The FanShield 500 will take place Sunday at Phoenix Raceway. It’s only the fourth race of the year and every driver wants to win to secure his spot in the NASCAR playoffs, which begin in September.
But let’s be honest, every driver sees this Phoenix race as preparation for the Nov. 8 championship race which, for the first time ever, will have the final four drivers competing for the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series title on the mile oval in the Arizona desert.
And no driver has been more successful at Phoenix than Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Freaky Fast Rewards Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR).
He has a series-high nine career Cup Series wins at Phoenix, including five with SHR, topping a list that shows Jimmie Johnson next-best with four, Kyle Busch with three, and Davey Allison, Jeff Burton, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Mark Martin, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin with two each.
Harvick has won seven of the last 15 Cup Series races at Phoenix. He is the only driver to win four in a row as he won the November 2013 race, swept the 2014 races and won in March 2015 before ending his streak with a runner-up finish in November 2015. Johnson is the only other driver with a three-race streak at Phoenix, when he won the November 2007 race and swept the 2008 races.
Only five drivers have won consecutive Cup Series races at Phoenix and Harvick is the only driver to win consecutive races twice, having also swept both races in 2006.
He’s scored a perfect 150.0 driver rating at Phoenix on three occasions. His first was in November 2006, when he started second, led 252 of 312 laps and reached victory lane. His second was during his November 2014 win, when he started third and led 264 of 312 laps. His third came during his March 2015 win, when he started first and led 224 of 312 laps.
Harvick has finished outside the top-10 only once since March 2013 and has only three finishes of 11th or worse since April 2010.
And in 2020, his season has started out strong as he has qualified and finished in the top-10 in all three races thus far. He is third in the driver points, just 12 behind leader Ryan Blaney.
Harvick is hoping to get his 10th victory at Phoenix, clinch his playoff spot and, most importantly, be good at the mile oval as he goes for the biggest prize in all of NASCAR in eight months.
The NASCAR Cup Series season finale is now Phoenix. What are your thoughts on holding that event at that venue?
“Well, I think Phoenix will do a great job. I think that’s a championship city. They’ve held national championships, they’ve held Super Bowls, they’ve held the World Series. You name it, that city has hosted it. And really, moving that championship race around is the right thing to do, in my opinion. To me, it’s more about the event than it is the race. It’s more about exposing new fans, new sponsors and just exposing new people to it and teaching them about our sport and exposing them to our sport because of the fact that we’re holding the championship race. And sometimes that’s what it takes to get people who’ve never seen a NASCAR race to the racetrack just because it’s an intriguing event that you attached a championship to. And in the end, hopefully the race is good. But I don’t really think that should matter. I think it should be all about the anticipation and hype and the build-up to the race and the things that happen in that city that will carry over for that particular market for years to come.”
How would you rate yourself at the new Phoenix? Your history there is exceptional, but it crosses over two different versions of the track. How do you feel you are with where that track is right now?
“I felt like last year, with that particular rules package, we definitely weren’t as good as we had been in the past. I think with the 2018 package, I think we were in the game. It’s been a great racetrack for us as we’ve gone through the years and a place that we go to expect a win. And I don’t see that any different, no matter what the rules package is, the expectations from our side are the same and that’s to go there and have a chance to win. And we didn’t do that last year, but the expectations didn’t change.”
What’s the most difficult thing about racing at Phoenix?
“The hardest thing about racing at Phoenix is if you get behind. It’s really easy to do there because you don’t have a lot of time to make pit stops and you have very few chances to adjust on your car to make it race better. The strategy is always tough because track position is so important. If you get behind making a four-tire call and the rest of the field takes two tires, it takes you a long time to get back to where you need to be. No matter what position you are in, it’s going to take away points or a chance to win if you get behind.”