No Sure Thing
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Nov. 10, 2015) – Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), has an impressive list of accomplishments at Phoenix International Raceway and would like to add to that list in Sunday’s Phoenix 500k NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. But, Harvick also knows that there is no such thing as a “sure thing.”
Harvick’s numbers at Phoenix include a series-high seven Sprint Cup wins, including the last four in a row and five of the last six. He is the only Sprint Cup driver to win four consecutive races at Phoenix. He won the November 2013 race, swept the 2014 races and won his most recent appearance in March 2015. Only five drivers have won consecutive Sprint Cup races at Phoenix and Harvick is the only driver to win consecutive races twice. He swept both races in 2006 to go with his back-to-back wins in 2014.
According to NASCAR loop data, he is the only driver to score a perfect 150.0 driver rating on three different occasions at Phoenix. Harvick scored his first perfect rating at the mile oval in November 2006, when he started second and led 252 of 312 laps on his way to victory lane. He accomplished the feat a second time in winning the November 2014 race, which he started third and led 264 of 312 laps. His third perfect score came in his most recent win last March, when he won the pole, led 224 of 312 laps and beat Jamie McMurray to the finish line by 1.153 seconds.
In addition to his series-best seven wins at Phoenix, Harvick leads all Sprint Cup drivers with 1,202 laps led – 18.1 percent of his total laps contested – and 636 fastest laps run. He ranks second in average running position at 9.403, in driver rating at 108.3, and in average finish at 9.6. He ranks third with 5,270 laps in the top-15, or 79.5 percent.
Harvick’s Sprint Cup pole in his most recent attempt at Phoenix last March was his first. It came with a lap of 25.577 seconds at 140.751 mph.
Outside of the Sprint Cup Series, Harvick has five NASCAR touring series wins, including four in the Camping World Truck Series and one in the Xfinity Series. The defending Sprint Cup champion won the Truck Series events at Phoenix in 2002, 2003, 2008 and 2009. He scored his lone Xfinity win at Phoenix in 2006.
Thirty-four races into this season, Harvick has been a model of consistency as he has recorded 21 top-five finishes, 26 top-10 finishes and he’s also led a series-high 2,105 laps with an average finish of 9.1.
The reigning Sprint Cup champion leads several other statistical categories: 118.1 driver rating, 46 bonus points, 1,325 fastest laps run, 34.5 percent of fastest laps run, 21.2 percent of laps led, 2,539.61 miles led, 9,026 laps in the top-15 and average running position of 7.42.
Harvick is the first driver to lead 2,000 laps in consecutive seasons since Jeff Gordon in 1995 and 1996. The last three drivers to lead more than 2,000 laps in a single season have all gone on to win the Sprint Cup championship. Jeff Gordon led 2,320 laps in 2001, Jimmie Johnson led 2,238 laps in 2009, and Harvick led 2,137 laps in 2014.
While consistency has been key for Harvick throughout the season, his appearance in the Eliminator Round came anything but easily. The defending series champion raced his way from the Challenger Round to the Contender Round with a dominant performance in a “must-win” situation at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. He fought off elimination by leading 355 of 400 laps at Dover en route to scoring his first Chase win of the season.
In the Contender Round, Harvick finished second at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, 16th at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City and 15th at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway to advance to the Eliminator Round.
Jeff Gordon punched his ticket to the Championship Round at Homestead by virtue of his win at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. Harvick finished eighth at Martinsville and third at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth and holds a 10-point cushion over fifth-place driver Carl Edwards in the standings. His goal this weekend is to score his fifth-straight win at Phoenix and automatically punch his ticket to defend his 2014 Sprint Cup championship in next weekend’s winner-take-all race for the four Championship Round contenders at Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway.
KEVIN HARVICK, Driver of the No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What makes racing at Phoenix unique?
“Phoenix is a really flat racetrack where you want to have the freshest tires possible, but track position is really important. A lot of what happens at Phoenix depends on the weather and how hot it is – how much 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 of getting through the field.”
When you go to Phoenix, do you feel like you have an edge there over the rest of the field?
“I feel like that can be gone at any point. That’s the hardest thing about having success. You have to have an open mind to try new things to keep moving forward. If you don’t have an open mind or are not willing to try a fresh approach, then it will get stagnant. You’re going to become stale and get left behind. As we go to Phoenix, we have to look at the things that we’ve done well. Obviously, we’ve done a lot of good things. We look at the race tape and pay attention to the lines and braking, steering, throttle and all the things that you have access to and you try to mimic that immediately when you get on the racetrack. The hard part about our sport is the conditions are never the same. The tire is constantly changing. You never know if it’s going to be 100 degrees or if it’s going to be 50 degrees. That makes a big difference on the balance of the car, how much downforce it makes and how much tape you can run on the front. There are all kinds of things to navigate through once you get there. There are a lot of good racecar drivers and lots of circumstances that could play out to have things go wrong. You go there with a fresh start like you’ve never won there before and try to get the car dialed in.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine