At Phoenix International: Finally Harvick is the Man

Charlie TurnerSenior Writer INovember 7, 2008

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It’s not gonna be Jimmy Johnson this week. No-sir-ee, not this time - not at Phoenix International Raceway. This is Kevin Harvick’s week to shine in the light of the Chase to the Cup.

Harvick has one of only seven perferct Loop Driver Ratings - 150 pts - ever scored for a race and it was at PIR in the fall 2006 race. He, in fact,  won both 2006 runs at Phoenix and has a Driver Rating of 106.7 for the last seven races at the desert track.

Harvick has led 316 Loop Laps - second best -, has an Ave Running Position of 7.6 and has run 85.4 percent of his Loop Laps in the Top 15. Plus his Bakersfield, California home isn’t all that far away.

But he’ll have his hands full. Besides having to contend with  Johnson and Carl Edwards in the Cup race, Harvick is scheduled to compete in the Craftsman Truck Series and Nationwide Series events this weekend too.

Yeah, Jimmy Johnson is Good Again.

Now about that Johnson guy. Once again, Jimmy Johnson has the top Loop Data Driver Rating - 118.0 - and he’s run 94.8 percent of his Laps in the top 15, with an Ave Position of 5.5 and Ave Finish of 5.3. Oh, and he too, like Harvick, is a double winner at PIR and comes from nearby California. But I don’t care. Jimmy Johnson isn’t going to win this week. Harvick is.

Johnson’s going to be too busy keeping track of his closest championship pursuer, Edwards. Carl Edwards has never won a Cup race at Phoenix. Still, he sports the fourth best DR - 103.3. None of his Loop Box Score stats jump off the page at you. But if his crew chief  Bob Osborne can get him eight laps more per tank of gas than anyone else in the field, I’d say he has a chance.

Third best in the Loop is Jeff Gordon. Phoenix was one of only three tracks that Gordon had failed win at in Cup, until this race last year. Now, if you look at his stats, you wonder how it took so long. His Driver Rating is 104.0 and his Ave Finish is second best at 7.6 as are his 1899 Laps in the Top15. Gordon hasn’t won yet in 2008 and that might be the scariest stat of all.

And Then There’s the Field

Greg Biffle has led more laps than anyone in the last seven PIR races - 342 for 15.7 percent and he has the most Fastest Laps Run as well with 244. But the Biff has never won at Phoenix and the Chase has slipped from his reach now.

Tony Stewart is the only other driver with a Driver Rating above 100 - 101.6 to be exact - but Stewart isn’t driving the Toyota that I would fear this week. That fearsome Camry belongs to Kyle Busch. The Shrub has won in Phoenix and he is as due for a break as anyone in the field. Watch the 18.

Who else? Dale Earnhardt Jr could be a factor. The Hendrick Motorsports cars figure to be good and Junior’s DR is a respectable 89.1 and he won here in the past. Mark Martin has a DR of 96.1 and will drive his last race in Junior’s old no. 8 for DEI this week. Martin Truex Jr in another DEI ride has a 95.7 Driver Rating. Kurt Busch is a past PIR winner witha 95.4 DR, but I’m not feelin’ it for Kurt.

Nope, I’m sticking with Kevin Harvick to win and Kyle Busch as a semi-upset possibility.

Photo credit: Icon Sports Media, Inc.