While his dominance in the desert has faded slightly over the past five years, Sunday provides one of two more chances to get win No. 10 here and join some elite company before retirement, which the Stewart-Haas Ford driver says will occur at the end of the season.
Every time he comes to Arizona, Harvick is reminded of how good he’s been since he swept both races at the track 17 years ago. And pretty much every time, he deflects praise.
“It feels somewhat arrogant and cocky to look at your own stats, especially when they’re good,” Harvick said. “I’m never going to tell you I’m impressed with anything of my stats, because I always feel like they could be better.”
Harvick has won nine times at the 1-mile tri-oval and is seeking to become just the sixth driver in Cup history to win 10 times at one track, an exclusive club that includes Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt and David Pearson.
Kyle Larson will start on the pole Sunday in the No. 5 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. Denny Hamlin, in the No. 11 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, will be on the outside of Row 1.
Harvick qualified 15th.
To win Sunday, Harvick will have to beat Joey Logano, who won the Cup championship in Phoenix last November and has won three times at the track — all since 2016. Kyle Busch is also a three-time winner at Phoenix, most recently in 2019.
But no one has had a run in Phoenix like Harvick. He was especially dominant from 2012 to 2016, winning six of 10 races, including a sweep in 2014, which was also the same year he won the Cup championship.
He hasn’t won at Phoenix since 2018, but he’s always in the hunt, not finishing outside of the top 10 in his last 19 starts at the track.
There have been countless changes in NASCAR since Harvick’s first win here in 2006. The cars have been altered, the tires have changed and most of the other drivers have changed. None of it has fazed him.
“There’s constant evolution,” Harvick said. “The thing I tell our guys is ‘adapt or die.’”
Harvick’s No. 4 Ford has been competitive at the beginning of his final season. The Stewart-Haas driver finished fifth at Fontana and ninth last week in Las Vegas.
Harvick will try to become the fourth winner in four races this season; the three so far are Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Busch and William Byron, who led a 1-2-3 finish for Hendrick Motorsports in Las Vegas.
NASCAR officials took the hood louvers from the four Hendrick cars Friday and will bring them to the NASCAR Research & Development Center in North Carolina for inspection. Any potential penalties would be announced next week.
Drivers are getting used to a new rules package that is debuting this week in Phoenix. It applies to all short tracks and road courses, excluding Bristol and Dover.
Martin Truex Jr. and Alex Bowman echoed a general consensus that the new rules have caused cars to slide a little more in the corners because the downforce isn’t quite as strong.
The drivers were given an extra 50-minute practice session Friday to get used to the setup.
“It was a little slicker, a little slower in general,” Truex said. “Basically, losing a little more brake and less throttle. Slower midcorner speeds and a little more slipping and sliding. I was in a little bit of traffic and felt it was a little better in traffic, but the ultimate test will be what happens on Sunday.”
It’s been a tough start to the season for Chase Briscoe, who hasn’t finished higher than 20th in three races. A return to Phoenix might be just what his Stewart-Haas team needs.
Briscoe got his first Cup win last spring at the track. He executed two great restarts over the final 20 laps to pull away from Ross Chastain and Tyler Reddick.
“I’m excited to try and turn our season around,” Briscoe said. “I feel like it’s a great opportunity for us to do it.”
BERRY’S SECOND START
Josh Berry will be making his second Cup start in place of Chase Elliott, who broke his leg in a snowboarding accident and is likely to miss at least another month.
The 32-year-old Berry finished 29th in Las Vegas last week in his first Cup start. JR Motorsports had to work quickly to get the No. 9 Chevrolet ready for Berry last week after news spread of Elliott’s injury. The team hopes a little more time to prepare for Phoenix will lead to a better result.
“It’s a weird opportunity,” Berry said. “We’re all thinking about Chase, we want him to get healthy and be back. But I’m thankful, in the meantime, I get to run some races.”
ODDS AND ENDS
Larson is a 5-1 favorite to win Sunday, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. Harvick is 9-1 to get his 10th win at the track. … Chevrolets have won the first three races this season. That’s the first time its happened since 2010 and just the fifth time in the modern era, which dates to 1972. … Racing trailblazer Lyn St. James will be the honorary pace car driver for Sunday’s race. St. James has competed in fifteen IndyCar races, including seven Indianapolis 500s.