was later pronounced dead, reportedly of a heart attack.

Bailey is survived by his wife Melissa and three children. A viewing will be held 6:30 to 8 p.m. Monday at the Ludwig Funeral Home in Kutztown .

Another visitation will be 10 a.m. Tuesday before a service.