Sunday March 15th, 2015

Three quick thoughts on Kevin Harvick’s blistering run through a hot and sticky 500:

1. You’d be forgiven to suspect FOX might’ve aired last fall’s race accidentally

That’s how eerily similar Harvick’s win on Sunday was to the one he posted in November on the way to winning the Sprint Cup. He started on the pole, led the most laps (224), pretty much crushed every restart, finished with a margin of over one second on runner-up Jamie McMurray (a season best finish for the Ganassi pilot) and scored a perfect driver rating (150.0) in the process. The victory not only further underscored Harvick’s dominance at Phoenix—where he has won a record seven times, including the last four—but also his overall edge over the field. That advantage will be most immediately evident in the new standings, which he now leads by 22 points after becoming the season’s first repeat race winner (and in consecutive weeks to boot). Yes, there is still a lot of season to go, making it too early to call the prospect of Harvick winning back-to-back titles inevitable. But, seriously, do you want to bet against him?

2. So, Kurt Busch is back…

NASCAR lifts Kurt Busch's indefinite suspension

And he acquitted himself well in his first race since the indefinite suspension he was slapped with at Daytona was lifted after three weeks, running second late in the race before falling to fifth. This is no surprise. Busch was quick in practice all weekend, an accomplishment in itself given that this event was his first time having to compete under NASCAR’s amended power and aerodynamic standards. How was he able to make up for lost time? Reportedly, by opting for a car setup that was similar to his teammate Harvick, whose dominance in the desert is second only to the sand. 

Another non-surprise is that Busch was granted a playoff waiver. This means that if Busch wins a race or finishes the season among the top 16 in points, a bar he’s failed to clear just twice in the past 13 seasons, he would qualify for the Chase. File that factoid away for six months from now, when a squeaky clean overachiever like Casey Mears or David Gilliland points races his way to the bubble and finds himself on the outside looking in.

3. Speaking of those overachievers, a number of them didn’t do too badly. 

Time was on Kurt Busch's side; new Earnhardt movie; more hot topics

Martin Truex Jr. (seventh) posted his fourth straight top 10 finish, AJ Allmendinger collected a second top-20 (17th), and Mears finished five spots higher this week (20th) than he did last week at Vegas. Respectively, these men are ranked third, fifth and 12th in the standings. They also drive for single-car teams. Normally, one of these small teams, at a significant spending disadvantage from powerhouse teams like Hendricks and Gibbs, would be immensely fortunate to make the Chase. (Allmendinger became last year’s lucky dog after a victory at Watkins Glen. Before that Truex’s operation, Furniture Row, made history as the first single-car team ever to make the playoffs.) But if these three drivers continue at their current pace, as big dog drivers and perennial playoff contenders like Carl Edwards (21st), Jeff Gordon (25th) and Tony Stewart (36th) struggle, the Chase could find itself revising an unwritten admissions rule: "one tiny team at a time."

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