Best Out West
By: Jeff Wackerlin - @JWackerlin Twitter and Instagram | MRN.com on March 22, 2016 | 1:41 P.M. EST
This year, Harvick led the three-race swing through the western Unites States in the following categories: average finish (3.3), top 10s (3) and laps led (282). (Photo: Getty Images)
In 2015 and now 2016, series points leader Kevin Harvick has posted a 2.3 average finish in the six races that are part of series - including three wins. This year, Harvick led the three-race stretch in the following categories: average finish (3.3), top 10s (3) and laps led (282) in the three races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Phoenix International Speedway and Auto Club Speedway.
Harvick, who won at Phoenix, joined Brad Keselowski (Las Vegas) and Jimmie Johnson (Auto Club) as the drivers that went to Victory Lane in this year's edition of "NASCAR Goes West." Harvick led a race-high 142 laps on Sunday in the final race of the stretch at ACS only to finish second to Johnson following an overtime restart.
Harvick also recorded the most points throughout the three races, 121, followed by Johnson (114), Joey Logano (101), and Denny Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (each with 100).
Although performances were strong by a number of drivers out west, the Easter break comes at a perfect time as teams will get some short time off before continuing to prepare for a stretch of races on the East Coast and in the Midwest starting at Martinsville Speedway on April 3.
"The western swing is hard on everybody," Harvick said. "With the travel and the way the schedule is now, you have to stay out here or you're traveling back and forth between time zones. The logistics of the racecars are the hard part. It'll be a much-needed break now before we get into the meat of the season."
Rookies Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney also shined out west, each scoring two top 10s. The two traded the lead in the Rookie of the Year standings over the past two weeks, with Elliott taking command heading into the break with his sixth-place run at Auto Club.
The Auto Club 400 also saw two drivers end top-five and top-10 droughts, respectively, with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finishing fifth and AJ Allmendinger coming home eighth. Stenhouse 's finish was just his fourth career top five and first since Bristol last spring. Allmendinger's top 10 was his first since finishing seventh at Pocono Raceway in August 2015 and first with crew chief Randall Burnett.
Burnett, who joined JTG Daugherty Racing in the off-season after a 10-year stint at Chip Ganassi Racing in a number of engineering roles, reiterated Harvick’s comments on how tough the three-week trip out west is.
"The guys will have Thursday and Friday off to recharge," Burnett said. "It helps us get back to the East Coast, get all our stuff in line and caught up. The western swing is hard in general, moving parts and pieces across the country. Now, we get all our stuff back in-house so we can go through everything carefully and start focusing on the East Coast portion of the schedule."