Harvick Sees 'Fresh Start' in Phoenix

K.Harvick

Kevin Harvick has dominated the Sprint Cup Series at Phoenix International Raceway in recent years but takes nothing for granted on this week's return trip. (Photo: Getty Images)

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In recent years, Kevin Harvick has dominated Sprint Cup Series competition at Phoenix International Raceway with five wins in the last seven races.

But the 2014 champion isn't going into Sunday's Good Sam 500 with any preconceived notions of a return trip to Victory Lane.

"You go there with a fresh start, like you’ve never won there before," said Harvick, who's currently tied for second place with Jimmie Johnson in the early-season standings - seven points behind Kyle Busch. "The hardest thing about having success is that you must have an open mind to try new things and keep moving forward. If you don’t, and aren't willing to try a fresh approach, it will get stagnant. You’re going to become stale and get left behind."

It was Harvick who left the field behind in winning last season's late-winter race on the one-mile desert oval. He shredded the competition, notching his fourth straight PIR victory. Harvick started from the pole and led a race-high 224 laps including the final 17 en route to his 30th career victory.

But once again, Harvick is tempering his optimism heading into the fourth race of this young season.

"Conditions are never the same," he cautions. "You never know if it’s going to be 100 degrees or 50 degrees. That makes a big difference on the balance of the car, how much downforce it makes and how much tape you can run on the front. And the tire is constantly changing."

Throw in the unique characteristics of the Arizona oval and, according to Harvick, you have a whole new set of challenges.

"Phoenix is a flat racetrack," he said. "You want to have the freshest tires possible, but track position is important. A lot of what happens at Phoenix depends on the weather - how hot it is, how much (tire) fall-off and how you have to manage track position throughout the day. The cooler it is, the more you have to manage your track position. The hotter the day, the more you have to manage tire fall-off. Better-handling cars will have a little easier time getting through the field."

After winning the Sprint Cup championship in 2014, Harvick had three victories and 13 second-place finishes in 2015 and was second to Busch in the final Chase standings. What's needed to convert all those runner-up finishes to race wins in 2016?

"All that stuff goes in cycles. Phoenix is a great example. The only thing that beat us there last fall was the rain," Harvick said, looking back on Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s victory in November that halted his four-race PIR winning streak. "You can’t control that. No matter what happens on Sunday, win or lose, we do not dwell on things.

"We’re short-term thinkers. Dale won the race in Phoenix because it rained, even though we dominated all day. You’re going to have things work out. You’re going to have things not work out."

So far this season, it can clearly be said that things are "working out" for Harvick and his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team. He's one of just three drivers with top 10s in all three races so far, joining Kurt and Kyle Busch.

"You have a lot of cars gambling to do anything they can to win a race," Harvick said. "For us, it’s narrow-minded, short-term thinking – move yourself forward and try to keep putting yourself in a better position."

Motor Racing Network - "The Voice of NASCAR" - will have live coverage of Sunday's Good Sam 500 beginning at 2:30 p.m. (ET), with live streaming at MRN.com and on the MRN App.

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