Can Harvick be Beaten in the Desert?

Kevin Harvick, whether he was with Richard Childress Racing in the No. 29, or with Stewart-Haas Racing in the No. 4, has always had a knack for finding victory lane at Phoenix International Raceway. He won four straight races at one point, has won five of the last six, and swept the season series in back-to-back years (2013 and 2014). The only thing that could prevent him from a win? Rain.

That was last season in the second-to-last race of the season, when Dale Earnhardt Jr. outlasted the rain showers to grab the win. Harvick finished second, leading over 100 laps.

So, the question remains: can Kevin Harvick be beaten this weekend at Phoenix?

That’s what fans, drivers, teams and broadcasters alike have been asking all weekend.

Heck, that’s the question they’ve been asking for the past THREE YEARS.

But this season could be different. With the new low downforce package in existence, and two races under the drivers’ belts (Daytona was not low downforce), nobody seems to have the upper hand. A Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota won one week, a Hendrick Chevrolet another, and a Penske Ford the next.

Someone who has obviously had the upper hand at PIR has been the 2014 Sprint Cup champion. If Harvick were to win again this weekend for the sixth time in seven races, and eighth time in his career, he would skyrocket to elite status. He would join a short list of drivers that were dominant at one track in their careers, like Jimmie Johnson at Dover, Darrell Waltrip at Bristol, and Dale Earnhardt at Daytona.

Harvick’s dominance, and whether or not it will continue, is one of many storylines heading into the second weekend of the NASCAR Goes West campaign. Another large one involves his teammate, friend and boss, Tony Stewart.

Stewart announced that he has begun a rehab program to heal from his back injury suffered while off-roading in early February, where he fractured a L1 vertebra. No timetable has been announced for his recovery and/or return to the track, but Smoke, in typical Smoke fashion, has already disobeyed doctors’ orders and has been at the racetrack.

“For a month now, I haven’t done anything but just kind of chill out. The doctors want me lying in bed and walking. They don’t want me sitting and standing. I’m definitely breaking the rules,” Stewart said in a story earlier this week on FoxSports.com.

Another storyline is the fact that Cole Pearn, the crew chief of the No. 78 car driven by Martin Truex Jr., will serve his one-race suspension this weekend for the roof flap infraction that took place a few weeks back at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Pearn is in the Phoenix area, and has been debriefing with the team after every day, but is not allowed to be at the track. I’m not quite sure why they’re allowed to be in the race location r instead of  “exiled”, but whatever.

Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne both will start from the rear of the field on Sunday after going to back-up cars. Johnson crashed after his steering wheel came off in the third round of qualifying, and the six-time champion took full responsibility for it. Kahne’s car blew an engine in the first round of qualifying, continuing what has been another rough stretch for the No. 5 team. It’ll be fun to watch those two work their way through the field.

Speaking of working their way through the field, Harvick will start 18th, far from where he is used to running at PIR. Two more drivers who have had success at Phoenix in the past and also are starting mid-pack are Dale Earnhardt Jr. (starting 26th) and Brad Keselowski (starting 19th).

Kyle Busch will start from the pole (shocker, I know!) for Sunday’s Good Sam 500.

“Unloading off the truck, everything seemed to go real well,” Busch said. “I wasn’t sure about our speed in race trim, but then hopped over to qualifying trim and, for as not as good of a feel that the car had, we had some good speed, so that was definitely a plus. Being able to have some good laps there and being able to run a really good lap there in the last session.”

“Rowdy” also won the Xfinity race on Saturday (SHOCKING UPSET, I KNOW!), leading 175 of 200 laps. He will be followed by his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin in second and third, respectively, when the green flag flies.

Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson (will start in the rear after crashing in qualifying due to a steering wheel issue), Matt Kenseth, Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. round out the top ten starting positions.

Since there was no episode of the Victory Lane podcast this week (Spring Break, woohoo!), I wasn’t able to get my pick in for this weekend. But have no fear, look right here!

I think it’d be unwise to go against Kevin Harvick this weekend, at the track where he’s dominated throughout his career. And being a Kevin Harvick fan at heart, my heart says go with my head (isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?), so I’ll take Kevin Harvick “#4TheWin” this weekend, at Phoenix International Raceway.

Be sure to tune in to watch the Good Sam 500 Sunday March 12, 2016 at 3:30 pm on FOX. Don’t worry – I’ll be flipping back and forth between the Michigan State/Purdue game for the B1G Championship too. You can follow me on Twitter for race updates throughout the course of the event. Beat the Boilermakers, Go Green, and enjoy the race!