Honoring Kevin Harvick, 'King of Phoenix,' in NASCAR farewell tour
Billy the Kid. Wyatt Earp. John Wayne. Every generation has its Western icon. For all intents and purposes, Kevin Harvick has cemented himself among the greats, checking off all of the above during his reign as the “King of Phoenix.”
As NASCAR celebrates its 75th anniversary, we’d be remiss not to acknowledge the greatest driver to ever compete at Phoenix Raceway, while synonymously honoring the impact he’s had in Arizona as he prepares to call it a career and ride off into the sunset at the conclusion of 2023.
There was a point in time where you’d head out to the track in Avondale or tune in at home, and it wasn’t just an assumption, but a fact, that Harvick was going to dominate and win at Phoenix. Plain and simple.
From November 2013 to March 2015, “Happy” ruthlessly won four consecutive races in the desert. Although rain is often a saving grace in the desert, it forced Harvick to settle for a runner-up outing, breaking his torrential streak. The following event, he ended up back in victory lane, giving him five wins in six races over nearly a three-year span.
Harvick owns just about every all-time record at Phoenix with nine wins, 29 top-10s (72.5% rate), 1,663 laps led and an 8.7 average finish. While these stats would be legendary by themselves, what makes them even more absurd is he was able to sustain this dominance through 40 starts, which is essentially unheard of.
“We’ve probably dominated Phoenix because we spent so much time there learning and tearing stuff up and doing the things you’re not supposed to do at the racetrack,” Harvick said. “It’s a racetrack that we put a lot of emphasis on throughout the years because of the fact that we felt like some of our best race tracks were the flat tracks and Phoenix was one of those.
“And for me, it was always kind of a sense of pride to go there and run well because I know I have a lot of fans and friends and people that come to that racetrack. It’s always fun to tell war stories about Phoenix and the things that you did wrong after you’ve won a race in modern times.”
While Harvick will be immortalized by his nine current NASCAR Cup Series victories at Phoenix — most notably his sixth win, which propelled him into the Championship 4 and the 2014 title — he argues his most memorable moment came in 2002. That's when he won his first race at the one-mile track in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driving for his team, Kevin Harvick Incorporated.
Although he hasn’t won a Cup race in Arizona since 2018, Harvick has stood the test of time at Phoenix through team changes, repaves, reconfigurations, news crew chiefs — you name it.
In total, Harvick has 14 national series wins in the Valley of the Sun and he’ll look to add to his tyrannical stats in the United Rentals 500 on Sunday, where he’s seeking an unprecedented 20-straight top-10s at Phoenix going back to 2013.
“It feels somewhat arrogant and cocky to look at your own stats, especially when they’re good,” Harvick said. “I’m never going to tell you that I’m impressed with any of my stats, because I feel like they could be better. I never sit down long enough to let myself get engulfed in comparing stats to other people, because it makes me feel weird.”
Kyle Busch returns to Xfinity Series
While there’s no denying Harvick’s status as the King of Phoenix, there’s only one other driver with more wins than him at the diamond in the desert: Kyle Busch.
With only three wins at the premier level at Phoenix, it’s easy to see why “Rowdy” gets overlooked by his veteran counterpart. However, there was also a time where Busch was also quite literally unstoppable at the one-mile track, albeit in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
Sitting at 16 total wins across all three national series, 11 of those have come in Xfinity, where Busch would torment drivers in the developmental series for nearly two decades.
At Phoenix, Busch wound up with 20 top-10s, 2234 laps led and an astonishing 5.6 average finish through 24 starts on top of the 11 wins. This would end up being his final statline in desert, after the two-time Cup champion vowed to retire from Xfinity action following his 102nd victory in 2021 — or so we thought.
After settling on Richard Childress Racing as his new home in the Cup Series, the opportunity arose for Busch to make a return to Xfinity when he expressed interest in helping his second-choice team, Kaulig Racing, in any way possible.
“It was a little disappointing for them that I wasn’t going to drive their Sunday car, but I told them I’d be happy to drive their Saturday car if they’d have me,” Busch said.
As a result, Busch was tapped to pilot the No. 10 Chevy Camaro SS for five races in 2023, including this Saturday in the United Rentals 200.
“The biggest thing for me was getting the opportunity of working with Matt Kaulig and his group and being a part of what he does both on and off the race track,” Busch said. “He’s a really smart business guy, has a lot of great companies and does a lot of things away from the track that he loves and supports NASCAR with.”
While all eyes will be on Busch as he attempts to score an astounding 12th win at Phoenix in the Xfinity Series, his unselfish logic for competing in this race may come as a surprise.
“I could really help hone in on what issues the Kaulig cars have been fighting (at Phoenix) the last couple of years when it comes down to the end of the races,” Busch said. “If I can help them improve on their package and make them better, and if they’re drivers can do a good job through the season and get them in contention, then they’ll have a better shot at winning the championship.”
NASCAR at Phoenix Raceway
6 a.m.: Parking lot opens
8 a.m.: Gates open
10:35 a.m.: NASCAR Xfinity Series practice
11:05 a.m.: NASCAR Xfinity Series qualifying
12:05 p.m.: NCS qualifying
2:30 p.m.: NXS race: United Rentals 200 (FS1)
6 a.m.: Parking lot opens
8 a.m.: Gates open
12:30 p.m.: NCS race: United Rentals Work United 500 (Fox)
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Honoring Kevin Harvick, 'King of Phoenix,' in NASCAR farewell tour