NASCAR National Preview: Can The Field Stop Kevin Harvick This Weekend?

(NASCAR Wire Service)

Staff Report ~ NASCAR Wire Service

Kevin Harvick celebrates victory at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Photo: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Kevin Harvick celebrates victory at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Photo: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Most of the week, the major debate in the sports world has been, “Can anyone beat Kentucky in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament?”

A parallel question has been raised in NASCAR.

“Can anyone stop Kevin Harvick?”

Harvick will attempt to sweep NASCAR’s three-race West Coast swing by winning Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX).

Also on the line is Harvick’s string of seven consecutive top-two finishes – the longest such streak since NASCAR’s all-time wins leader Richard Petty reeled off 11 straight top twos in 1975. The No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing driver’s freaky fast run dates all the way back to his runner-up performance at Texas Motor Speedway on Nov. 2, 2014 – 137 days ago.

“When you said the Richard Petty part, that gives me the chills,” replied Harvick when a NASCAR official mentioned the historical significance of his streak.

Early-season results indicate the driver with the best chance to knock off Harvick is Joey Logano. The Daytona 500 champion is the only competitor that has been able to consistently run up front with Harvick in the first four races. Logano has posted one victory, a Coors Light Pole Award and 197 laps led. In comparison, Harvick has accumulated two wins, one pole and 482 laps led.

“He’s human like everyone else so, I mean he’s beatable, believe me,” said Logano before last week’s race at Phoenix International Raceway.

Harvick proceeded to dominate the competition at the Arizona track, leading 224 of 312 laps (71.8%) and posting a perfect 150.0 driver rating on his way to Victory Lane.

Six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson is the only race-winner other than Logano or Harvick this season. He holds an Auto Club-record five victories, and with a big-time performance this weekend, can assert himself as Harvick’s greatest competition or even the championship favorite.

Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon has brought fast cars to the race track this season, evidenced by his two starts from the pole. But he has had some tough-luck finishes, wrecking in the first three races. Gordon produced his first top-10 showing at Phoenix (ninth) and may be poised to repeat his production from last season when he won four races and posted more top 10s than any driver in the series.

“We started off well in 2014 with top-10 finishes in each event leading into California, but it wasn’t until that event that I knew we had a car and team that could really be a threat week in and week out in 2014,” Gordon said. “This year is much different with our results, but we have had the speed and I think we can have another strong showing at Fontana and continue to move up higher in the standings.”

Other threats to Harvick at Auto Club include Brad Keselowski and Kyle Larson. Keselowski, the 2012 champion, travels to the two-mile oval coming off three straight top-10 finishes. He is hunting for his first win of 2015 after leading the NSCS with six victories last year.

Regarded as one of the top young talents in NASCAR, Larson placed second at Auto Club last season. He has had a solid West Coast swing with finishes of eighth at Las Vegas and 10th at Phoenix.

Harvick’s crew chief Rodney Childers voiced concern about every driver on the circuit knocking off the No. 4 team.

“I had someone ask me last night, ‘Who are you worried about?’” Childers said. “Well, I’m worried about everybody. That’s the way you got to be.

“You got to keep working on your stuff and keep making it better. If you don’t, you’re going to get beat.”

“Chase” for championship two

After starting the season with a disappointing 28th-place showing at Daytona International Speedway, Chase Elliott looks like he’s back in his 2014 form. The same form that allowed the 19-year-old JR Motorsports driver to run away with the NASCAR XFINITY Series championship.

Since Daytona, Elliott has registered two fifth-place finishes and a seventh-place showing. He will attempt to run for his third consecutive top 10 in Saturday’s 300 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California (4 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1).

Elliott remains fond of the two-mile track where he finished sixth last season in his first-ever start there.

“It’s such a blast to race at Auto Club,” he said. “There are so many different grooves drivers run, and that’s what makes it so exciting. You may see four-wide as we fan out on restarts during Saturday’s race.

“If you’re a race fan, this is a must watch, no question about it.”

Next weekend, Elliott will make his long-awaited NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut at Martinsville Speedway, but first he must focus on defending his XFINITY Series title. The No. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevrolet driver ranks fourth in the standings, 25 points behind leader Ty Dillon.

He hopes to close in on Dillon with a visit to Victory Lane.

“The West Coast swing has been a good two weeks,” Elliott said. “We are looking to close on a high note this weekend in California. A win would do that.”

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