Column By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – AVONDALE, AZ – As the all-time winningest driver at the ISM Raceway one-miler in Phoenix, Arizona, Kevin Harvick has proven to be the odds-on pick anytime the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race is in town. His career statistics at the track are historic and poised to become more so.
But Harvick enters Sunday’s TicketGuardian 500 (at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) looking for something equally as important but for remarkably more simple reasons. Last season’s eight-time winner is still winless through three races of 2019. Precedent calls for a victory.
This season he’s earned a pair of top-five finishes in his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang – fourth-place the last two weeks at both Atlanta and Las Vegas. A year ago, however, he showed up in the desert having won those two races and then winning at Phoenix to cap off the first of several trophy strings on the season.
Harvick’s nine wins at ISM Raceway is a total more than double the next best production – fellow Californian Jimmie Johnson’s four. Half of Harvick’s starts – HALF – have resulted in top-five finishes, 16 of them in 32 races. He has 22 top-10 finishes and has led a track best 1,595 laps too.
He’s won seven of the last 13 Phoenix races including, four in a row from November 2013 to March of 2015. The streak snapped in November, 2015 when Harvick finished runner-up.
Not surprisingly, Harvick boasts the top driver rating (111.0) coming into the weekend’s race and his 9.3 average finish is also best in the field. Not surprisingly, he also leads drivers in most laps run among the top-15 (7,216 laps)
A 10th victory on Sunday afternoon would make him one of only six drivers in NASCAR history to win 10 times at a single track. Four of them are already NASCAR Hall of Famers (Richard Petty, David Pearson, Darrell Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt). The other – Johnson – is a seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion who will be a first-vote Hall of Famer when he retires.
“When we go to Phoenix, we are always going for the win,” Harvick said. “That’s been a great racetrack for me, personally, and since I’ve been at SHR, it’s become statistically one of our best racetracks as far as win counts go.
“It’s definitely a racetrack that we circle every year where we think we should have an opportunity to win.”
Harvick is coming off a pole position at Las Vegas and trails points leader – and defending champion – Joey Logano by only two points heading to Phoenix.
XFINITY HEATS UP OUT WEST
Three of the last four NASCAR Xfinity Series races at ISM Raceway were won by fulltime Xfinity drivers. Christopher Bell won last November, William Byron in November, 2017, and Justin Allgaier in March, 2017. Former Cup champion Brad Keselowski is the defending race winner and the lone fulltime Cup driver to win in that span. Kyle Busch won the three races previous to Allgaier (fall race of 2015 and 2016 sweep).
Not only has the racing been dramatic and close this season – the opening three races decided by an average of .166-seconds, the closest margin in 21 years – but for the second straight year, it’s been a varied lineup of trophy hoists. Michael Annett won the season-opener at Daytona, Bell won at Atlanta and Kyle Busch won last week at his Las Vegas home track. Last year it took 14 races for a repeat winner – Allgaier won at Dover, Del. then four races later at Iowa Speedway.
Coming to Saturday’s iK9 Service Dog 200 (at 4 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASAR Radio) Bell has the early lead in Xfinity championship points – 18 points over 2018 champ Tyler Reddick and last year’s championship runner-up Cole Custer – and the Joe Gibbs Racing driver boasts top-four finishes in his three race starts at Phoenix, including the win last November.