Kevin Harvick Is on the verge of making history, on multiple levels.
Harvick, the reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, comes into Phoenix International Raceway riding a four-race winning streak at the one-mile Sonoran Desert oval.
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If Harvick can capture Sunday's Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at PIR, he'll become only the third driver in NASCAR history to win five consecutive races at a single track. The other two are guys named Richard Petty, who won seven in a row at Richmond, and Darrell Waltrip, won seven straight at Bristol and five consecutive races at North Wilkesboro.
Harvick is also is a position to win a second consecutive championship. In the last 25 years, only three drivers have gone back-to-back on NASCAR's biggest stage: the late Dale Earnhardt in 1990-91 and again in '93-94; Jeff Gordon in '97-98; and of course, Jimmie Johnson, who captured five straight from '06-10.
Obviously, winning a second consecutive championship would be a huge accomplishment for Harvick.
But first there's the matter of this weekend.
When Harvick comes to Phoenix, he expects to win. After all, he has seven wins overall at PIR, including five of the last six.
And a lot of his competitors expect him to win, too.
"Let's be honest. The 4 car (Harvick) is going to be tough to beat at Phoenix," said Chad Knaus, crew chief of last week's winner, Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
"You look at Phoenix. Statistically you think Kevin Harvick," said Kurt Busch, Harvick's teammate at Stewart-Haas Racing. "He's dominated for so long, it's like, 'When is he going to have a bad race? When is that setup going to tail off?'"
While it seems as if Harvick should be a slam-dunk winner this weekend, this has been an odd title defense for the series champion. He crashed after contact with Jimmie Johnson at Chicagoland Speedway and ran out of gas at New Hampshire, putting him in a must-win situation at Dover.
Last week at Texas, Harvick's shifter popped out of gear and he had tire issues. Yes, his cars have been fast, but rarely has there been an easy week besides his Dover victory.
"Even Charlotte wasn't 100 percent smooth," Harvick said after holding on to finish third at Texas. "The cars have been performing well. We've just had to overcome things week after week after week. I guess those are character-building moments as you go through those weekends, but we've managed to survive and advance and that's what we've got to do (at PIR)."
Still, despite the ups and downs, Harvick is the guy with the bull's eye on his back this weekend.
"There's certain guys at certain tracks that you're going to have to beat," said Harvick's teammate, Kurt Busch. "The setups that Harvick uses and that I use are very similar. I hope that it helps us at Phoenix. If we're going to win this title, we've got to go through the 4 car (Harvick). That's part of it. He's still alive, the defending champion, and he's been the fastest car on the track, next to the 22 (Joey Logano), all the way down this stretch run."