Everybody chasing Kevin Harvick at Phoenix
AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) Kevin Harvick's dominance amazes Carl Edwards. Jimmie Johnson shrugs while making Harvick the favorite on Sunday.
When NASCAR comes to Phoenix International Raceway, all drivers chase Harvick, who has won a record seven Sprint Cup races in the desert.
''I think really at this time in the sport for anyone to be that dominant at a track it really must have something special,'' Edwards said. ''Yeah, I think the whole field is chasing those guys and chasing Kevin and that 4 car at this track.''
There might be some hope for the field heading into Sunday's 312-mile race. Kyle Busch, who will be on the pole, noticed Harvick's Chevrolet ''was a little off'' on Friday when he qualified 18th.
But there was Harvick on Saturday morning with the second-fastest car in practice on the mile oval behind Kurt Busch.
Harvick followed that by posting the fastest speed in the final practice session at midday, with track conditions most resembling those of Sunday afternoon's race.
''It's hard to pick a favorite, but I guess if I'm forced to, the No. 4 car is the one that we'll all be paying close attention to,'' Johnson said.
It's true that when Harvick makes his 500th consecutive Cup start, he won't be the defending champion at Phoenix for the first time since November 2013. His four-race win streak was snapped last fall when Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the rain-shortened race.
Harvick still led the most laps and finished second.
''For me personally, this is a fun place to come just for the fact that I started racing here in the mid-'90s,'' Harvick said. ''You still see some of the same fans and people that followed your career up through the ranks.''
The Bakersfield, California, native went from minor league races at Phoenix to dominating this track after it was repaved in 2011.
Now Harvick, who has finished fourth, sixth and seventh in the first three races of the season, is looking to lock up a spot in the season-ending Chase for the Sprint Cup with a track-record eighth win.
''We grew up on a lot of these flat style-type tracks, short tracks, up and down the West Coast,'' Harvick said. ''For whatever reason, all the flat tracks have just kind of still fit my driving style throughout the years, whether it be here or Loudon.
''But obviously this place, we have had a lot more success than some of the others.''
Here are some other things to watch on the second leg of NASCAR's three-race Southwest swing:
STEERING WHEEL: Expect Johnson to be extra careful locking in his steering wheel after it came off in his hands in qualifying Friday, leading to a scary wreck.
''I was sitting there with no steering and no steering wheel and staring at the blue wall,'' Johnson said. ''I was along for the ride at that point.''
Johnson, who took the blame for the incident, was forced to a backup car and will start at the rear of the field. He was 13th fastest in the final practice.
JGR UP FRONT: Joe Gibbs Racing took the top three spots in qualifying, with Edwards joining Kyle Busch on the front row and Denny Hamlin starting third.
NEW RULES: It will be the first test for NASCAR's new downforce and aerodynamics package on a mile track. Goodyear has also brought new tires to Phoenix. Drivers indicated it has been slick in the fourth turn.
HARVICK'S TASK: Harvick will have to weave his way through the field from the 18th spot.
''I would not discount him being able to drive up from his starting position,'' Kyle Busch said. ''I don't think you can ever count out Harvick.''