● Who owns Phoenix Raceway? NASCAR or Kevin Harvick? NASCAR owns the facility, at least on paper, but Harvick owns the track. The driver of the No. 4 Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) has won a record nine Cup Series races at the desert mile. No other active Cup Series driver has won more than three races at Phoenix. Former fulltime Cup Series driver Jimmie Johnson is the closest to Harvick with four wins at the track.
● Harvick hasn’t finished outside of the top-10 in his last 19 NASCAR Cup Series starts at Phoenix. When he finished fifth last November in the season finale to hit that mark, he set a new record for the most consecutive top-10s at a single racetrack. Previously, Harvick had been tied with NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, as each earned 18 straight top-10s apiece at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway.
● The last time Harvick finished outside of the top-10 at Phoenix was March 3, 2013 when he finished 13th. That was 10 years ago when the San Francisco Giants were the reigning World Series champions, the Baltimore Ravens were just a month removed from winning Super Bowl XLVII, the Lebron James-led Miami Heat were marching toward their second straight NBA championship, and the Chicago Blackhawks were on their way to hoisting the Stanley Cup. Chase Briscoe, Harvick’s teammate at SHR and the defending winner of the United Rentals Work United 500k, still wasn’t old enough to enjoy a Busch Light (he is now 29), and Austin Cindric, the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series rookie of the year, was in eighth grade.
● Of Harvick’s nine NASCAR Cup Series victories at Phoenix, he won four straight between November 2013 and March 2015. The streak ended when Harvick finished second in November 2015, but when the series returned to the track in March 2016, Harvick won again. Harvick is the only driver to win four Cup Series races in a row at Phoenix. Johnson was next best with three straight wins between November 2007 and November 2008. Only five drivers have won consecutive Cup Series races at Phoenix, but Harvick is the only driver to win consecutive races twice, as he also swept both races in 2006.
● In 40 career NASCAR Cup Series starts at Phoenix, Harvick has earned an average finish of 8.7, the best of any active Cup Series driver. Denny Hamlin is next best with an average finish of 10.5 over 35 Cup Series starts.
● Harvick’s best average finish at Phoenix comes from running up front at Phoenix. He has led 1,663 laps in his 40 career NASCAR Cup Series starts at the track, dwarfing that of any other driver. Next best in this category is Kyle Busch with 1,190 laps led, 473 fewer laps than Harvick. That deficit represents more than a full race and-a-half distance at Phoenix as Sunday’s race is 312 laps.
● To finish first, one must first finish. Proving this mantra is Harvick’s lap-completion rate of 99.8 percent at Phoenix. In fact, of the 12,487 laps available to Harvick at Phoenix, he has only missed 21 of those laps. Harvick’s first career NASCAR Cup Series start at Phoenix came on Oct. 28, 2001 when he started 37th and finished 17th.
● With the Estrella Mountains as its backdrop, Phoenix is a picture-perfect racetrack. Harvick has also been perfect at the desert oval. He has scored a perfect driver rating (150.0) at Phoenix on three occasions – November 2006 when he started second, led 252 of 312 laps, and won; November 2014 when he started third, led 264 of 312 laps, and won; and March 2015, when he started first, led 224 of 312 laps, and won.
● Harvick has also been successful at Phoenix outside of the NASCAR Cup Series. He owns a NASCAR Xfinity Series win (April 2006) and four NASCAR Truck Series victories (November 2002, October 2003, November 2008 and November 2009). In fact, that Truck Series victory in November 2002 was Harvick’s first career Truck Series win and the first win for his race team, Kevin Harvick Inc. (KHI). Today, Harvick has 14 career Truck Series victories, 13 of which came with KHI. From 2001 through 2011, KHI earned 43 Truck Series wins and two championships (2007 and 2009 with driver Ron Hornaday Jr.).
● Harvick has two NASCAR Winston West Series starts at Phoenix. His best effort came in his first Winston West start at the track when he won the pole for the 1998 Phoenix 150 and led twice for a race-high 74 laps before finishing second to Rich Woodland Jr., by just .016 of a second.
● Before Cup and Xfinity and Trucks and Winston West, Harvick competed at Phoenix while on the NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Tour. He made six starts between 1994 and 1999, with his last start being his best. Harvick qualified fourth and finished fourth as part of the 1999 Copper World Classic. Finishing just behind Harvick in fifth was an up-and-coming racer named Kurt Busch.
● The 2023 season marks the 14th year of partnership between Harvick and Hunt Brothers Pizza. The nation’s largest brand of made-to-order pizza in the convenience store industry has sponsored Harvick for years in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Truck Series. Hunt Brothers Pizza joined Harvick fulltime in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2019 and has been a mainstay in NASCAR’s premier division ever since. With more than 9,000 locations across the country, Hunt Brothers Pizza is the nation’s largest brand of made-to-order pizza in the convenience store industry. Hunt Brothers Pizza offers original and thin crust pizzas available as a grab-and-go Hunk A Pizza®, perfect for today’s on-the-go lifestyle, or as a customizable whole pizza that is an exceptional value with All Toppings No Extra Charge®. Hunt Brothers Pizza is headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, and is family owned and operated. For additional information, visit www.HuntBrothersPizza.com or download the app.
● Said Harvick about his more than decade-long partnership with Hunt Brothers Pizza: “Our fans are pretty loyal to the brands that are on our cars. Many of my pictures come from the standees in the store. People take selfies next to them. There are a number of reasons you have sponsorships – you want that brand recognition, the brand integration. Hunt Brothers Pizza is a very family-oriented company and we’re a very family-oriented group. Those relationships you build through the years with brands that recognize and reflect what you believe in are few and far between. We’ve grown with the Hunt Brothers Pizza brand. They’ve grown with us and have been very loyal to us, and I think our fans are very loyal to Hunt Brothers Pizza. It’s fun to see that brand recognition and that understanding of loyalty and partnership. You realize how many Hunt Brothers Pizza stores there are as you drive to racetracks.”
With all of your success at Phoenix, is it safe to say it’s your favorite racetrack?
“Results-wise, I would say yes. Phoenix has always been a good racetrack for me. Growing up on the West Coast, that was really the facility that you wanted to win at the most because we always had our biggest Southwest Tour races there. And in the Winston West Series, they actually had provisionals that would get you into the Cup Series race at that particular time, so you had a lot of Winston West guys who would go over and try to participate in the Cup race. I’ve been able to race in front of fans that I started racing in front of in 1994. I’ve been there through reconfigurations and grandstands moved around and start-finish lines moved, but Phoenix has always been a successful spot for us. And I’m fortunate for that because as a kid I dreamed of going there and winning Late Model races, and then you’re coming back and winning Cup races. So it’s fun to be able to live out a lot of those childhood dreams, and I also remember that while I’ve been successful at Phoenix, it really didn’t start that way. I crashed a lot of cars and Trucks there leading up to finally being successful at that particular racetrack. I think I wrecked in ’94 and ’95, in ’96 we didn’t race, ’97 we did OK, ’98 was OK, and we always just kind of did OK with everything that we had.”
Phoenix is the site of your first Truck Series win, the first win for your race team, Kevin Harvick Incorporated (KHI), and your first win of any kind at Phoenix. Talk about that.
“In 2002, we decided to take our Truck out there and were able to get our first win in the Truck Series, for KHI and really, for me. That was really the first win that I had at Phoenix in anything. It took a number of years to get over the hump, but a great moment for not only myself, but for DeLana too. Her dad was there and we built that Truck together. We only had one Truck. We didn’t have much at that particular point with the Truck Series team, so we were just having fun. I hadn’t won a Truck Series race yet, and going out to Phoenix and winning my first Truck race was pretty cool, not only for my first win, but for the company’s first win, as well.”
Coming into this year’s race at Phoenix, you have 40 NASCAR Cup Series starts at the track and a record nine wins, with the last one coming in March 2018. You’ve been successful in its old configuration and, when the track was repaved and the start-finish line was moved to the dogleg, you’ve never finished outside the top-10. How different is the new layout compared to the old layout and what have you done to adapt?
“When they moved the start-finish line, there was nothing really different, other than the restart. The restarts have become much more exciting because of the fact that you can use the apron and everything that happens going into what is now turn one. So, the restarts are the biggest difference since they moved the start-finish line. This configuration of racetrack is much different than what we had in the late ’90s, early 2000s.”
Restarts in the NASCAR Cup Series are chaotic, but perhaps nowhere more so than at Phoenix as drivers use all of the infield portion of the dogleg to advance their position. How dicey are restarts at Phoenix, and when does it make sense to dive bomb the dogleg and when do you need to take the traditional line around the track?
“You just have to be aware of where you are on the racetrack, and it depends on which guy you are. If you’re the guy on old tires, new tires, inside, outside, you kind of have to have a plan before you get to the corner as far as what you want to accomplish. If you accomplish it, that’s fine, but if you don’t, then you immediately have to go into damage control, where you go on defense to try and be used up as little as possible. You can easily wind up in a bad spot in the middle, four-wide, because it funnels down pretty quickly off of turn two. There’s a wall that you come up on to the straightaway, and then everybody’s funneling from four-wide to at least three-wide. There are a lot of different angles of attack that happen, so you just have to be aware of your situation.”
Nineteen straight top-10 finishes at Phoenix. How have you been able to be so dominant?
“We’ve probably dominated Phoenix because we spent so much time there learning and tearing stuff up and doing the things you’re not supposed to do at the racetrack. But flat tracks, in general, have always been pretty good for us, just because of the fact that I grew up on so many flat tracks. I’ve spent a lot of time at Phoenix. I know the configuration has changed over the years, but it’s a big part of why the flat-track results have been so good throughout the years because it’s a racetrack that I spent a lot of time on growing up in the early part of my career. It’s a racetrack that we put a lot of emphasis on throughout the years because of the fact that we felt like some of our best racetracks were the flat tracks, and Phoenix was one of those. And for me, it was always kind of a sense of pride to go there and run well because I know I have a lot of fans and friends that come to that racetrack. It’s always fun to tell war stories about Phoenix and the things that you did wrong after you’ve won a race in modern time.”
One of those fans who would come to Phoenix to watch you race was your grandfather. Talk about that.
“My grandpa and my uncle would always go to Phoenix every year to watch the Cup race. When I started racing there, I guess 1994 was the first time, my grandpa would go there three weeks early, and he’d drive his motorhome there and he’d park it right in the same spot. He’d be in the very corner next to the chain-link fence on the exit of what would’ve been turn two at that particular time before they flopped the racetrack. You used to come over the racetrack – there was no tunnel or anything to drive through – so you had to sit out there while they were waiting for practice to end or they cleared everybody to open the garage. I drove the truck and trailer, and every time I’d get there, my grandpa would be smoking a cigarette, leaning against the chain-link fence, waiting for me drive in and race. I knew if I didn’t go over and talk to my grandpa, he’d yell obnoxiously loud until I came over there, and he knew exactly when I was going to get there, when I was going to drive by, what time the garage opened, whatever it was, you were not escaping Grandpa. While he was alive, he was always the first one there and the first one you’d see every time you drove in.”
Going back to your first win at Phoenix in your own Truck in November 2002 – that was kind of a launching pad for your race team and the drivers you put in your Trucks and, eventually, your Xfinity Series cars. Looking back, do you see the impact you made as a NASCAR team owner in giving drivers and crew members opportunities they might not have had otherwise?
“I don’t know that you fully understand the impact of something until you hear people talk about it, and you always hear people talking about the atmosphere at KHI and the things that we were able to do at KHI. The two people that I talked to a lot about the impact are probably Rick Carelli and Ron Hornaday, and Hornaday specifically because I spend a fair amount of time with the Hornaday family now because of Keelan’s racing. All the life experiences I was able to have with Ron and with Rick, and being able to give back to them when they gave a lot to me in my career, and have that come full circle, and be able to see them be successful – on the racetrack with Ron, and Rick successful with helping us lead the company – are important. As I look back at KHI, there are a lot of things we learned along the way that taught us a lot of lessons. Just look at our sponsorship and people skills and life skills now, and I think KHI is what really led to the transition of trying to be looked at as somebody who’s doing good, not somebody who’s a nuisance. I think in the beginning of my career, you’re looked at as a nuisance and just a pain in the ass of everything that you did because it was always chaos. It was a show, but when you’re not relevant from a performance side, you’ve got to keep yourself relevant. And it was all about the show in trying to create those moments that were just off-the-wall exciting, fights, whatever it took to keep yourself relevant. But KHI was really the turning point of understanding it from a sponsorship side of it to really say, ‘OK, I can’t get a sponsor if I’m jumping over cars. I can’t get a sponsor if I’m saying things that I shouldn’t say on TV. So how do I do all this, but mold it into still being able to have that edge, still being able to be competitive, and still able to run a business and have race teams and it still be acceptable?’ So that evolution of a person and maturity comes naturally, and I think that KHI really started to tie the pieces together from the business side and the competitor side to be able to do the things that we did with all the people that we put in there. It made you understand how the sport worked.”