Harvick looks to become Penultimate Warrior, lock up spot in Championship

Kevin Harvick (Getty Images)
TALLADEGA, AL - OCTOBER 18: Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, stands on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 18, 2014 in Talladega, Alabama.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
TALLADEGA, AL – OCTOBER 18: Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, stands on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 18, 2014 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

If Kevin Harvick had to hand-pick a track to race on in a “win or go home” situation, he would likely choose Phoenix International Raceway.

Harvick boasts a series-best five wins at the one-mile tri-oval and has taken the checkered flag in three of the last four races there, including the past two.

Currently eighth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings, Sunday’s Quicken Loans Race For Heroes 500 cutoff race at Phoenix (3 p.m. ET on ESPN) could not have come at a better time for the No. 4 Chevrolet driver. Harvick trails Jeff Gordon by just six points for the coveted fourth – and final – spot needed for advancement to the Championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

But, he can punch his ticket to Miami without having to rely on the misfortune of others by winning for a third consecutive time at the one-mile track.

“As (the season) gets closer to the end, the intensity ratchets up,” Harvick said.  “At this point of the year, everybody’s just going for broke trying to win a race, get the best finish they can to end the season on a good note. It’s hard racing. It’s fun.”

In 2011, PIR was repaved and remodeled for the fall race with changes that included concrete pit stalls, progressive banking, and degree alterations to the dogleg and turns. Since then, Harvick has won three of the six events there and also posted a runner-up finish. In his 18 Phoenix races prior to the repave, Harvick averaged a finish of 13.8. In the six races since, he has an average of just 6.2.  With a victory on Sunday, he can sweep the track for the second time in his career (2006).

“The track is still racy enough where you can make up time if your car is good, but you need to stay focused on strategy,” Harvick said. “The track has definitely changed since the repave a couple of years ago. The weather really helps wear the track. It’s incredibly hot in the summer and can get really cold in the winter, so there are some pretty extreme temperatures that have helped to age the asphalt.”

Coming off a runner-up finish at Texas, Harvick travels to the Sonoran Desert with some needed momentum after opening the Eliminator Round with a 33rd-place finish at Martinsville. Equipped with a fast Stewart-Haas racing Chevrolet, the 38-year-old has led the most laps in the series this season (1,819) and has captured the most Coors Light Pole Awards (8). Harvick boasts three wins this year, the most recent coming at Charlotte on Oct. 11.

“Everything is just so intense right now,” Harvick said. “Everybody is just kind of throwing caution to the wind to do all they can for their team. Everybody is racing as hard as they can. Just glad to be in the mix.”

Elliott “chasing” NASCAR history

Chase Elliott has the chance to cement his name into NASCAR’s record books this weekend.

CHARLOTTE, NC - OCTOBER 09:  Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, climbs into his car in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Nationwide Series Drive For The Cure 300 presented by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 9, 2014 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
 Chase Elliott. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

At the conclusion of Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series DAV 200 at Phoenix International Raceway (4 p.m. ET on ESPN), Elliott can become the first rookie and youngest driver – 18 years, 11 months and 18 days – to win a NASCAR national series championship.

All he has to do is maintain his 48-point lead atop the NNS standings over his JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith. If Elliott leaves Phoenix with a 48-point advantage over second, he’ll clinch the 2014 NASCAR Nationwide Series championship.

“It would be phenomenal,” Elliott said when asked about potentially winning the championship at Phoenix. “It would mean the world to me, and not just me, but our team, our sponsors, NAPA and everybody that makes it happen. We’re going to give it our best shot to do so and we’d still like to have another win or two before the year is out.”

The 18-year-old rides a streak of 12 top-10 finishes, including seven top fives to the Avondale, Arizona track. He finished ninth in his second career start at the rain-shortened March Phoenix race and is fresh off a fourth-place showing at Texas.

“This is the type of performance and momentum you want late in any season,” Elliott said. “I am very excited about getting back out to Phoenix. In the spring we had a decent run, but due to the rain-out we never were able to get a full analysis of the weekend. I love short-track racing, which is what Phoenix is all about, but I certainly have a lot to learn about Phoenix and how to get around there.”

Two-man tussle for Trucks championship

It’s down to the seasoned veteran versus the rising star in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship battle.

With just two races left, defending champion Matt Crafton leads Ryan Blaney by 23 points heading into Friday’s Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix International Raceway (8:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1).

 Matt Crafton. (Getty Images)
Matt Crafton. (Getty Images)

No matter the outcome at Homestead, at least one championship record will be set. Crafton would be the first back-to-back champion in the 20-year history of the NCWTS, while Blaney would be the series’ youngest title-winner at 20 years, 10 months and 14 days.

Before heading to Miami, the two drivers will have to tackle Phoenix. Both have performed well at the one-mile tri-oval located in the Sonoran Desert. Blaney boasts two top-10 finishes in as many starts, while Crafton claims four top-five and nine top-10 showings in 13 races at Phoenix. Neither has won there.

Blaney is confident he can catch Crafton even after losing ground on him at Texas.

“We made a stop toward the end of the race under caution and I was able to get back up to ninth which was good but we lost points,” Blaney said. “Now we need to win at Phoenix and Homestead to have a chance at the title and I think we can do that.”

Though unlikely, there is a mathematical possibility that Crafton clinches the championship at Phoenix. If he leaves there with a 48-point lead over Blaney, Crafton will lock up the 2014 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title.

“I’m not worried about points,” said Crafton after his fifth-place finish at Texas. “We’re going for a win at Phoenix, it’s kind of a home track for me. We’ve been there a ton, and have a new truck so we’re really looking forward to it.”

NASCAR This Weekend

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

Next Race: Quicken Loans Race For Heroes 500

The Place: Phoenix International Raceway

The Date: Sunday, Nov. 9

The Time: 3 p.m. (ET)

TV: ESPN, 2 p.m. (ET)

Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90

Distance: 500 kilometers (312 laps)

NASCAR Nationwide Series

Next Race: DAV 200 – Honoring America’s Veterans

The Place: Phoenix International Raceway

The Date: Saturday, Nov. 8

The Time: 3:30 p.m. (ET)

TV: ESPN, 4 p.m. (ET)

Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90

Distance: 200 miles (200 laps)

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

Next Race: Lucas Oil 150

The Place: Phoenix International Raceway

The Date: Friday, Nov. 7

The Time: 8:30 p.m. (ET)

TV: FOX Sports 1, 8 p.m. (ET)

Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90

Distance: 150 miles (150 laps)

Greg Engle
About Greg Engle 7421 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for Examiner.com and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.