As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Phoenix International Raceway, California’s Kevin Harvick has every reason to live up to his nickname.
Harvick, known as “Happy” by many, is coming off a dominant performance at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, leading 142 of 267 laps in his first win of the season. The win marks his sixth-consecutive top-two finish, dating back to the AAA Texas 500 November 2. Harvick’s hot streak started at the right time last year, powering him to his first career Sprint Cup championship. This year, it will more than likely earn him a spot in the chase.
“For the No. 4 team it just opens up a lot of things,” Harvick said this week. “When you win early, you can really start thinking about race 26. It allows us to, really just throw caution to the wind, and you go for wins.”
Richard Petty holds the record for most consecutive top-two finishes in 1975 with 11. Harvick has a challenge on his hands if he’s to break that record, but he’s heading to a track he’s strong at. Nobody will question Harvick’s strength at Phoenix International Raceway, winning the past three races there, dating back to the fall of 2013. With a year at Stewart-Haas Racing under his belt, whether he breaks the record or not, he said he’s in a lot better position with the team at this point than last year.
“It’s a pretty tight knit group that it’s become and very supportive of each other and I think when you look at who everybody is and how everybody reacts it’s not a group that’s going to…puff their chest and tell everybody how great they are. It’s saying how do we get better,” Harvick said.
However, while the 4 team is starting where they left off last year, not all is well at the Stewart-Haas Racing stable. Two-time champion Tony Stewart has failed to finish inside the top-30 so far. Harvick said that it isn’t an easy fix, but that the whole team is behind getting Stewart back to peak performance.
“Right now you have to zero in on what they’re fighting…Whether it’s myself or Danica or Tony.” Harvick said. “I’m in a fortunate spot, but we’re all in on trying to figure out exactly what Tony needs and really help him get back to where he needs to be.”
It’s possible the addition of a familiar face will help get the entire team performing strong. NASCAR announced Wednesday that Kurt Busch has been reinstated and will race this Sunday at Phoenix.
“Kurt’s a car guy, and he understands what’s going on with his race car, and obviously at the end of last year they were very competitive and qualifying well and everything seemed to be flowing pretty good,” Harvick said.
Harvick said that these next two races are special to him, because of the interactions he has with his longtime fans.
“For me, going to Las Vegas where I’ve raced since the mid-90s and going to Phoenix… racing the Southwest tour and Winston West and Trucks and all the way through the mid-90s was something that was like our Daytona,” Harvick said.
When asked if he’d be surprised if comes right out of the gate at Phoenix and be the favorite to win, Harvick said, “It’s always one that you circle on the calendar that you think you should be competitive at.”
With momentum on his side, Kevin Harvick flies to Phoenix happy.
EMAIL RYAN AT email@example.com
FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @rsdecosta