Phoenix NASCAR Preview: Kevin Harvick Hopes To Clinch Championship Round Berth At Phoenix

(NASCAR Wire Service)

Staff Report ~ NASCAR Wire Service

Kevin Harvick (Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Kevin Harvick (Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images for NASCAR)

There is no driver in NASCAR right now better at a specific track than Kevin Harvick at Phoenix International Raceway.

Harvick has won the last four races and five of the past seven at the Arizona oval. His seven Phoenix victories overall are a track record. If Harvick can take the checkered flag in Sunday’s Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at PIR (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC) – the penultimate race of the NASCAR season and cutoff event in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup’s Eliminator Round – he will join NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty (Richmond, 7) and Darrell Waltrip (Bristol, 7; North Wilkesboro, 5) as the only drivers to win at least five consecutive races at a single track.

More importantly, a win would guarantee Harvick a shot at defending his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series crown in the four-driver Championship Round race on Nov. 22 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Regardless of how the rest of the field performs at Phoenix, Harvick can advance to the Championship Round with a finish of second; third and at least one lap led; or fourth and the most laps led.

“I feel like that can be gone at any point,” Harvick said about his “edge” at Phoenix. “That’s the hardest thing about having success. You have to have an open mind to try new things to keep moving yourself forward. If you don’t have an open mind about things or are willing to try a fresh approach to things then it will get stagnant.”

Harvick has followed up his 2014 championship season with another stalwart campaign. The No. 4 Chevrolet driver boasts three wins and ranks first in the NSCS in top fives (21), top 10s (26), driver rating (118.1), average running position (7.4), percentage of laps led (21.2) and percentage of fastest laps run (34.5). Recently, he became the first driver since Jeff Gordon in 1995-96 to lead more than 2,000 laps in consecutive seasons.

Harvick further described how his past Phoenix success doesn’t guarantee him a high finish on Sunday.

“There are a lot of good racecar drivers and lots of circumstances that could play out to have things go wrong,” he said. “You go there with a fresh start like you’ve never won there before and try to get the car dialed in.”

Buescher trying to put away Elliott for XFINITY Series championship

NASCAR XFINITY Series points leader Chris Buescher is exemplifying the old adage, “To be the best, you have to beat the best.”

With just two races left in the season, Buescher holds a 24-point lead on defending series champion Chase Elliott. The No. 60 Roush Fenway Racing driver will continue his bid to take Elliott’s crown in Saturday’s DAV 200 Honoring America’s Veterans at Phoenix International Raceway (4 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Buescher can capture the XFINITY Series championship at Phoenix if he leaves the one-mile track 49 points ahead of second place, whether it’s Elliott, Ty Dillon (-30 points) or Regan Smith (-31). Past performance by Buescher at Phoenix indicates he is unlikely to earn the title on Saturday. In three starts in the Arizona desert, the 23-year-old Texan has an average finish of 13.7 and has never placed in the top 10.

“We just need two more solid races to wrap this thing up,” Buescher said. “Phoenix is a unique race track that I really want to have a good race at. I like short track racing and feel that this will be a good weekend for us.”

Elliott has been better than Buescher at Phoenix, posting one top five and three top 10s for an average finish of 7.0 in his three starts there. He enters the weekend on a five-race top-10 finish streak.

The No. 9 Chevrolet driver has not given up on repeating as champion.

“I can’t wait to get back on the track this weekend and give it our best,” Elliott said. “My NAPA team has been very solid and we need to finish out the year on a high note. No regrets.”

Jones closing in on Camping World Truck Series crown

Phoenix International Raceway has been a special place for Erik Jones early in his blossoming racing career.

In only his fifth-ever NASCAR Camping World Truck Series start on Nov. 8, 2013, Jones became the-then youngest winner in NASCAR national series history (17 years, five months and nine days) when he led a race-high 84 laps on his way to Victory Lane. The NASCAR Next alum returned to Phoenix for the second time last year where he won from the 21 Means 21 pole.

Ranked first in the NCWTS standings with two races remaining, the No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports driver will try to make Phoenix an even more memorable place when he attempts to close out second-place and two-time reigning series champion Matt Crafton (-17 points) and third-place Tyler Reddick (-21) for the series championship in Friday’s Lucas Oil 150 (8:30 p.m. ET on FS1) at the one-mile track.

“I’m definitely excited,” Jones said about going to Phoenix with the points lead. “Me and Kyle (Busch) were talking before Texas about how the next three tracks were really good for KBM, good for myself. Now heading to Phoenix, we’re undefeated there with two-and-0, and hopefully we can go and pick up another win this week and keep my perfect record intact.”

NASCAR Race Weekend Guide

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Race: Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500
Place: Phoenix International Raceway
Date and Time: Sunday, Nov. 15 at 2:30 p.m. ET
Tune-in: NBC, MRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90
Distance: 312 miles (312 laps)
What to Watch For: At the conclusion of the event, the four Chase drivers who are winless in the Eliminator Round and have the least amount of points will be dropped from the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs. The remaining four drivers will advance to Homestead-Miami Speedway, where the highest finisher among them will capture the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title … Jeff Gordon is the only driver who has clinched a Championship Round berth, courtesy of his win in the opening Eliminator Round race on Nov. 1 at Martinsville. … With a victory at Phoenix, Kevin Harvick will join NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty (Richmond, 7) and Darrell Waltrip (Bristol, 7; North Wilkesboro, 5) as the only drivers to win at least five consecutive races at a single track. … Jimmie Johnson – a four-time Phoenix winner – will try to “spoil” an automatic Championship Round berth again by visiting Victory Lane for the second straight week. … Carl Edwards goes for his third career win at Phoenix as he tries to advance to Homestead. … Joey Logano, who leads the NSCS with six wins, can only earn a berth in the Championship Round by winning on Sunday. … Chevrolet can clinch its 13th straight manufacturers’ championship and the 39th in its history if one of its drivers places 10th or better at Phoenix.

Race: DAV 200 Honoring America’s Veterans
Place: Phoenix International Raceway
Date and Time: Saturday, Nov. 14 at 4 p.m. ET
Tune-in: NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90
Distance: 200 miles (200 laps)
What to Watch For: Chris Buescher can capture the NASCAR XFINITY Series championship if he leaves Phoenix 49 points ahead of second place in the standings. He is currently 24 points ahead of reigning series champion Chase Elliott, who is followed by Ty Dillon (-30) and Regan Smith (-31). … Ross Kenseth, the son of 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Matt Kenseth, will make his second career XFINITY Series start. 2014 NASCAR Whelen Euro Series champion, Anthony Kumpen, who hails from Belguim, will also make his second career XFINITY Series start. … Sprint Cup drivers Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon are all entered in Saturday’s race.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Race: Lucas Oil 150
Place: Phoenix International Raceway
Date and Time: Friday, Nov. 13 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Tune-in: FS1, MRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90
Distance: 150 miles (150 laps)
What to Watch For: Erik Jones looks to increase his 17-point standings lead over second-place Matt Crafton as he tries to become the youngest champion in NASCAR Camping World Truck Series history at 19 years, 5 months, 21 days. … NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Champion William Byron will make his NASCAR national series debut for Kyle Busch Motorsports. Byron’s NASCAR Next classmate Rico Abreu will make his first NASCAR national series start for NTS Motorsports. … If a Toyota places 14th or better in Friday’s race, Toyota will capture its eighth Manufacturers’ Championship, tying Chevrolet for the most in NCWTS history.

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