Sometimes, a nickname is perfect. And lately, the nickname “The Closer” has fit Kevin Harvick like a glove.
The defending Sprint Cup Series champion will head into this weekend’s race on a tear that is rarely seen. Going back to the final three races of 2014, Harvick has finished first or second in six consecutive races. Harvick won the final two last season to clinch a spot in the championship round and then to walk away with the trophy and then won again last week to all but guarantee his spot in the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup.
As if Harvick hasn’t been hot enough already, this week NASCAR heads to a track that suits Harvick’s eye (and foot) as they head to Phoenix International Raceway for the CampingWorld.com 500. Harvick owns six career wins in 24 starts at the track, the most all-time, and two more than Jimmie Johnson who is second among active drivers.
To say Harvick has been dominant of late at Phoenix would be like saying that hitting a SAFER barrier is better that hitting a concrete wall. That’s as if to say ‘well, duh.’
The 39-year-old driver has won the last three races and four of the last five at Phoenix. That streak includes the next-to-last race of 2014, when Harvick went to victory lane to be one the four drivers moving onto Homestead-Miami to race for the championship. Harvick was eighth in points when the series went to Phoenix, meaning a win was almost necessary to advance.
Harvick wasn’t just good at Phoenix in the fall, however. The driver of the No. 4 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing won the spring race at Phoenix last season as well in just his second race for the team. Harvick led 224 of 312 laps on the day and the win clinched his spot into the Chase.
One of the good things about the new Chase format for the drivers is that once you have a win during the season and are all but locked into the Chase, a driver and crew can take chances that they normally might not take. Just last season in the third race of the year at Las Vegas, Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran out of gas on the final lap, a risk that he was able to take because he was already locked into the Chase. Now it is Harvick who has a win in hand already, meaning he can be more aggressive and take more chances knowing that a bad finish won’t hurt him in the long run.
As if “The Closer” needs any more reason to be dangerous at Phoenix.