Last weekend, after a dominating win at the Phoenix International Raceway, Kevin Harvick’s crew chief Rodney Childers got up in front of the assembled media and said, “I know it didn’t seem this way, but we actually struggled a little bit.” Childers, who saw his driver lead 224 of the scheduled 312 lap affair continued, “Fault some of our tools and different things that weren’t matching up with the car this weekend. Finally we had to kind of wing it late model style. Finally got it going really good in Happy Hour. The guys at the shop have built great cars. You know, everything just went our way all weekend. You come to these deals, and some weekends it goes your way and sometimes it doesn’t whether you got a fast car or not.
Childers went on to speak about the added demands of competing at Phoenix, saying, “just proud of all the guys back at the shop that have worked so hard, and of course Kevin. I think his record speaks for itself at this place. I said a minute ago, somebody asked me what was wrong with me this morning. I said that I felt more pressure to win this one race at Phoenix than I did to win the race at Homestead. When you bring him here, I think everybody expects him to win. I didn’t want it to be my fault if we didn’t. Just proud of everybody, like I said. Just a great effort.”
It was a great effort. The thing is Harvick has dominated the Sprint Cup Series since last season when he ended the season with two wins and the Sprint Cup championship. In fact Harvick has had seven top-two finishes in his last seven races dating back to last season. The last guy that accomplished such a feat was Richard Petty, who had 11 consecutive top-two finishes back in 1975. Harvick said after being told that fact, “When you said the Richard Petty part, that just gives me chills.”
Runner-up in Phoenix, Jamie McMurray, said after the race, “That was a fun battle with Kevin (Harvick). Those are the kinds you wish you could do over again, because I would have slid up earlier. It’s similar to plate racing with the engine package we have now, where if you don’t get the guy cleared he can kind of stall you out a little bit. And I saw Kevin coming and I thought I could slide up in front of him, but I also knew it was for the win and that we would probably have wrecked there. But it was a good team effort with great pit stops all day. Our team is as good or better than where we left off last year, and it’s a great feeling.”
Harvick’s teammate, Kurt Busch, racing for the first time this season due to his well documented off track problems finished fifth in Phoenix. He said about his team, his car and his owner after the race, “It means I’ve got a strong team. And personally it’s great to get back to them and produce a result like this on our first day back. It’s a quality car. Haas Automation and Gene Haas and everybody that’s there; I went over and visited the headquarters this week and I can’t thank them enough for believing in me. The truth will be shown later on. But, the way that we raced today, it was with heart. And I thought there had been enough good will in the bank to try to bring home a win. But Kevin (Harvick, race winner) was tough. Congratulations to my teammate, Kevin Harvick, for winning. We had a great day. To run up there and almost lead a lap; I was just too loose on restarts and couldn’t quite capitalize on some of those positions that I needed to gain early in a run. But thanks again to all my sponsors and Chevrolet and everybody that’s part of our team and the whole group at Stewart-Haas. Thank you.”
Their teammates, Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick finished 39th (accident) and 26th respectively and sit 36th and 23rd in points respectively. Busch’s finish has him at 33rd in points after the Phoenix race. What is odd to me is the fact that Harvick’s dominance isn’t really odd in the sport. In 1998, on his way to his third championship Jeff Gordon tied Richard Petty, in the modern era, with 13 victories. Since then Jimmie Johnson’s dominance in the Chase secured him multiple championships, most notably in 2004 and 2007 when Johnson needed those victories to storm back from early chase mediocrity. Also, let’s not forget Tony Stewart who just weeks before the chase started in 2011 said to us in Bristol that his team was not “chase worthy” and then rattled off five victories, including a nail biter in the final race at Homestead to break a tie with Carl Edwards for his third championship.
Some will say that Harvick’s peaking too soon this season and that there are many teams that will fill the gap before the season’s end. However, I look back to just last season, when they ran a completely different race package and the fact that Harvick dominated many races that resulted in poor finishes due to equipment failure, poor strategy or pit stops and he still won his first championship with a brand new team. Right now the usual suspects will be chasing Harvick. Jimmie Johnson, fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. and even sentimental favorite Jeff Gordon should be in the mix by the time the chase starts but I fully expect that Harvick will be a factor in who wins the 2015 championship.