Stewart, Harvick ready to bounce back

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Two big names are hoping to shake off a disappointing Daytona 500 and gain some positive momentum this weekend at Phoenix.

Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick were pegged as contenders to win “The Great American Race” before they both got caught in a nine-car crash on Lap 34 last Sunday at Daytona. Now, they must dig their way out of the hole on Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway.

Fortunately for Stewart, he’s been in this situation before and it worked out pretty well for him back then.

“We’ve left [Daytona] 43rd (in points) and won a championship in ’02,” said Stewart, who qualified sixth for the Subway Fresh Fit 500k. “So, you just put it behind you and it’s no different than if you get in a wreck on any other week. You can’t change it. So, you’ve got to focus on what you can change and that’s the week ahead.”

As for Harvick, his triumph in the Sprint Cup Series’ most recent visit to Phoenix has him hoping for more good things this time around. But with the introduction of the Generation-6 cars, he and his Richard Childress Racing team know that they’re in for a real test.

“This year we have a new car and a lot of new things to deal with, you to have an open mind on how to approach the weekend,” said Harvick, who is racing in today’s Nationwide Series event at PIR and will go off from seventh on the grid Sunday.

“Obviously, running the NASCAR Nationwide Series race will help by providing a little extra track time, but Phoenix was a good track for us last year. We finished first and second in the two races last season, so we’re going back expecting that we’ll run just as well.”

Stewart has one Sprint Cup win at PIR, but comes off finishes of 22nd and 19th at the one-mile oval last season. Harvick, on the other hand, has collected three top-5 results in his last four Phoenix outings, including the aforementioned victory last fall.

Here’s who were picking to win the Indy 500 — who are YOU picking?

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Several members of the NBC Sports motorsports staff have made their predictions on who will win Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Of the six voters, two are going with 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champ Josef Newgarden, while two others are going with Helio Castroneves to win a fourth 500, which would tie him with A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.

Here’s our picks. Who are YOU picking?

Leigh Diffey: Helio Castroneves — He drives the place better than anyone else. For me (for what its worth) he deserves a fourth 500 ring for the frustration he went through never getting the IndyCar title!

Townsend Bell: Josef Newgarden

Nate Ryan: Simon Pagenaud — All of his 2018 misfortune on the track has disappeared in May, and it culminates in the biggest victory of his career.

Jerry Bonkowski: Helio Castroneves – There’s no pressure as he pursues his fourth Indy 500 win. All Helio has to do, as late NFL owner Al Davis would say, is “Just win, baby!” (But if Helio falls short, watch for Marco Andretti)

Kyle Lavigne: Josef Newgarden — I think he has everything he needs to get it done this year.

Dan Beaver: Robert Wickens – Has driven like anything except a rookie and his second-place finish at Phoenix proves he’s just as good on an oval as the road courses.

Follow: Jerry Bonkowski