When in Phoenix, watch out for Harvick
Put Kevin Harvick in a Busch car, a Nextel Cup car or a truck. As long as he's racing at Phoenix International Raceway, he's the man to beat, writes Mark Ashenfelter.
AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Certain things come to Kevin Harvick's mind when it comes to Phoenix International Raceway. Coming off a year when he dominated at the track, it's obvious he's hoping for more of the same starting with Friday night's Bashas' Supermarkets 200.
Ask Harvick his thoughts and the answer is simple: "Cactus, blue walls, and we win there a lot."
The first driver to win at PIR in all three of NASCAR's top series, he won the Busch race last April and was second in November. He capped those weekends by winning both Cup races at the track and he won in a Kevin Harvick Inc. truck back in 2002 and '03.
His Busch and Cup success has come in cars fielded by Richard Childress Racing, but he'll be in KHI's No. 77 Chevrolet this time out. But one aspect of his past success here will be onboard, as he'll be working with crew chief Wally Rogers. It was Rogers who led Harvick to victory in the truck series with KHI in '03.
"I don't really see Phoenix as a short track. Even though places like Phoenix and New Hampshire are only a mile, they both have lots of room to race," Harvick said. "Phoenix is always a fun race track. There is always at least two lanes and sometimes even more to pass on. I always seem to do well at Phoenix, so I'm excited to see what we can do with the Dollar General stores Chevy this weekend."
With six top-five finishes in nine Busch starts, it's hard not to expect him to be running at the front under the lights once again.
Rogers is particularly geared up for the race, knowing this will be a great chance to get KHI a Busch win at a non-restrictor-plate track. KHI's two wins in the series thus far have come with Tony Stewart in the season opener at Daytona in 2005 and '06.
"I seem to be in a whole different mind-set when I go to Phoenix," Rogers said. "It's a track that I strive to succeed at and leave nothing on the table. Especially having the boss in the car, there is just that much more added pressure to the whole weekend. Harvick and I have been to victory lane at Phoenix in the past. I want nothing more than to add one more to the record books."
Harvick will have plenty of competition, some of it from his regular team as Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer will be in RCR cars along with Timothy Peters, who is driving the No. 21 Harvick often wheels.
Then there's Kyle Busch, another driver who's won at Phoenix in a Cup car and one who has dominated the Busch Series statistically this year even if he's yet to reach victory lane. Busch has led the most laps in four of his six Busch starts this season and has led 260 more laps than points leader Carl Edwards.
Will this be the weekend Busch finally breaks through?
"I can't really explain why we've run so well at this race track. The first time I came out here in a Busch car in 2004 we pretty much dominated," Busch says of a race in which he finished second. "We were good right off of the truck, got the pole and led the majority of the race. I think we lost it with about four laps to go.
"The next year we came back and won the Nextel Cup race here. It was a natural fit from the beginning. And, as you keep running well at a track, you tend to like it more and more. I always look forward to racing in Phoenix."
And it's hard not to be excited working with a team that's run as well as his Busch team has thus far.
"It's exciting to know that every time you get in the car you're going to be a strong competitor for the win, and right now I have that in both my Busch and Cup cars," Busch says. "We've led a lot of laps this season. We actually should have about four wins in the Busch Series, but we just haven't been able to lead that one lap that counts."
Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at ESPN.