Phoenix heats up for Harvick

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The NASCAR west coast swing kicked off with Brad Keselowski winning at Las Vegas last week and heads south to Phoenix for the fourth race of the season Sunday before going to Fontana, California in two weeks.

The flat one-mile layout at Phoenix International Raceway provides outstanding racing, but you couldn’t be faulted if saying Phoenix has become a bore, and that’s only because of one driver dominating lately.

No one wants to see a driver dominate a single race continuously, but you have to be impressed by what Kevin Harvick has been doing. He’s won a record seven times over his career on a track the Bakersfield, California native has been racing on during all stages of his racing career. He finished second last fall, ending a run of four consecutive wins. He’s won five times in the past seven Phoenix races.

The bottom line for Harvick is he just loves Phoenix and knows every wrinkle of the track better than anyone. He won while driving for Richard Childress Racing and he won three of the past four there while driving for Stewart Haas Racing. He’s proved himself over and over at Phoenix and because of that you’re not going to be getting great odds on him. How does 3-1 sound?

It looks crummy, I know, but that’s the price of dominance and those who have settled for taking the low odds have been cashing quite a bit.

Last fall during the Chase, Dale Earnhardt Jr. busted up Harvick’s hope of winning five straight. It was Junior’s third win at Phoenix and first since 2004. He’s been very good at Phoenix lately, finishing eighth or better in five of his past six starts there.

Jimmie Johnson’s four Phoenix wins are second best to Harvick’s seven, but Johnson hasn’t won there since 2009 when he was on a run of winning four of five Phoenix races. Despite not winning there lately, he’s still been classic Jimmie. His 7.7 average finish is best among all drivers as is his 15 top-five finishes in 25 starts. Harvick only has 11 top-fives in 26 starts to put it into perspective just how good Johnson is at Phoenix.

Denny Hamlin has a 2012 Phoenix win to his credit and his 11.4 average finish is third-best in the series. Hamlin’s best tracks over his career have been the flat shorter type, which Phoenix fits.

Keselowski hasn’t won at Phoenix yet, but has finished 11th or better in his past eight starts there, including sixth or better in six of them. His Team Penske teammate Joey Logano has a similar run of success going at Phoenix, finishing ninth or better in his past five starts.

Look for Chevrolet to come out strong and win its sixth straight Phoenix race.

Big doings in Jean

The Mint 400 takes place in Jean this weekend and all the pre-race festivities beginning Wednesday are taking place downtown hosted by the Golden Nugget. One of the new developments to the “Great American Off-Road Race” this year is odds being offered to win the Trick Truck and 1,500 classes.

The Golden Nugget posted numbers on Friday and it’s the first time I can ever remember any book offering odds on the event that has been a staple in Las Vegas since 1967.

Las Vegas legend Mel Larson made the Mint 400 happen when he was the marketing genius for Bill Bennett at the Mint and the two icons were also paired together at Circus Circus, where Larson’s PR strategies were way ahead of his time. Larson, a former NASCAR driver, was also the catalyst to spur Bennett into investing in Las Vegas Motor Speedway with Ralph Englestad and Richie Clyne.

Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, one of The Linemakers on SportingNews.com , and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Twitter: @MicahRoberts7 Email: [email protected].

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