Kevin Harvick is the man to beat this weekend in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at the Phoenix International Raceway. It’s basically his race to lose. Granted, he hasn’t had the season that he’s hoped for, but he’s heading to a track where he can get his first win of the 2017 season.
Harvick, won three of the four stages in the first two races of the year, but finished 22nd and ninth in the two races respectively. At Daytona, he was caught up in the melee on Lap 128, and in Atlanta, after leading all but a handful of laps and having the race won, he was caught speeding while leading on pit road with 15 to go.
Then, last weekend on Las Vegas, he crashed out early and finished a disappointing 38th out of 39 starters.
Despite all of that, he’s still eighth in the Cup standings heading into this weekend’s race at Phoenix. I think this is the weekend though that he can pull off the trifecta and win every stages and the race on Sunday afternoon.
Harvick, is already the king of the desert at Phoenix. He’s won five of the last seven races there and in the other two, he’s finished second and fourth respectively. He has seven straight top five finishes at Phoenix and nine in the last 10.
Furthermore, he has eight top two’s at Phoenix since 2012.
“Phoenix is a really flat racetrack where you want to have the freshest tires possible, but track position is really important,” Harvick said on what’s important to winning at PIR. “A lot of what happens at Phoenix depends on the weather and how hot it is – how much (tire) fall-off and how you have to manage track position throughout the day. The cooler the day is, the more you have to manage your track position. The hotter the day, the more you have to manage the fall-off. Better-handling cars will have a little easier time getting through the field.”
Also, over the last six races at PIR, he’s led a combined 994 laps at the one-mile Arizona oval. Mix that with him having a very fast No. 4 Ford this season, and you get why he’s the man to beat this weekend.
Overall, Harvick has eight wins at Phoenix, 13 top fives and 17 top 10’s in 28 career Phoenix starts.
But, all that success came with Harvick driving a Chevrolet. Now, he’s part of the Ford program with SHR. Does the switch from Chevy to Ford make much of a difference?
“I think those were some of our biggest questions when we went to the first test of the year at Phoenix,” Harvick said of racing at Phoenix after the manufacturer change. “We had to run down some checklists of really basic things to try to figure out exactly where we need to be, what we need to do, what we need to work on. The main thing is that we now have a starting point to work from. There’s not a lot of guessing anymore. We know what’s going on and where we are at and going around a racetrack is what we needed to be doing, so we know where to work from here.”
So, with that change but past success, does Harvick expect anything different this weekend? Did the car during the test, his first in a Ford back in January, feel any different than the Chevy?
“Yes, there was really no surprise with the way it felt,” Harvick continued. “The things we worked on are very similar to what we have worked on in the past. I think this particular aero package – with the spoiler and splitter – is very similar to a lot of the things we fought last year at the end of the season. Now we can dive into the problems and try to solve those issues, but they are very similar to the things we’ve had in the past.”