Phoenix Weekend Preview

Kevin Harvick (Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick (Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick (Getty Images)

Harvick’s in near must-win situation … again

Kevin Harvick seemingly always ends up in dire situations within the new “win-and-you’re-in” Chase format implemented in 2014.

And he always finds a way to make his way out.

Currently 18 points below the cutoff line for the final transfer spot to the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Harvick essentially has to win Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC) to earn a berth in his third consecutive Championship Race.

Luckily for Harvick, there’s no place he’d rather be in a “win-or-go-home” situation than Phoenix. He has won six of the last eight races there and holds the track record with eight victories.

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

This isn’t the first time Harvick virtually needs a victory to advance in the Chase. He was in trouble in the first two rounds this season and won at New Hampshire and Kansas, respectively, to transfer to the ensuing segments. Last year, he took the checkered flag in the Dover Chase race when he would’ve been knocked out if he did anything less. Finally, in his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship 2014 campaign, Harvick would’ve failed to take home the title if he didn’t win back-to-back races at Phoenix and Homestead.

Harvick discussed his preparation for Phoenix rather than any pressure he might be feeling.

“As we go to Phoenix, we have to look at the things that we’ve done well,” Harvick said. “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 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.”

Sadler in good shape heading into Phoenix

Elliott Sadler is one contest away from a single-race four-driver shootout for the NASCAR XFINITY Series title.

MARTINSVILLE, VA - OCTOBER 25:  Elliott Sadler, driver of the #55 RK Motors Collector Car Auctions Toyota, stands on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 Powered by Kroger at Martinsville Speedway on October 25, 2013 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Elliott Sadler (Getty Images)

Before he can prepare for running in the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Sadler must transfer through the penultimate event of the season in the series where names are made – Saturday’s Ticket Galaxy 200 at Phoenix International Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Positioned 16 points ahead of his JR Motorsports teammate Justin Allgaier – the first driver out for a berth in the Championship 4, — the 41-year-old Virginia native has a strong Phoenix resume. In 15 starts at the one-mile track, he claims one win (spring 2012), four top fives, eight top 10s and a 12.1 average finish. He has finished 12th or better in his last seven Phoenix starts.

“I have won at Phoenix before and I ran well there in the spring, but I have had some races there that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Sadler said. “That is on my mind going into Phoenix, but this is a new year, new points system, and a new set of circumstances. I feel good right now and anytime that you are above the cut line, you’ve got to feel good in this deal.”

Sadler used a baseball analogy to further explain his points situation.

“We don’t have to hit a grand slam to make it to Homestead, we just need to hit a few singles, and it is a lot easier doing that,” he said. “We just need to do our job and continue doing what we have been doing and if we stay focused to ourselves, we’ll be fine.”

Phoenix stands in way of Byron and Championship 4 berth

William Byron hopes his next race at Phoenix International Raceway goes better than his first one when he returns to the one-mile track for Friday’s Lucas Oil 150 (10 p.m. ET on FS1).

William Byron (Getty Images)
William Byron (Getty Images)

Last season, the 18-year-old Charlotte native made his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut at Phoenix, finishing 31st after crashing on the sixth lap. He returns to the Sun Devil State in his 2016 campaign with a series-leading six wins, 10 top fives and 15 top 10s.

More importantly, Phoenix is the only obstacle separating Byron from a Championship 4 berth at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Heading into Friday’s race, he ranks second on the Chase Grid, five points above Timothy Peters on the cutoff line.

“It’s a little bit of pressure for everyone who is not locked in,” Byron said. “Hopefully we can capitalize on that and have the finish we need to get in order to get to Homestead. I think we’re going to have a really good shot at a win, so if we can do that it would be the easiest way to ensure we are in the Championship 4 next weekend.”

Although Byron had a hard-luck NASCAR Camping World Truck Series finish at Phoenix last year, he did finish runner-up there in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race.

“(My Phoenix experience) is definitely going to be beneficial,” Byron said. “Just having the track time from running the K&N Pro Series West race last year and getting seat time in the truck as well. I know what I’m going to need before I get there, so that will be a big help. I’m actually really excited that I’ve been there, even though my first truck start did not go as planned when we fell out of the race so early.”

Race Weekend Preview

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

Race: Can-Am 500

Place: Phoenix International Raceway

Date and Time: Sunday, Nov. 13 at 2:30 p.m. ET

Tune-in: NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 312 miles (312 laps)

What to Watch For: Phoenix marks the penultimate race of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and serves as the cutoff event to determine the Championship 4. The Chase Grid currently shakes out as follows: Jimmie Johnson (clinched Championship 4 berth with win at Martinsville), Carl Edwards (clinched Championship 4 berth with win at Texas), Joey Logano (one point ahead of Matt Kenseth on the cutoff line), Kyle Busch (+1), Kenseth (-1), Denny Hamlin (-2), Kevin Harvick (-18) and Kurt Busch (-34). … All six of the Chase drivers vying for one of the final two Championship 4 berths have won at Phoenix except Joey Logano. … Alex Bowman, from Tucson, Arizona, returns to his home state  as a substitute in the No. 88 Chevrolet for Dale Earnhardt Jr. … Since the advent of electronic scoring (1993) the closest margin of victory in the NSCS at Phoenix was earlier this season (3/13/16) when Kevin Harvick beat Carl Edwards to the line by 0.010 seconds.


Race: Ticket Galaxy 200

Place: Phoenix International Raceway

Date and Time: Saturday, Nov. 12 at 7:30 p.m. ET

Tune-in: NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 200 miles (200 laps)

What to Watch For: All four berths remain up for grabs in the Championship 4 heading into the penultimate race of the season at Phoenix. Daniel Suarez (17 points above Justin Allgaier on the cutoff line) sits atop the Chase Grid, followed by Elliott Sadler (+16), Erik Jones (+7), Blake Koch (+1), Allgaier (-1), Ryan Reed (-5), Darrell Wallace Jr. (-20) and Brendan Gaughan (-33). … Two-time NASCAR XFINITY Series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. returns to the series for the first time in three years in the No. 60 Roush Fenway Racing Ford.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

Race: Lucas Oil 150

Place: Phoenix International Raceway

Date and time: Friday, Nov. 11 at 10 p.m. ET

Tune-In: FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 150 miles (150 laps)

What to Watch For: Johnny Sauter goes for his third consecutive win. He is the only driver who’s earned a berth in the Championship 4 going into Friday’s race at Phoenix. Sauter leads  the Chase Grid, followed by William Byron (five points ahead of Timothy Peters on the cutoff line), Christopher Bell (+4), Matt Crafton (+1), Peters (one point behind Crafton on the cutoff line) and Ben Kennedy (-13). … Timothy Peters’ visit to Victory Lane at Phoenix last fall is the only win by a Chase driver at the one-mile track. … NASCAR Next member Noah Gragson is scheduled to make his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut for Kyle Busch Motorsports.

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 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.