KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina – Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), finds himself in a familiar, albeit uncomfortable, position as he arrives to Phoenix International Raceway for the Can-Am 500k NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race needing a win to advance to the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway.
Harvick needed a win at Phoenix in November 2014 to advance to the winner-take-all championship race at Homestead, and he delivered one of the most dominant wins of his Sprint Cup career when he started third, led 264 of 312 laps and beat runner-up Jeff Gordon to the finish line by 1.636 seconds.
In 2015, Harvick was able to advance to the Championship 4 with a second-place finish in the rain-shortened event at Phoenix.
Harvick’s career numbers at Phoenix feature a series-high eight Sprint Cup wins, including five in his last six outings. He became the only Sprint Cup driver to win four consecutive races there when he won the November 2013 race, swept the 2014 races and won again in March 2015. Only five drivers have won consecutive Sprint Cup races at Phoenix and Harvick is the only one to win consecutive races twice. He swept both races in 2006 to go with his back-to-back wins in 2014. His most recent Phoenix win was this past March.
According to NASCAR loop data, Harvick 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. His third perfect score came in March 2015, when he won the pole, led 224 of 312 laps and beat Jamie McMurray to the finish line by 1.153 seconds.
Harvick also leads all Sprint Cup drivers with 1,484 laps led – 17.6 percent of his total laps contested – and 757 fastest laps run. He ranks second in average running position at 8.8, in driver rating at 111.2, in average finish at 8.9, and he has 5,790 laps in the top-15, or 80.8 percent. Harvick’s only Sprint Cup pole at Phoenix was in March 2015, when he recorded a lap of 25.577 seconds at 140.751 mph in the third round.
In addition to his series-high eight Sprint Cup wins, Harvick has four NASCAR Camping World Truck Series wins and one in the NASCAR 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 four wins, 15 top-five finishes, 25 top-10s and he’s also led 1,305 laps with an average finish of 10.3.
While consistency has been key for Harvick throughout the season, his appearance in the 2016 Chase for the Sprint Cup Round of 8 came anything but easily. The 2014 Sprint Cup champion has an average finish of 16.25 in this year’s Chase.
He raced his way out of the Round of 16 with a win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon following a sub-par 20th-place finish at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois. He suffered a mechanical failure the following week at Dover (Del.) International Speedway and finished 37th.
In the Round of 12, Harvick finished 38th with another mechanical issue at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, but followed that with a win at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City and seventh at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway to advance to the Round of 8.
The Bakersfield, California native kicked off the Round of 8 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway with another 20th-place finish, then scored a sixth-place finish Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. He stands 18 points behind the fourth-place driver heading into the final race in the Round of 8 and the penultimate race of the 2016 season.
If Harvick plans to advance to the Championship 4 for the third consecutive season, he will need to have a freaky fast afternoon at the mile oval in the Arizona desert this weekend and finish the day standing in victory lane.
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 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. 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.”