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.
Follow me @JerryBonkowski