Harvick Found in Familiar Position Heading back to Phoenix

He did it at Phoenix in 2014. He did it in Dover in 2015. He did it this season at New Hampshire and Kansas. Now, Kevin Harvick has to do it in the desert again this weekend if he wants any shot at winning his second career NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship.

That’s right—Harvick is in a must-win scenario, something that has become a normality for him and the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team for the last three years. The Can-Am 500 (Sunday, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBC) from Phoenix International Raceway marks the second-to-last race of the 2016 season. And when the checkered flag flies on top of rattlesnake hill, only four drivers will be left standing and eligible to win the title at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Mathematically, Harvick can still make it into the Championship Four based on points. But in all likelihood, it won’t happen. He would need Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano to all finish at least 18 positions behind him, which is asking a lot. He has to win. And he knows how to do that at PIR. No—I mean he really knows how to win at PIR.

Harvick has won five of the last six races at the 1-mile oval out west and has eight career wins there. The only time he hasn’t found victory lane in the past three seasons was last year in this race (which was called early due to rain), when he finished second.

Earlier this season, Harvick beat Carl Edwards (last week’s winner) to the start/finish line in a photo finish to win at Phoenix. This track is his favorite, and the results clearly show.

But there are 39 other drivers that are hungry to snatch the crown from King Kevin’s head. Alex Bowman, an Arizona native and the fill-in driver for Dale Earnhardt Jr., won his first career pole for the Can-Am 500. Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin round out the top five, with Harvick earning the sixth starting spot.

Austin Dillon will start seventh with Ryan Blaney, Jamie McMurray and Kenseth rounding out the top ten. Some other notable starters include Kurt Busch (12th), Brad Keselowski (14th), Jimmie Johnson (17th) and Tony Stewart (25th).

Johnson and Edwards have nothing to lose, as they’ve already clinched spots in the championship round next weekend. But as for the other six drivers, it’s go big or go home.

Four drivers are separated by four points, with the two SHR drivers far in the distance, needing wins to advance. In 2014, Ryan Newman moved Larson in turn 4 on the last lap to get that one position and one point in order to transfer to Miami. We may see that this weekend.

Just like I said on Victory Lane this week, I think it would be stupid not to pick Harvick to win this race, so that’s exactly what I’ll do. His SHR teammate Tony Stewart had the best 10-lap average in practice this weekend, so the organization definitely has speed and experience.

Drivers will be pushing it, which will create great racing. Enjoy the races everybody!