Kevin Harvick probably needs to win Sunday’s NASCAR race to advance to the championship round of NASCAR’s Chase next week.
That Sunday’s race is at Phoenix International Speedway means one thing: Harvick has an excellent chance to do just that.
Harvick all but owns the 1-mile track in the desert in the Phoenix suburb of Avondale, winning six of the past eight races, including a second-place finish in last season’s fall event. He’s won eight times overall in his career at Phoenix, leading 1,484 laps.
In 2014 he faced a similar situation, needing to win at Phoenix to advance to the final four. He did just that and went on to claim the title the next week by winning the season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“That is what makes all this exciting,” said Harvick, who starts sixth Sunday. “What I like about it is the sense of the unknown, the competition, the effort and the thought. Everything that goes into that is intriguing for me.”
Harvick is seventh in the Chase standings, 18 points behind Joey Logano and Kyle Busch, who are tied for the third and fourth spots (semifinal winners Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards have already clinched spots in the championship round).
What I like about it is the sense of the unknown, the competition, the effort and the thought. Everything that goes into that is intriguing for me.
The mathematical scenarios for Harvick to climb out of that hole and to race his way into the final four on points are too numerous and convoluted in which to delve. So the simpler, more direct task is to focus on winning.
That’s where Harvick – who has never been eliminated from a round in the current Chase’s two-plus season format – can use his Phoenix edge. Much of that, he said, comes from adjustments he makes with his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Chevy team led by crew chief Rodney Childers.
Harvick has won eight career races at Phoenix, including six of the past eight at the track.
“I think they are very open to changing things to get them how I like them,” Harvick said. “I have a specific way that I like to let off the brake and get back to the throttle. I want the car to feel here. So it seems like we are always changing a lot of things, migrate back to a lot of things, and have the balance of the car different from time to time. We are usually searching for something that I like that they are good to try and adapt to.”
Harvick doesn’t think his ability to survive and advance in the Chase is unique, at least to the point that others like Matt Kenseth (one point out of fourth), Denny Hamlin (two out) and Kurt Busch (34 out) aren’t thinking the same thing about what they also need to do this weekend at Phoenix.
“(They are) basically in the same position that we are,” said Harvick. “If somebody wins, there is only going to be one points guy that goes through. So you need to pretend that you are in a must-win situation if you plan on going to Homestead, because there is probably going to be somebody in (the remaining) eight that does win. And you will have to win again next week to win the championship. So it’s just kind of the nature of the beast at this time, especially with two different winners already.”
1,484 Laps led by Harvick at Phoenix in 27 races.
Then there is – potentially -- Austin Dillon, who was eliminated from the Chase two weeks ago at Talladega. Dillon was upset with Harvick last week after the two made contact at Texas.
Dillon and crew chief Slugger Labbe hinted that there might be retribution in store for Harvick, who once referred to Dillon (the grandson of team owner Richard Childress) as being born with a silver spoon in his mouth.
Dillon said Friday he had no comment on whether he might go after Harvick on Sunday.
“He can handle things however he wants to handle them,” Harvick said. “Obviously he is a little bit bitter about the things I said in 2012 and that is probably a little bit my fault for never speaking to him about the situation. There was nothing intentional (at Texas). He is mad and he should be mad. He is a competitor and I can’t blame him for that. I reached out to him and he didn’t reach back. So, it is what it is.”
Harvick hot in the desert
Kevin Harvick has won six of the past eight races at Phoenix International Raceway: