Kevin Harvick is locked in.
The driver of the No. 4 Busch Light Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) secured his position in the Championship 4 at the season-ending Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway with his win Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. He will appear in the Championship 4 for the third time in the last four seasons.
However, Harvick is entering refreshing new territory as he heads to Phoenix Raceway for this weekend’s Can-Am 500k Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race without the pressure of having to race his way in to the Championship 4. In Harvick’s previous two trips to the winner-take-all finale, he has had to produce nearly flawless results under pressure in the Arizona desert.
Harvick needed a win at Phoenix in November 2014 to advance to the championship race at Homestead, and he delivered one of the most dominant wins of his Cup Series 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, a second-place finish in a rain-shortened race at Phoenix was enough to advance Harvick to the Championship 4.
Harvick needed a Phoenix win to advance to the Championship 4 in 2016 but fell just short with a fourth-place result.
The Bakersfield, California, native has no pressure to win as the series heads to the desert mile oval in 2017, but that won’t stop Harvick and the No. 4 team from trying to add another trip to victory lane to their already impressive resume at Phoenix.
Harvick’s career numbers at Phoenix feature a series-high eight NASCAR Cup Series wins, including five in his last eight outings. He became the only Cup Series 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 Cup Series 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.
In addition to his series-high eight Cup Series wins, the 2014 Cup Series champion has four NASCAR Camping World Truck Series wins at Phoenix and one in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. His Truck Series wins came in 2002, 2003, 2008 and 2009. His lone Xfinity win came in 2006.
A win at Phoenix would continue the momentum from Texas all the way through to the Championship 4 at Homestead next week, where Harvick will attempt to be the first Ford driver to win a Cup Series championship since his SHR teammate Kurt Busch won the title driving a Ford in 2004.
KEVIN HARVICK, Driver of the No. 4 Busch Light Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Are you focused on Homestead, now, or do you go to Phoenix and try to win the race?
“I think at this point you just don’t even think about it. I feel like the things that we do every week, I’m going to prepare for Phoenix as though we need to go there and win the race because winning’s a lot more fun. I think, for us, the cars are already built, they’re in transit to the racetrack, plans are already laid out. I think as you look at those plans, they’re not going to be any different. But, as far as the things we go through during the week, the things we do, the things we watch, the things we talk about, we’re going to prepare for Phoenix first. I’m sure they won’t do that in the shop, but I’m a one-week guy. I can only focus on so many things. I think, as you look at all the workload, the things I’ve had on my schedule, the things we’ve done up to this point, they stop leading into Phoenix and Homestead just because you want to make sure you don’t miss anything. I feel like the things we’ve laid out and the structure of all the things we’ve done is 100-percent focused on intending to go to Homestead and go to Phoenix with the intention of having to put everything you have in it to win the race. That was already laid out in 2016 as to how it was all going to work. We’ll see if it all plays out.”
Greg Zipadelli and Tony Stewart said in victory lane at Texas they really like your chances at Homestead. Do you feel the same way, more confident about the opportunity ahead of you given what you and the organization have been able to put together?
“Yeah, three or four months ago the conversation really was about how we were going to point our way through the playoffs. We didn’t really feel like we were consistently in contention to win races, not leading laps. When you don’t lead laps, you can’t win races and control things. You can luck into them every once in a while, but you can’t control things like the No. 78 has done this year and the No. 18. As the playoffs started, we started leading laps again at the mile-and-a-half racetracks. That’s really been our focus. It has been our focus for the last four years because that’s really the bread and butter of what we do. Three or four months ago, it was, ‘How are we not going to make any mistakes, be thorough, capitalize on everybody else’s mistakes?’ When we got done with Charlotte, OK, we can still win a championship. Those are two different thought processes of how you go through this championship process of 10 weeks, especially as you get later in the game as you wind up with fewer and fewer cars. Their teams all step up and they usually have their best performances of the year, as well. Hopefully, we can keep that rolling. But the mindset is definitely that we think we can win, as it was not three months ago. That’s just the difference three months has made.”