By Staff Reports
NASCAR Wire Service
The last time Kevin Harvick finished worse than second in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event was Oct. 26, 2014 at Martinsville Speedway – seven races and 137 days ago.
Until Harvick’s victory at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last Sunday, no driver had finished six straight races in the top two since Jeff Gordon accomplished the feat in 1996.
“Any time you say Jeff Gordon in a streak, obviously things are going okay,” Harvick said.
Don’t expect him to slow down.
The No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet driver heads into Sunday’s CampingWorld.com 500 at Phoenix International Raceway (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX) as the winner of four of the last five races at the one-mile course. He has won the last three consecutive Phoenix races and boasts an all-time track-record six victories.
“I would definitely classify Phoenix as the race track that’s been the best to us over the last several years, especially last year winning both races” Harvick said. “Just the track, especially since they repaved it has really fit what I like to do. It’s got a lot of the old characteristics in (Turns) 3 and 4, and some new ones in 1 and 2.
“It’s always one that you circle on the calendar as one you should be competitive at and hopefully running for a chance to win.”
Carl Edwards is the only driver other than Harvick to win at Phoenix in the last five races held there. Edwards has yet to post a top 10 this year in his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing, but is a threat to turn around his performance at PIR. Edwards has two wins, seven top fives, 12 top 10s and three Coors Light Pole Awards in 21 starts at the Arizona track.
At Wednesday’s Goodyear Tire test at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Richard Petty Motorsports driver Aric Almirola was asked how any driver was going to beat Harvick at Phoenix.
“Wreck him maybe,” he joked.
“I don’t think anybody’s going to Phoenix handing Kevin the trophy,” Almirola said. “They know he’s a really good bet if you want to go back to Vegas on your way to Phoenix, but besides that, I think we’ll all show up and expect to go race him.”
Young Roush Fenway drivers look to continue early-season success at Phoenix
Despite its struggles so far this season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Roush Fenway Racing has enjoyed early success in the NASCAR XFINITY Series as a result stellar performances from its young stable of drivers.
Chris Buescher, 22, Ryan Reed, 21, and Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr., 21, rank second, third and fourth respectively in the XFINITY Series standings.
While Reed has the trio’s lone win (Daytona), Buescher leads the group into Saturday’s Axalta Faster. Tougher. Brighter. 200 at Phoenix International Raceway (4 p.m. ET on FOX) with two top-five finishes and a 106.4 driver rating. Sunoco Rookie of the Year frontrunner Wallace notched his first top 10 of the season at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last weekend where he finished seventh.
“We are gaining,” said Wallace following Las Vegas. “I think that has been our motto all weekend long really. We are learning as a team and our Ford EcoBoost Mustang was right there as a top-10 car all day and it paid off for us. We got some breaks there with the lucky dog and have some momentum heading into Phoenix. I am excited to see where things are going for us.”
Buescher’s strong performance has placed him just six points behind Ty Dillon for the standings lead. He finished 15th and 12th in his two starts at Phoenix last season.
“Phoenix is a challenging race track,” Buescher said. “It is different from anywhere that any of us ever grew up racing and anywhere that we’ll ever go. It’s always a place that we go to and really have to work hard to get the car set up right, and take the balance and make it as good as possible in both corners, versus just one.
“It’s going to be a tough one, but we are looking forward to getting out there.”
Looking to join his young comrades atop the standings is 39-year-old RFR elder statesman Elliott Sadler. He won the 2012 spring race at Phoenix and claims six top 10s in 12 starts at the one-mile track.
“This weekend at Phoenix will be a perfect example of which race teams have their ducks in a row this early in the season,” Sadler said. “Many teams can run well at higher speeds, but teams that can change their setups and adapt to this one-mile race track, will be the ones to watch at the beginning of the year.”