- Mark Ashenfelter, NASCAR
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Kevin Harvick will be gunning for three victories as a driver this weekend, not to mention a championship as an owner. Other than that, it'll be a restful weekend in the desert.
Harvick wouldn't want it any other way, unless he was also battling for a championship in the Nextel Cup Series. That, though, will be settled between Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, with Clint Bowyer -- Harvick's Richard Childress Racing teammate -- having an outside chance if both Johnson and Gordon stumble.
So for Harvick, the focus will be on winning, whether driving his Kevin Harvick Inc. Chevrolet in Friday's Craftsman Truck Series race, or his RCR entries in Saturday's Busch race (4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2) and Sunday's Cup event (3 p.m. ET, ABC). And he's won at the track in each series, so it will be tough to rule him out all weekend.
"I think Phoenix is a measuring stick for us," Harvick said of his Todd Berrier-led Cup team. "If we go there and we are off a little we know that we need to go back to the drawing board and work on our stuff.
"At the beginning of the season, we were able to go and lead some laps and then had a parts failure that set us back a little. Going back, we should run in the top five and if we don't we will be very disappointed."
In nine Cup races at PIR, Harvick has two wins and three top-5 efforts. In the Busch Series, he has a win and six top-5s in just 10 starts. He also has a pair of wins in the truck he co-owns with wife, DeLana.
And on Friday, Ron Hornaday will look to close the gap on current points leader Mike Skinner in Kevin Harvick Inc.'s No. 33 Silverado. Harvick can certainly aid the cause if he finishes ahead of Skinner, but Harvick will simply be looking for another win at a track that's played a big role in the career of the Bakersfield, Calif., native.
"Phoenix is one of those places that I grew up racing on. I raced a lot in the Southwest Tour, Winston West and Truck Series races at Phoenix," Harvick said. "I have learned the characteristics of the racetrack and the little things that you can do when your car is not handling perfect. I like the flat racetracks. Racing on Phoenix my entire career has also translated into flat-track success on the entire circuit."
Crew chief Wally Rogers is looking forward to the truck race.
"This truck is brand-new, but I know that all the guys in the shop have put a lot of work into it," Rogers said. "We just need to go out there and be competitive and hopefully give our teammate, Ron Hornaday, some help as he continues to work hard in his championship run."
KHI, started in part so Harvick could snare the Craftsman Truck Series win that eluded him early in his career, has blossomed, with DeLana Harvick overseeing much of the operation while her husband deals with racing, testing and sponsor commitments.
Kevin, though, points out that the two of them could hardly do it alone.
"DeLana does play a key role in everything we do at KHI, but we have been fortunate to put a lot of good people in good places here at our race shop to kind of run things when we are not here," Harvick said. "This is kind of what I do when I'm away from my normal job and able to spend time at the shop.
"And really, I've got [general manager] Rick Carelli here and [director of competition] Stacy Johnson that I've worked with in the past and [president] Fred Lekse and all of those guys have been a part of the organization for seven, eight years, and Rick's been here, you know, for a few years.
DeLana does play a key role in everything we do at KHI, but we have been fortunate to put a lot of good people in good places here at our race shop to kind of run things when we are not here. This is kind of what I do when I'm away from my normal job and able to spend time at the shop.
-- Kevin Harvick
"So [I've previously] worked with a lot of those people, and we have a lot of trust in them and I think just putting the right people in the right management positions lets us do more things than some other people just for the fact that we have good people to help us."
As an owner, Harvick is interested in seeing what changes NASCAR will implement for the Busch Series, which will become the Nationwide Series in 2008. There's talk of numerous changes for '09, including the possibility that drivers inside the top 35 in Cup points won't be eligible for Nationwide Series points unless they're running the entire schedule.
In theory, that would allow younger drivers the chance to actually utilize the series for development purposes.
"I think we definitely need something for that series to help the guys that don't race in the Cup Series every week and are trying to make a name for themselves in the series," Harvick said. "It gives everybody something else to talk about when they are racing for the championship."
Harvick -- who won the Busch title in 2006 -- knows it's not an easy solution, as the Memphis Busch race was filled with younger drivers and the race resembled a demolition derby.
"The mix doesn't need to be as it was in Memphis, because the race was terrible to watch as a spectator," he said. "There is a mixture somewhere in there, but it is a fine line as to what is right and what is wrong. I am sure NASCAR will toy with it and try to do the right things for the teams and try to get the right mix of what that right number is."
Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at ESPN.