Kevin Harvick has owned Phoenix International Raceway over his career and he’s going to have to win Sunday’s Round of 8 finale if he wants a chance to move on to next week’s Championship Round at Homestead and the opportunity to win his second Sprint Cup title.
It’s a tall task for any driver to “have to win” when the chips are down, but Carl Edwards did it last week at Texas and Harvick himself did it at Phoenix in 2014 when he “had to win” and then he went on to win his only championship a week later.
He comes into Sunday’s CamAm 500 as a massive favorite, not only because of succeeding multiple times when he had to win during the Chase to advance, but also because he’s the most dominant driver the flat one-mile layout of Phoenix has ever seen. He’s got eight wins in 27 starts, six of those coming in his past eight starts, including the March race when he led a race-high 139 laps and beat Edwards by just 0.01 second.
Jimmie Johnson and Edwards have already advanced to the Championship Round by virtue winning each of the past two races. If any of the other six drivers eligible to advance win Sunday, they’ll advance. As it sits now, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch are tied in points and would advance. Matt Kenseth is one point behind and Denny Hamlin is two points behind. Harvick is down 18 points followed by Kurt Busch, who is 34 points behind. Yes, Harvick could advance without winning if everyone else has some issues, but realistically, he has to win, as does Kurt Busch, to advance.
All of the eligible drivers have past wins at Phoenix.
The two Chase drivers that can coast without any worries have been the next best at Phoenix behind Harvick. Johnson has four wins and his 7.85 average finish and 15 top-fives are both better than Harvick, who has one more career start than Johnson.
Edwards has two Phoenix wins, the last coming in 2013. Expect both of them to go out have some fun and try to win and keep Harvick and some of the other strong contenders out.
If I’m either one of those guys, I don’t want Kyle Busch, Kenseth or Harvick eligible to win the title. By winning they steal an automatic berth.
A great handicapping tool for Phoenix is to look at the five previous races on similar flat tracks between New Hampshire, Richmond and, of course, the March Phoenix race. I would go as far to say the results from September races at New Hampshire and Richmond are more relevant than the March Phoenix race just because it’s more current.
Hamlin won at Richmond and Harvick won at New Hampshire, which gives them a bit of an edge this week.
Martin Truex Jr. actually led the most laps between both those races and since he’s out of championship contention his goal will be to get his first Phoenix win and pad his stats by leading more laps and breaking a five-way tie for most wins (four) in the series this season.
However you look at it, the real question is whether or not you want to bet against Harvick. I certainly don’t.