Phoenix NASCAR Notebook: On Second Thought, Harvick Is Happy Phoenix Got A Facelift

(NASCAR Wire Service)

By Reid Spencer ~ NASCAR Wire Service

Kevin Harvick's car is pushed through garage during practice Friday at Phoenix International Raceway (Photo: Robert Laberge/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Kevin Harvick’s car is pushed through garage during practice Friday at Phoenix International Raceway (Photo: Robert Laberge/Getty Images for NASCAR)

AVONDALE, Ariz. — Kevin Harvick was hopping mad at Phoenix International Raceway President Bryan Sperber.

Of course, that was four years ago, after Sperber told Harvick the one-mile track was going to be repaved between the spring and fall races of 2011.

After all, Harvick had a stellar record at the old configuration of the track, including a season sweep of the 2008 races at PIR. So it was understandable the reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion would be resistant to change.

In November of 2011, Harvick ran 19th at Phoenix without leading a lap. But what happened after went a long way toward reshaping his opinion of the resurfacing of the track.

Harvick finished second in November of 2012 before reeling off four victories in a stretch of five events — including the race he had to win last fall to advance to the Championship 4 Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

In his last six outings at PIR, the driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet has led 661 of 1,879 possible laps, more than 35 percent. In winning both races last year, Harvick led a total of 488 of a possible 624 laps, a whopping 78.2 percent.

He will attempt to continue his dominance in Sunday’s 500 (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX).

“In hindsight, I guess you could look back on it and say it’s probably been better for us than the old style Phoenix International Raceway,” Harvick acknowledged Friday before opening Sprint Cup Series practice at PIR. “It’s just a place that I really enjoy. I think (Turns) 3 and 4 still have a lot of the same characteristics that the old track did.

“We were fortunate to be able to come and test here several years ago, when they repaved the track and, for whatever reason, it just fit everything that we were doing.”

Even though the track itself is different, there are fond memories that linger for Harvick, who arrived in Phoenix this week fresh from a victory at Las Vegas — his sixth straight finish of first or second in the Sprint Cup series.

“I look forward to coming to this race track every year,” Harvick said. “Like I said last week in Las Vegas, these are places for me that I have raced at since the mid ‘90s. To come and race in front of these race fans and be able to hear stories about people that watched you race in the Southwest Tour, Winston West or the Truck Series through the years, it’s a lot of fun for me.

“Just to see old faces and friends and also get to race on a race track that used to be probably, between the Copper World Classic and the 300-mile race that we used to have here, at the end of the year for the Southwest Tour cars, this was our biggest race. To grow up racing and come here was our Daytona 500 every year, and to be able to come back and do that now as part of your job is something that for me is a lot of fun.”


Obviously, Kyle Busch’s absence from the race track is not a matter of choice, but Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin believes the time away from the No. 18 Toyota will give Busch a different perspective.

A driver who likes to race at every opportunity, Busch was sidelined indefinitely after breaking his right leg and left foot during a crash in the Feb. 21 NASCAR XFINITY Series race.

Hamlin can empathize.

The driver of the No. 11 JGR Toyota Camry missed four races in 2013 after fracturing his back in an accident at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

“He’s definitely paying a lot of attention to the races and what he sees from the outside,” Hamlin said of Busch. “I think he’s very engaged and obviously making the best of the situation that he’s got. I know when I was out two years ago, it just gives you a different perspective and a different way to look at things.

“I’m sure coming back he’ll probably be a lot more appreciative of the time he’s got inside that race car because he knows how quickly it can go away.”

And if Busch is missing races, the JGR organization is missing something, too — the driver’s expertise in interpreting what his race car is doing on the track.

“It’s a shame, because we just had our driver lineup right where we wanted it with the four of us (Busch, Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards), and we felt like this was going to be a good thing, and I was looking forward to hearing some more feedback from Kyle, but obviously (substitute driver) David (Ragan) has done a great job.

“But we’re excited to get Kyle back just as soon as we can just for the reason that this is the four-driver dynamic that (team owner) Joe (Gibbs) put together, and we hope to bring our race teams, all of them, up to a higher level. Right now we’re just missing just a little something.”


For a guy who didn’t want a lot of hoopla surrounding his final season of full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing, Jeff Gordon has been getting quite a bit of attention lately.
On Thursday, Gordon took a detour to Dallas, Texas, where he participated in “Jeff Gordon Day” ceremonies in the Dallas Arts District. Gordon was also there to help promote the April 11 Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on FOX).

With approximately 2,000 fans in attendance, Gordon gave Duck Commander’s John Godwin the ride of his life in the No. 24 Chevrolet, doing burnouts at the intersection of the Woodall Rogers frontage road and Harwood Street in downtown Dallas. Former Dallas Cowboys defensive back Everson Walls, who wore No. 24 during his playing days, also took part in honoring Gordon.

“What a great day,” Gordon said. “I got to do the donut, and I can’t thank the city of Dallas enough for recognizing what I have done in the sport and for recognizing all of these great fans that came out here today. I can’t wait to come back for the Duck Commander 500 here in April.”

Gordon’s return in April doubtless will bring more accolades — whether he wants them or not.

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