Phoenix favorite Harvick chasing 3rd straight win

ASSOCIATED PRESS Kevin Harvick makes a pit stop during a NASCAR Cup Series race last Sunday in Las Vegas. Harvick, the favorite in Phoenix, is chasing his third straight NASCAR win.

AVONDALE, Ariz. — Kevin Harvick left everyone else behind the last two weeks in Atlanta and Las Vegas. He figures to be even harder to beat today at ISM Raceway, the mile oval in the foothills outside Phoenix where he has a record eight victories.

Trying to become the first driver to win three straight NASCAR Cup races since Joey Logano in 2015, Harvick topped the speed charts for both practice sessions Saturday. Fittingly, the 2014 season champion’s No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford has a Jimmy John’s “Freaky Fast!” paint scheme.

“When things are going good, you need to hammer it home,” Harvick said. “Let’s just keep pushing things forward and try not to stumble along the way and screw up what’s going on. To me, it feels a lot like 2014, except now you’ve got a team with five years of experience, and that’s pretty scary.”

Yes, it is.

“In Atlanta, we kind of chalked it up to Kevin being probably the best driver at Atlanta and we just thought it was Atlanta and he is typically fast there,” said Logano, the 2016 Phoenix fall winner. “Vegas was one of those things where we all thought, ‘Wow, maybe it wasn’t just Atlanta.’ Phoenix has always been a good track for him as well. It takes a few weeks to realize where you stand. I think we are in good shape so far, but I do think that he is a solid step in front of everybody right now.”

Harvick’s victory Sunday in Las Vegas was marred by penalties in part fueled by social media photos of his buckled rear windshield. NASCAR said inspectors at its research and development center in North Carolina found the Ford violated a rule requiring rear window support braces holding the glass rigid and another requiring the right rocker panel extension to be aluminum.

On Wednesday, Harvick was penalized the seven playoff points he earned for winning the race and the first two stages. He was docked 20 regular points and the team lost 20 owners’ points. Crew chief Rodney Childers was fined $50,000, and car chief Robert Smith suspended two races.

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