This week, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series continues it’s west coast swing, heading to Phoenix International Raceway in Phoenix, Arizona.
Kevin Harvick won last weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, nabbing his sixth straight top-two finish dating back to last season and the most since 1996 when Jeff Gordon accomplished the feat. Harvick is the clear cut favorite heading into this weekend’s festivities in the desert.
Harvick swept both races in Phoenix last season. The most notable win was in the second to last race of the Chase, and the season, that vaulted him into the final-four winner take all race in Miami. Harvick went on to win the final.
He has won four of the last five races at PIR and owns virtually every record at the track. In Saturday’s Axalta 200 Xfinity Series race, he started second and came home third in his No. 88 TaxSlayer Chevrolet for JR Motorsports. Joey Logano ended up winning from the pole in his No. 22 Discount Tire Ford. He will start in second place come Sunday’s Camping World 500, and aforementioned Kevin Harvick will start on the pole.
With an average lap of 140.751 MPH, Harvick nabbed his first pole of the season. Him and Logano are early championship favorites, as they have started, ran, and finished, first and second in all of the past three races in Daytona, Atlanta and Las Vegas. Staying on the topic of Logano and Harvick, they were both fast in practice. Logano topped the speed charts in the first practice (138.771 MPH) and Harvick topped the speed charts in final (third) practice with a speed of (136.555 MPH).
As for some other storylines to follow heading into this weekend, look no further than someone who has been in the headlines for the wrong reasons in the past couple of months or so. Stewart-Haas Racing driver Kurt Busch.
Earlier this week, it was announced that Busch was immediately reinstated by NASCAR after the Delaware Attorney General said that he was cleared of all charges. NASCAR deemed Busch was worthy of reinstatement, as he had been going through the process that drivers such as himself, Jeremy Mayfield and AJ Allmendinger went through before. He will start in eighth position for Sunday’s race. As for his brother, Kyle Busch, he is still rehabbing from his injury and is making steady progress. He recently released a video in which he said “I’m doing good.” Although there is still no timetable for his return to the No. 18 car, I wouldn’t expect him to be in the cockpit for at least 3-4 more races, so probably about another month, at least.
Kasey Kahne will make his 400th career start this weekend in his No. 5 Farmers Insurance car for Hendrick Motorsports. He most recently won at Phoenix when he was driving for Red Bull Racing in the No. 4 car about 3-4 years ago. We’ll see if he can keep up with his HMS teammates Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
It was also announced this weekend that NASCAR will hand out 15-minute penalties in practice sessions if a car is to fail inspection more than two times. Due to the new rules package this year and the no side skirt rule, teams have been failing inspection more than ever before and this rule will help the situation.
There’s a lot to look forward to this weekend. When the green flag drops, the whole field will be behind Kevin Harvick, and most likely behind him for most of the day. Barring a mechanical failure or any other sort of bad luck, I expect him to win for a second straight week and for the fifth out of the last six times at Phoenix.
But that’s just the safe pick. Can Jeff Gordon finally shake the bad luck that has followed him to start the season and get a win in the desert? What about Kurt Busch, the week that he is reinstated? Or Martin Truex Jr., who I mentioned about last weekend having the feel-good story around the garage. The beauty of this sport is that there aren’t two teams playing for a win and a loss. Yes, Ricky Bobby’s dad is right, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” But there’s 43 hungry drivers vying for that trophy. Who will raise it come Sunday?
While basically everybody here at MSU Impact Sports and on campus in East Lansing, Mich. (including me, for some of it) will be watching the Spartans take on the Badgers of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship game on Sunday at 3:30 pm on CBS, I’ll be watching NASCAR on FOX at 3:30 on Sunday! So don’t feel the need to tune in and miss the boys in green and white play, because I got you covered with the NASCAR coverage. No sweat, Spartan Nation!
I hope everybody enjoys the race (and the game) this weekend. You can follow me on twitter (@DaveyCenter) for race updates and @MSUImpactSports for more content following the checkered flag. Go Green, Go Fast!
Davey Segal is the host of Victory Lane for MSU Impact Sports