NASCAR

The man to beat at PIR?

Kevin Harvick
Kevin Harvick is third in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
FOX Sports Tom Jensen
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Sick of all the non-stop Jimmie Johnson vs. Matt Kenseth throughout the Chase for the Sprint Cup?

Keep your chin up.

The man to beat in Sunday’s AdvoCare 500 at Phoenix International Raceway might just be the guy who’s actually third in the NASCAR Sprint Cup points, defending race winner Kevin Harvick, and not Johnson or Kenseth.

Harvick, the winner of eight races in NASCAR’s top three division here at PIR, grew up in Bakersfield, Calif., and has always had a strong affinity for the one-mile PIR oval. And he looks good this weekend, too.

After being just 19th fastest in Friday’s two-hour NASCAR Sprint Cup round, Harvick jumped up to ninth in qualifying late Friday afternoon. In Saturday’s morning practice, he was second in both fastest single lap and fastest average speed over 10 consecutive laps. And then in Happy Hour, he was best of all the Cup drivers in 10-consecutive lap average speed.

Clearly, Harvick runs well here and clearly, his No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet SS is pretty good this weekend, too. And given that Sunday’s race will be Harvick’s penultimate run with the team, another victory would certainly be welcome.

Harvick comes into the Phoenix race third in points, 40 points back of Johnson. But it’s still been a very good 2013 campaign, with three race victories and a lot of consistency over the long year.

“Can’t complain about the season nor the finishes that we’ve had in the Chase,” said Harvick. “We knew we needed to win at least one race in the Chase, and we accomplished that. It just happens to be a year where you needed to win a couple or three races in Chases and finish in the top-five a lot. It’s not been anything to complain about.”

Over the course of his relationship with car owner Richard Childress, Harvick has certainly had his ups and downs, including at Martinsville Speedway a couple of weeks ago, where he tangled with Childress’ grandson, Ty Dillon, during the race and ripped into him afterwards.

And yet the two have hung in there.

“It is definitely something that we both have been fortunate to have a lot of success, and look forward to the next chapter,” said Harvick. “… It’s kind of like being a part of your family. You have some spats. You have some things. It seems like each instance makes you closer in some kind of way.”

Harvick’s teammate, Jeff Burton, who is also a lame duck at RCR, said Harvick has grown up a lot in recent years.

“Kevin to me is a different person than he was four years ago,” Burton said. “Kevin owning those race teams, Keelan (Harvick’s son) coming along, all those things have had a major impact on Kevin. Kevin really sees the company. He understands it has to be successful from a financial stand point. He understands investment is not easy to make. He has a much broader picture than he had say six years ago.”

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And Burton thinks Childress was a good mentor for Harvick.

“Richard to his credit, much like my father did with me, Richard didn’t try to stifle Kevin. Richard let Kevin be Kevin,” said Burton. “He would get mad at him, but he wasn’t the kind of guy that just would say ‘You are not going to do that.’ He would let Kevin be Kevin. There was a lot of wisdom in that.”

Conversely, Burton said Harvick’s aggression helped RCR tremendously.

“Kevin is really good at pushing buttons to try to get things to happen,” Burton said. “You have to do that in this sport. You have to do it. If you don’t have that intensity of, ‘We have got to succeed now,’ then the future never gets here because if you are always building for something you are not doing it now. The now matters.”

And now, with his career drawing to a close at RCR, it’s time for Harvick to win again.

“We just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing, and try to win one of these or both of the last two races,” Harvick said. “…This has been a great race track for us in the past, and hopefully we can have another good weekend.”

Tagged: Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick

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