Kevin Harvick dominated Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway and all but guaranteed himself a spot in the Chase in the process. NBC Sports helped spread the news of Harvick's win Sunday:
After taking the checkered, Harvick made this astute comment, courtesy of USA Today's Jeff Gluck:
Harvick's car was awesome.
In all, the Jimmy John's Chevrolet led 224 of the 312 laps. At times, his lead was over a second on the next closest driver.
On top of that, there were several restarts in the late stage of this race and Harvick was able to keep all challengers easily at bay.
This is a fantastic boost to Harvick's championship outlook. Phoenix was just the second race on the Sprint calendar, but thanks to NASCAR's new points system leaning heavily on wins, Harvick is virtually locked into the Chase already.
If you need to get caught up on the new system, NASCAR.com breaks everything down and explains the changes in its Jan. 30 press release. Essentially, as long as Harvick finishes in the top 30 in points when the Chase starts, he will be in.
Make no mistake about it, it is a luxury to have accomplished this so early in the season. Harvick will now have more freedom to experiment and tinker without being overly consumed by the potential for lost points.
Aside from that, it is dangerous to read too much into this showing for the No. 4.
Harvick loves Phoenix. This was his fifth career win at the venue, and he has now won—along with his win there last November—the last two Sprint Cup stops in Phoenix.
Budweiser Racing highlighted Harvick's career accomplishments at Phoenix:
On top of that, it had become clear that Harvick was set up to dominate. As Gluck points out via USA Today, two of Harvick's biggest challengers on Sunday, Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr., both knew after Saturday's practices that "Harvick's car was in another league."
Harvick's car is not likely to be this much better than everyone else's again this season. Although, there also aren't likely to be many races this season where the veteran is not a factor. He has proven to be one of NASCAR's most consistent drivers, and there is no reason to suggest that isn't going to continue.
This was just the second race for Harvick as a member of Stewart-Haas Racing.
It would appear that Harvick and his new team have been able to get on the same page. Now, he and his team have to be excited about their chances to take the championship.
Harvick has been close but is still seeking his first championship. In three of the last four seasons, he finished in the top four of the final standings.
The No. 4 team also will be buoyed by the fact that they will be returning to Phoenix later in the year. If Harvick can survive the eliminations of the new Chase format, he will have a race at Phoenix as the second-to-last event of the season.
With Harvick's consistent excellence over the years, there was little room for doubt that he'd once again be a factor for the championship. After Sunday's win at Phoenix, there is no room for doubt.