Harvick may be in best position of all Chase drivers at PIR

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Even though he’s last in the Chase standings, Kevin Harvick may very well be in the catbird’s seat heading into this weekend’s Quicken Loans For Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

Harvick is 18 points behind series leader Joey Logano. But with five career wins at what is arguably his favorite track on the Sprint Cup circuit, Harvick’s hopes to advance to the final round of the Chase may be in the right place at the right time at PIR.

Harvick certainly got a good start in the right direction, setting a new track record in Friday’s practice session, putting him at the top of the heap of the 44 drivers entered.

“We couldn’t pick a better race track for us to come to next and need to try and win a race,” Harvick said during Friday morning’s media availability at PIR. “We are really excited. The team is in good spirits, and we are looking forward to this weekend’s challenges.”

Harvick knows the easiest way for him to advance to the four-driver, winner-take-all battle for the championship next week at Homestead is by reaching victory lane this Sunday in Phoenix.

“I think you need to win this weekend,” Harvick said. ‘I think it would leave a lot less in everybody else’s hands. I think we are very capable of winning this race and we have been fortunate to have a lot of success here in the past from my driving side and the first race this year. That would be the easiest way to do it.”

When asked which drivers he envisions advancing to Homestead, Harvick quipped, “I never even thought about it.”

Not surprisingly, the majority of Friday’s session with the media wasn’t about Harvick’s championship hopes, but more his involvement – or lack thereof – in last Sunday’s brawl between Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski.

On the one hand, Harvick hopes the drama has ended and we can get back to serious racing Sunday.

“The competitor in me loves the controversy and loves the situations that it puts the competitors in,” Harvick said. “… But, live and learn, and you move on. That is the one thing about this sport is you have to get over things quickly.

“I think as you move forward you just have to do the best that you can to try to handle things different. All in all it was a good weekend for us (at Texas), but obviously afterwards it’s not the way you wanted it to end for us.”

Harvick was asked if he tried to incite Keselowski into fighting Gordon when he (Harvick) pushed Keselowski towards Gordon last Sunday on pit road after the race at Texas.

“Honestly, I was leaning on the back of the car just kind of taking it all in and seeing what was going on,” Harvick said. “I have been in that situation with him (Keselowski) before. For me it is like the week of two totally opposite situations.

“I have no problem with the way Brad races. I think he races hard. I think that is what we are all supposed to do and in those positions you would probably do the same thing yourself.

“But, I think that the problem that I have with it, I have been in that situation with him before and have him turn his back on me and just walk off. I don’t think that is the appropriate way to handle those types of situations.”

In other words, Harvick pushed Keselowski to man up and take care of business, rather than walk away from conflict.

“It just kind of rubbed me the wrong way and I reacted and obviously didn’t really realize that it was going to ignite that,” Harvick said. “All in all it just kind of rubs me the wrong way when you have to just turn your back on situations and walk off and mumble your way off into no man’s land and not just handle the situation.

“I think in those situations you at least deserve, even if you are going to get yelled at or whatever the case may be, you at least need to handle it like it needs to be handled.”

Having had several days to reflect upon his decision to push Keselowski, does Harvick regret essentially sparking the Texas brawl?

“I never look back on something as a regret,” Harvick said. “I think you look back on them as lessons. Things happen and you have to react.

“I think as you look at the situation you probably could have handled it differently. But all in all, you just take it as a life lesson and move on.”

Surprisingly, Harvick may be the only driver on the racetrack who stood up for the way Keselowski raced Gordon at Texas.

“I have no problem with the move,” Harvick said of the moment when Keselowski hit Gordon’s car, leading to a flat tire that knocked Gordon from having a chance at victory. ” I have no problem with the way that he raced.

“I just have a problem with the way that you know in those situations that there is going to be controversy when all that stuff happens.  In the end you can’t just turn your back and walk away and just act like it didn’t happen and blame it on somebody else.  It’s just not how it works.”

Will Harvick feel that way if the only thing between him and advancing to the championship-deciding finale at Homestead winds up being Keselowski?

Now that could be a whole different story.

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After Will Power extension, Marcus Ericsson among IndyCar drivers awaiting new deals

IndyCar free agents
Chris Owens, Joe Skibinski/Penske Entertainment

FORT WORTH, Texas – Defending series champion Will Power’s name is off the board of potential IndyCar free agents, but there’s still much to be settled in the field – starting with the reigning Indy 500 winner.

Marcus Ericsson is waiting on a contract offer to remain with Chip Ganassi Racing beyond the 2023 season (his fourth with the team). The Swede said he’s made it clear to car owner Chip Ganassi that he wants to stay in the No. 8 Dallara-Honda, which has four victories since June 2021.

“Yeah, it’s up to him, basically,” Ericsson said Friday at Texas Motor Speedway. “He needs to give me an offer for ’24 onward. The ball is in his corner. I really enjoy it at Ganassi, and we’ve done a lot of great things together and would love to continue, but the ball is in his corner. He knows very well what I want.”

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Two days before Ericsson won the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg season opener March 5, Ganassi sang the praises of the emerging star driver to a small group of reporters.

“I want him here beyond this year,” Ganassi said of Ericsson. “He seems to have gotten more out of winning the Indy 500 than anyone else has of recent time, which is a good thing. He did a good job. He’s been everywhere. It’s been a really positive thing for Marcus, the team, the series. He’s grown with that as well.”

Ericsson didn’t sew up his current deal until late in his breakthrough 2021 season (after a memorable victory in the inaugural Music City Grand Prix). So he isn’t necessarily anxious about it but conceded he “was thinking a bit about it over the winner in the offseason and talking about it

“But now that the season has started, I told my managers and everyone I want to focus on the driving. They focus on those things. Now the season is on, and I want to try to win races, win another 500 and championship. That’s where my focus is. (A new contract) is one of those things that happens when it happens. But I’m happy where I am, and I want to do well.”

IndyCar’s two best teams, Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing, tend to be very tight-lipped about their drivers’ contract status.

Power confirmed Friday to journalist Bruce Martin that his new deal was for multiple seasons. That means all three of Penske’s drivers are in multiple-year contracts (unlike Power’s deal, Scott McLaughlin’s extension was announced by the team last year).

But there is more uncertainty at Ganassi’s four cars aside from Ericsson. While Scott Dixon has a ride for as long as he wants (and the six-time champion has given no indication of retiring), Ganassi’s other two other seats have yet to be solidified beyond 2023.

The No. 11 is being split this year by rookie Marcus Armstrong and veteran Takuma Sato this season. In  the No. 10, Alex Palou is believed to be in his final year at Ganassi before heading to Arrow McLaren.

That expected move would cast doubt on the future of Felix Rosenqvist, who returned to Arrow McLaren when the team was unable to bring in Palou (who was embroiled in a contract dispute with Ganassi).

Aside from Penske, virtually every other IndyCar team (including Andretti Autosport, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Meyer Shank Racing, which has Helio Castroneves in a contract year) has seats that potentially could open for next season, and even drivers who appear to be under contract for next year still could be on the move (via buyouts and option years).

Though Juncos Hollinger Racing announced a “long-term, multiyear contract partnership” last July with Callum Ilott, but the second-year driver was cagey Friday when asked about how long the extension ran.

“It’s for whatever I want it to be,” said Ilott, who finished a career-best fifth at St. Petersburg. “I’ll say that.”

Before returning to JHR, Ilott turned enough heads as a rookie to draw interest from several teams, and he indicated Friday that he still would be listening.

“I’d love to talk to some other big teams,” Ilott said. “Nothing stops me from talking. Look, you’ve got to be fair. I agreed to (the deal), but it’s pretty obvious that I’m quite interested as people are interested in me as a driver, but I need to focus on the job I’ve got here.

“I’m confident whether it’s in one year, two years, three years, four years, that if I’m wanted now, I’ll always be wanted. I’m a good enough driver that I don’t need to lack confidence in that side. … I’m not worried.”