After Phoenix victory, Harvick ready for final run next weekend with RCR

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Kevin Harvick will enter his final race with Richard Childress Racing with a chance to win the Sprint Cup championship – a small chance, but a chance nonetheless.

Harvick, who won today’s Advocare 500 at Phoenix International Raceway after Carl Edwards ran out of fuel while leading with two laps to go, remains third in the Chase for the Sprint Cup but pulled to within 34 points of leader Jimmie Johnson.

The odds remain long for Harvick to come from behind and win his first Cup title, but no matter what happens in next weekend’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, he can at least say that he’s going out on a high note at RCR – the only team he’s ever driven for in his Cup career.

With Harvick on his way to Stewart-Haas Racing next season, he and RCR have been writing the final pages of their story together. It hasn’t been a completely smooth process – see the brouhaha that took place last month between Harvick and Childress’ grandsons, Ty and Austin Dillon, following a Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville – but the camp has managed to stay strong through the adversity.

“[Martinsville] was a tough week to handle, but I think that some of the conversations that we had were good for all of us and made us really understand just the fact that how successful we’ve been together and how successful we’ve been for each other as RCR,” Harvick said tonight at PIR.

“I think that situation really put into perspective – just made you think about everything that we’ve been able to accomplish and the things that we’ve been through together.”

Harvick equated those post-Martinsville talks as more of a “family conversation” and his boss, Childress, invoked the word family as well in his thoughts.

“We committed to each other early in the year that we’d give 100 percent, and we have, and Kevin has,” he said. “…We’re like family. You spend a lot of time with each other at the track, so you’re going to have your spats and stuff, and just got to make it work.”

And indeed, Harvick and RCR have made it work in their final season to the tune of four wins, nine Top-5s and 20 Top-10s – a season to be proud of, even if it proves unable to eclipse Johnson in this particular Chase.

“We’ve stumbled once [in the Chase] at Loudon with a 20th place finish, and we’ve won a couple [Chase] races, and here we are 34 points behind the 48 [Johnson],” Harvick said.

“…I feel like we’ve probably had the best Chase that we’ve ever had, and you go to Homestead 34 points behind. They’re just good.”

But…There’s still a chance.

NHRA: Antron Brown on verge of earning 50th career Top Fuel win this weekend at Phoenix

Photo courtesy Toyota Racing
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When you’re used to winning championships – like three in the previous five seasons – any other season finish is disappointing.

That’s kind of how NHRA Top Fuel dragster driver Antron Brown looked at his fourth-place showing in the 2017 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

“At the end of the day, we had a very competitive season last year and made it to 10 final rounds,” Brown said. “But we got into the Countdown (NHRA’s six-race playoffs) and our timing was off.

“We struggled with a lot of problems we don’t usually have. Now it’s time for a new chapter for this team and time to get better. This is a new beginning for us and it’s going to be fun and exciting and we’re coming after them.”

Antron Brown hugs the NHRA Top Fuel championship trophy after winning it in 2016. (Photo by David Allio/Icon Sportswire)

Brown had a good start to 2018, reaching the semifinals before losing to Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tony Schumacher in the season-opening Lucas Oil Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California.

“We had a great performance at Pomona and I couldn’t be more proud of what our Matco/Toyota guys did,” Brown said. “Now we are going to Phoenix where we’ve won three times (2009, 2012 and 2014, and was runner-up in 2011) and we’ll just try to hit it hard and get a fourth.”

Next up on the NHRA 24-race national event circuit is the second race of the season, this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix (Chandler, Arizona).

Brown has definite plans to make it four wins in Phoenix. And if he does that Sunday, he’ll set a significant career milestone: it would be his 50th career win driving a Top Fueler and the 66th win overall (he won 16 races in Pro Stock Motorcycle before shifting from two to four wheels).

In so doing, Brown would become only the fourth Top Fuel driver in NHRA history to hit the 50-win mark. The others are Tony Schumacher (83), Larry Dixon (62) and Joe Amato (52).

This will be the second time Brown has been racing in Phoenix this month. He was part of the preseason test there for Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock cars a week before the season began.

“Testing went really well there,” said Brown, leaving him optimistic that he can reach victory circle once again. “I love going back to Phoenix.”

Brown has been the most dominant driver in NHRA Top Fuel competition since 2012, winning more than twice the number of races (34) than the next most successful Top Fuel driver (16 by Schumacher) in that time period.

He also has a 71 percent overall win percentage, which exceeds both eight-time Top Fuel champ Schumacher and 16-time Funny Car champ John Force.

“I’m just pumped up, feeling like we’ve got some unfinished business from last year,” Brown said. “We had a good outing but didn’t close the deal, so this year, we’re looking forward to getting back there and getting off to a great start.”

NOTES: Brown will serve as honorary pace car driver for the March 4th Pennzoil 400 NASCAR Cup race at Las Vegas. He’ll be joined by teammates Matt Hagan and Leah Pritchett in a weekend full of activities that they’ll all be involved in.

“I’m really excited,” Brown said. “It’s going to be my first experience as a pace car driver, and I’m just super stoked to go out there and drive the Camry pace car for Pennzoil and start those NASCAR boys off the right way. Throttle down, pedal to the metal. I just want them to get off to a great start.”

Brown has won four times at The Strip, the drag strip adjacent to Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I couldn’t be more excited to have the opportunity,” he said. “It’s an honor to be out there with such talented drivers, and I know I’m going to really enjoy watching our NASCAR counterparts.”

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