Weekend Preview: Harvick hopes to continue Phoenix hot streak

Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, leads the field during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 9, 2014 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, leads the field during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 9, 2014 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

Mother Nature might be the only person who can stop Kevin Harvick from winning at Phoenix International Raceway.

Last fall, the No. 4 Chevrolet driver appeared to be on his way to his fourth consecutive victory at the one-mile track, leading 143 of the 219 laps when rain brought out a caution as he was leaving pit road. Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was slightly ahead of second-place Harvick on the track, earned the win when NASCAR called the race due to the precipitation.

Harvick will try to continue his success at PIR by starting a new win streak in Sunday’s Good Sam 500 (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX). The overwhelming favorite, Harvick boasts a track-record seven victories, including wins in five of his last seven starts in the Arizona desert.DesertDomination_Harvick

“I feel like that can be gone at any point,” Harvick said about his perceived Phoenix edge. “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.”

The 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion hasn’t looked close to losing his advantage at the one-mile flat oval since it was repaved for the fall 2011 event. Since then, Harvick leads all drivers at Phoenix with five wins, 1,208 laps led (114.2 per race) and a 130.1 driver rating. He also enters the Good Sam 500 as one of three drivers with a top-10 finish in every race this season.

“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,” Harvick said. “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.

“There are a lot of good race car 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.”

A fixture in Victory Lane with 12 wins over the last three seasons, Harvick hasn’t taken a checkered flag since 10 races ago at Dover. In fact, he’s been snake-bitten by second-place finishes lately. Last season, the Bakersfield, California native produced 13 runner-up showings, the most since NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison produced 15 in 1970.

Harvick doesn’t believe “there’s anything missing” causing him to not win races.

“Those things go in cycles,” he said. “You’re going to have things work out. You’re going to have things not work out. You’re going to win races that you shouldn’t win. If you can capitalize, they’re almost harder when you’re in position to win them all day, which is something I hadn’t really learned a lot about till the last couple years because they’re hard to manage.”

Jones ready to win, lock up Chase berth in valley of the sun

Following a tough-luck 31st-place finish in the season-opener at Daytona, 2015 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Erik Jones is beginning to hit his stride in his first full-time NASCAR XFINITY Series season.

The 20-year-old NASCAR Next alum has produced a third-place finish in each of the last two races, jumping from 22nd in the points standings to seventh, 20 notches behind leader Daniel Suárez.

Jones will attempt to continue his ascent up the standings and try to capture the first berth in the 12-driver, four-round NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase in Saturday’s Axalta Faster. Tougher. Brighter 200 at Phoenix International Raceway (2:30 p.m. ET on FOX).

“This week is definitely a race I circled on the calendar. Phoenix is one of my favorite tracks we compete on and has proved to be a track I run well on and have seen success at in the Truck Series with getting my first NASCAR win back in 2013 and another win in 2014.”

The No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing driver has been successful in XFINITY action at the one-mile track as well, improving each race with finishes of sixth, fifth and third in three starts there.

“On the XFINITY side, we’ve run well and had good finishes at Phoenix, but I’m ready to get that first win at the track and of the season and I think Phoenix could be the place,” Jones said. “I know we’ll unload with a great Camry at Phoenix and if we can minimize the mistakes made at Atlanta and Las Vegas, there is no reason we can’t be there at the end and in contention for the win.”

Jones’ crew chief Chris Gabehart echoed his driver’s sentiments.

“With the speed we have shown the past two weekends in being able to battle back from such big early race deficits, we feel confident that if we can put an entire race together without having to come from behind at some point we will have a shot at the win.”

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

Race: Good Sam 500

Place: Phoenix International Raceway

Date and Time: Sunday, March 13 at 3:30 p.m. ET

Tune-in: FOX, MRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90

Distance: 312 miles (312 laps)

What to Watch For: Brad Keselowski goes for a second consecutive win after visiting Victory Lane at Las Vegas. … Kyle Busch searches for his eighth consecutive top-10 finish. … Dale Earnhardt Jr. attempts to win his second consecutive race at Phoenix. … Sunoco Rookie of the Year frontrunner Ryan Blaney tries to increase his seven-point advantage on Chase Elliott. … Austin Dillon continues to close in on first win following a fifth-place finish at Las Vegas. … Ty Dillon takes the wheel of the No. 14 Chevrolet in place of Tony Stewart this weekend.

NASCAR XFINITY Series

Race: Axalta Faster. Tougher. Brighter. 200

Place: Phoenix International Raceway

Date and Time: Saturday, March 12 at 2:30 p.m. ET

Tune-in: FOX, MRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90

Distance: 200 miles (200 laps)

What to Watch For: Mexican Daniel Suárez enters the race as the first foreign-born driver to lead a NASCAR national series points standings. He sits three points ahead of Elliott Sadler. … Ty Dillon attempts to notch his fifth top-10 finish in as many starts at Phoenix. The No. 3 Richard Childress Racing driver has posted two top fives and has an average finish of 6.2 at the one-mile track. … NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon and Brad Keselowski are all scheduled to compete in the NASCAR XFINITY Series race.

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