Good Sam 500K Preview: Harvick's House

Good Sam 500K Preview: Harvick's House

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

After consecutive weeks of racing on cookie cutter ovals, we turn to a track of a completely different configuration. This oval is anything but a "cookie cutter." This week NASCAR's top racing series stops at one of the more unique tracks on the circuit, Phoenix International Raceway. The track at Avondale, Arizona is an irregular "D" shaped oval with very flat banking in the corners of nine to 11 degrees. The straights are completely flat, and very fast as they carry off into the sweeping corners. This oval is completely different than Daytona, Atlanta and Las Vegas. Phoenix boasts the high speeds that borders on intermediate ovals with the close confines of short track racing as well. As we saw in last season's event, Kevin Harvick has turned this venue into his "house" and he's completely dominated the field the last few seasons at this oval. Coming off a couple near-misses at victory lane it would seem that the driver of the No. 4 Chevrolet will be hungry to continue his dominance at the track also known as the Desert Jewel.

Since we are making our first stop of the season in the Arizona desert this week, we can only really look back on past statistics for Phoenix International Raceway. This style of racing is a big departure from the intermediate ovals and Daytona that we've spent the first three weeks of the season competing on. At this point we're tracking trends, but the change of racing style this week

After consecutive weeks of racing on cookie cutter ovals, we turn to a track of a completely different configuration. This oval is anything but a "cookie cutter." This week NASCAR's top racing series stops at one of the more unique tracks on the circuit, Phoenix International Raceway. The track at Avondale, Arizona is an irregular "D" shaped oval with very flat banking in the corners of nine to 11 degrees. The straights are completely flat, and very fast as they carry off into the sweeping corners. This oval is completely different than Daytona, Atlanta and Las Vegas. Phoenix boasts the high speeds that borders on intermediate ovals with the close confines of short track racing as well. As we saw in last season's event, Kevin Harvick has turned this venue into his "house" and he's completely dominated the field the last few seasons at this oval. Coming off a couple near-misses at victory lane it would seem that the driver of the No. 4 Chevrolet will be hungry to continue his dominance at the track also known as the Desert Jewel.

Since we are making our first stop of the season in the Arizona desert this week, we can only really look back on past statistics for Phoenix International Raceway. This style of racing is a big departure from the intermediate ovals and Daytona that we've spent the first three weeks of the season competing on. At this point we're tracking trends, but the change of racing style this week demands that we visit the historical numbers with some emphasis. The recent loop statistics at PIR will be the most important data we will examine this week. The historical trends at the Phoenix oval are as important as anywhere in the Sprint Cup Series schedule. The loop stats in the table below cover the last 11 years or 22 races at Phoenix International Raceway.

DRIVERAVG FINISHQUALITY PASSESFASTEST LAPSLAPS LEDLAPS IN TOP 15RATING
Jimmie Johnson7.75746328925,810112.6
Kevin Harvick9.34886811,3455,489109.9
Carl Edwards11.15063913874,83399.2
Kurt Busch13.55143525214,96298.4
Kyle Busch13.86022705105,23297.3
Denny Hamlin11.44462494414,49495.1
Brad Keselowski13.53412261192,70893.8
Joey Logano13.72931191562,78089.9
Ryan Newman16.260396994,60388.6
Kyle Larson16.0912078988.3
Greg Biffle14.94362883893,52888.1
Matt Kenseth16.34921791534,18988.0
Dale Earnhardt Jr.17.03662122253,49387.4
Martin Truex Jr.17.04241661013,81785.0
Kasey Kahne18.3406171553,39580.3
Clint Bowyer18.636993223,11479.0
A.J. Allmendinger17.224342171,87377.9
Jamie McMurray19.1309110312,57577.0
Aric Almirola17.714614098374.1
Paul Menard21.12222301,71668.5

With Harvick's victory here one year ago, the veteran driver has now won seven-career races at PIR, and four of the last five. Harvick's victory in last spring's CampingWorld.com 500 was nothing short of awesome. The Stewart Haas Racing star took control early in the race and led a whopping 224 laps to put the exclamation point on his win. If Chevrolet hopes to keep control at Phoenix International Raceway, their hopes will largely ride with the No. 4 Chevrolet and Harvick. Jimmie Johnson will also carry that baton for Chevrolet. The Hendrick Motorsports star has four-career wins at the one-mile oval, but the last of those came in 2009. In all this talk about Chevy let's not forget about Ford. The Penske Racing duo of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano will be forces to be reckoned with this weekend. Neither of the two has yet to visit victory lane at PIR, but Keselowski has been very close with two Top 5s and four Top 10s in his last four trips. Coming of the big Las Vegas win, might propel Keselowski to victory lane for the first time at PIR. Logano has led over 120 laps in his last five starts at the Phoenix oval alone. No wins, but he's come away with five Top-10 finishes. For Penske, this weekend's race is a matter of unfinished business in the desert. The Joe Gibbs Racing camp should be well represented in this race as well. Denny Hamlin was the last Toyota driver to win at Phoenix International Raceway. That victory came in 2012. He will be joined by the duo of Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth who've enjoyed periods of success at PIR. The two JGR stars have combined for three-career victories at the Desert Jewel. We'll highlight the teams mentioned above, and some others who will be vying for the win at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday afternoon.

The Contenders - Drivers in the hunt for the win

Kevin Harvick -
Phoenix International Raceway is one of Harvick's top statistical ovals. He's a seven-time winner at the facility, including four of the last five events at PIR. He leads all drivers in the series in laps led at this oval during the last 11 seasons, so clearly Harvick possesses a gift at this one-mile short track. The veteran driver's No. 4 team at Stewart Haas Racing has gotten off to a good start this season and is coming off a Top-10 finish at the Las Vegas oval last week, so this is a timely visit to PIR. In the Sprint Cup Series' last visit to the Arizona desert, Harvick started eighth, led a whopping 143 laps and finished runner-up to Dale Earnhardt Jr. He'll be looking to start a new string of victories this Sunday afternoon.

Joey Logano -
The driver of the No. 22 Ford has maintained a strong resume at the one-mile Arizona oval since moving from Gibbs to Penske. Logano rides a string of five-straight Top-10 finishes, including last fall's Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 where he finished third behind Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick. Logano has led over 150 laps in his current five-race Top-10 streak at the desert short track. We expect the improvement to continue for this driver at PIR into this season. Logano didn't get quite the finish he deserved at Las Vegas last weekend, so we should see a real motivated Penske Racing bunch when we travel to Phoenix this weekend.

Jimmie Johnson -
The Hendrick Motorsports star has incredible stats at the Phoenix oval. Johnson is a four-time winner at PIR and that is second only to Kevin Harvick among the Sprint Cup Series. He won the pole position here last November and led 44 laps before eventually finishing fifth that afternoon. So the No. 48 team is looking to complete some unfinished business this Sunday afternoon. Johnson's miniscule 7.7-career average finish at Phoenix International Raceway shows the excellence and consistency that the Hendrick Motorsports star shows each time we visit this flat oval. If Johnson isn't pulling into victory lane this Sunday afternoon, he won't be far from it.

Brad Keselowski -
The Las Vegas victor comes to Phoenix to continue the pursuit of a second championship in 2016. The Penske Racing star will be making his 14th start at this flat Arizona oval this weekend. While his career numbers are lacking a win, Keselowski's recent stats at this oval are starting to trend way up. That leads us to be very optimistic that the driver of the No. 2 Ford likes the newer configuration of this track. Keselowski has led laps in seven of his last eight starts at PIR. Over that span he's claimed four Top 5s and seven Top 10s. The veteran driver had sixth- and ninth-place finishes at this facility in 2015.

Solid Plays - Drivers who are near locks for the Top 10 with an outside shot at winning

Dale Earnhardt Jr. -
With five Top 10s in his last six visits to PIR, including last season's victory, the Hendrick Motorsports star has been racing at a very high level at this one-mile oval. After winning two victories at Phoenix International Raceway earlier in his career, Earnhardt suffered a mid-career malaise at the oval from about 2007 to 2012. Recently, the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet began to reverse those trends. His victory in last November's Quicken Loans Race for the Heroes was a great reward and end to a long dry spell. Earnhardt has bounced back from his Daytona crash to post Top-10 finishes the last two weeks. We don't see that ending this weekend in Phoenix.

Kurt Busch -
Busch has been one of the fastest drivers in the series the last two weeks. He captured pole positions at both Atlanta and Las Vegas and now he'll see if that speed translates to the irregular oval outside of Phoenix. The Stewart Haas Racing star is a one-time winner at PIR, and he cracks the Top 10 at a strong 58-percent rate. That percentage has actually been elevated the past few seasons as Busch has been visiting the Top 10 here at a 71-percent rate since the 2012 season. The driver of the No. 41 Chevrolet collected fifth- and seventh-place finishes at PIR last season. This is a hot driver visiting one of his better ovals this weekend. Busch is a rock-solid fantasy start for the Good Sam 500k.

Kyle Busch -
The Joe Gibbs Racing star is on fire coming to Phoenix. Busch has been in the running for the win in each of the first three races of the season. Riding three-consecutive Top-5 finishes to kick off the season, he comes to PIR atop the championship standings in impressive style. While Busch has only one-career victory at this oval, it by no means diminishes his value here. With 13-career Top-10 finishes in 21 starts, he checks in at a dazzling 62-percent rate. Busch's last start at this oval was just a few months ago in November of last year. He turned in a fifth-place finish that day at PIR. He should be equal or better than that mark in this 312-lap battle.

Carl Edwards -
This veteran driver has always enjoyed competing at the Phoenix oval. He is a two-time winner at the Arizona short track. Edwards very nearly swept Phoenix International Raceway three seasons ago. After winning this event in 2013 the driver of the No. 19 Toyota returned in the fall and had things well in hand in the closing laps before his gas tank ran dry and foiled his hopes for the win. Edwards' 387-career laps led and 12.3 average finish at PIR are stats among the best in the Sprint Cup Series at this oval. There's just something about this track that Edwards likes tremendously. No matter how well he's racing entering Phoenix weekend, he's always on his "A" game here.

Sleepers - Drivers with good history at Phoenix who can provide a solid finish

Denny Hamlin -
Hamlin has been one of the best short track drivers in the series the last few seasons. The driver of the No. 11 Toyota has one victory at Phoenix, which came in this race four years ago. Hamlin cracks the Top 5 in better than 43-percent of his starts at PIR. The Joe Gibbs Racing star has led well over 400 laps for his career at Phoenix, and he's usually no worse than a Top-10 finisher. Hamlin has not had the best start to the season, so he'll be happy to see a short track this weekend. He comes to Phoenix International Raceway looking to rebound and build some momentum as we head into the short track portion of the spring schedule. He should crack the Top 10 in Sunday's Good Sam 500k.

Martin Truex Jr. -
Truex has carried his hot 2015 season right into the new campaign. His strong Speedweeks at Daytona was no fluke as he proved with finishes of seventh- and 11th-place at Atlanta and Las Vegas respectively. Now he comes to a non-cookie cutter oval and hopes to continue setting them up and knocking them down. Truex has seven-career Top 10s in 20 starts at PIR, and most of those came earlier in his career. The Furniture Row Racing driver does have seventh- and 14th-place finishes in his last two trips to the Arizona desert, so expectations are very high for the Campingworld.com 500. The driver of the No. 78 Toyota has proven to be very flexible over the last couple seasons, and he should display that again in this 312-lap battle.

Austin Dillon -
The surprise driver of 2016 so far is Dillon and his No. 3 RCR team. The young talent has dashed out of the gates this season with ninth-, 11th- and fifth-place finishes in the first three races. He's totally breaking out of historical performance trends and redefining his potential at the ovals of the early schedule. PIR has been a track of struggles for Dillon in his first two seasons of racing. He has only one Top-15 finish at Phoenix in four starts and a lowly 24.2 average finish. Dillon can most certainly race the short tracks, as he proved growing up on dirt ovals. If the No. 3 team can continue to give him good cars, the good finishes will keep coming. Dillon should challenge the Top 10 at the Desert Jewel.

Ryan Newman -
The sneaky-good fantasy racing play for the Good Sam 500k is Newman. What most people may not realize is that the veteran driver's career numbers are a bit shaky at the one-mile oval, but recent seasons have been nothing short of outstanding for the driver of the No. 31Chevrolet. Newman has a victory, a runner-up finish and six Top 5s in his last 12 races at Phoenix International Raceway. He has rather quietly amassed these numbers in the last six seasons. With finishes of third- and 11th-place at this oval last season, Newman could really be seen as more of a solid play than a sleeper this week. A Top-10 finish is nearly a lock.

Jamie McMurray -
The driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet struggled for years at the flat oval outside of Phoenix, but McMurray has come on strong later in his career and begun posting good finishes at this facility. He failed to crack the Top 10 in his first 10 visits to PIR, but has rallied to crack the Top 10 three times in his last 11 visits. When McMurray isn't finishing in the Top 10, he's not far outside it. He's generally coming home in the middle-teens to 20th since the 2013 season. In this event one year ago, the veteran driver posted the best Phoenix performance of his career. McMurray qualified third and finished runner-up in the CampingWorld.com 500. While that's a bit much to expect this time around, the notes from that outing should be fresh and applicable to this weekend.

Chase Elliott -
The first three races of Elliott's rookie season have been an up-and-down affair. While he has two crashes in his first three races, the young driver has had great cars and has been racing among the Top 10. Last week's mishap wasn't really his mistake, but someone else's that deprived him of a well-deserved Top 10 at Las Vegas. Take solace in the fact that the No. 24 team put great cars under former driver Jeff Gordon at Phoenix. Gordon finished his career with four-consecutive Top 10s at PIR. Elliott himself has good Xfinity Series numbers at the Arizona short track. All four of his career starts at Phoenix in that racing series netted Top-10 finishes and an average of 7.0. The talented rookie will rebound this Sunday.

Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week

Clint Bowyer -
Bowyer was once a pretty steady performer at the Desert Jewel, but those were the days when he was racing for Richard Childress. Since moving to Toyota his numbers suffered at Phoenix International Raceway. Bowyer only cracked the Top 10 once in eight tries while with Michael Waltrip Racing. It's no secret that he's off to a rough start in 2016. The chemistry within the No. 15 team at HScott Motorsports right now is a mess. Bowyer has had difficulty finishing on the lead lap until just this past week at Las Vegas. This veteran driver certainly has better tracks in his Sprint Cup resume, and right now his new team and he are not on the same page.

Danica Patrick -
PIR ranks in this driver's bottom five tracks on the circuit. Patrick has seven-career starts at this oval with two Top-20 and three finishes outside the Top-30. One of those starts resulted in a 26th-place finish in this race one year ago. The average line resides around 27.0 for an average finish. Patrick is not likely excited about this trip to Phoenix International Raceway. The biggest part of her problem has been qualifying here. With most of her starts here outside of 30th-place on the starting grid, Patrick is in the hole before the green flag even waves. The chances of a reversal this weekend are not very likely.

Kyle Larson -
The young Chip Ganassi Racing driver is off to a tough start this season. Larson had a Top-10 finish in the Daytona 500, but he's struggled in the two starts since. With finishes of 26th- and 34th-place at Atlanta and Las Vegas he's been far from the lead lap at the end of these events. Larson has four-career starts at PIR with one Top-10 finish and two outside the Top 20. It factors into a respectable 16.0 average finish for the small sample size. However, current trends are that the No. 42 team are struggling with qualifying and keeping the car fast in race trim over the course of an event. Those are not problems to be taken likely at the one-mile Phoenix oval.

Trevor Bayne -
Coming off a respectable 17th-place finish at Las Vegas, Bayne rides into Arizona 20th in the overall driver standings. That's not actually that bad for where he's been at this point historically. Still, his 22.3 average finish over the first three races of the season still point to the problems lingering in the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing team. Bayne has three-career starts at Phoenix International Raceway with 40th-, 28th- and 34th-place finishes. He's still getting acquainted to this oval, as it was not one he competed on in the five seasons that he raced part-time with Wood Brothers Racing. The chances for an improvement on his 34.0 average finish at Phoenix seem very slim this weekend.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
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