Saturday, March 1, 2014

Phoenix Practice Notes: Harvick a few notches better than everyone else

Rookie Larson looks good, but Harvick the class
LAS VEGAS – Kevin Harvick won in Phoenix last fall for his fourth career win on the one-mile flat track, but because of having new equipment with a new team, there was skepticism on how he might fare this week. Following Saturday’s final two practice sessions, Harvick and his new crew answered all those questions with an emphatic exclamation point. His No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet is the best car on the track and should be considered the favorite to win Sunday’s 'The Profit on CNBC' 500.

Harvick was fastest not only in single-lap times for both of Saturday’s sessions, but he was also fastest in five- and 10-consecutive lap averages. In an instant, he showed that his car has the look of being dominant Sunday. Between his natural skills on flatter tracks and now knowing he has a great car, he should be at least -160 over any other driver. He’s that good.

The next-best set of cars look to be the Penske Racing duo of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. They came off the hauler fast on Friday, and they followed that up with great practice sessions on Saturday, particularly with average lap speeds. They'll start on the front row. Keselowski’s crew chief, Paul Wolfe, won’t be on the box Sunday so he can be with wife for the birth of the couple’s first child, but the No. 2 car will be in good hands with Brian Wilson and Greg Erwin calling the shots from the pits.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been fast all weekend, and the two-time Phoenix winner is carrying tons of momentum with him from his Daytona 500 win. Ironically, the last time Junior won at Phoenix was in 2004, the same season he last won at Daytona. Without getting too much into the Junior storyline the media has been feeding off of the past week, the bottom line is that he is fast and has a great chance of winning – and it has nothing to do with last week's win.

The best low-risk/high-reward investments this week are Ganassi drivers Jamie McMurray and rookie Kyle Larson. If it wasn’t for not being able to trust Ganassi cars because of what we’ve seen the past three seasons, those two would be rated above Keselowski and Logano as the best candidates to win behind Harvick. Their single-lap and average speeds are hard too ignore. Larson was second fastest during Saturday's late session, and McMurray was second in the early session Saturday. Each of them were opened at 100-to-1 to win by the LVH Super Book in Las Vegas, but those odds won’t be anywhere close to that when adjusted. You could spend $5 in worse ways.

Phoenix's 2010 winner Ryan Newman is a nice candidate to run well Sunday, not only from a strong final practice, but also for the same reason there were doubts about Harvick. Richard Childress Racing set a car up for Harvick to win at two of the three similar type tracks (Phoenix, Richmond and New Hampshire) last season, and after seeing Newman run the third-fastest lap in happy hour, we know the car is fast. If thinking the chassis might be the same junk from Jeff Burton last year, ease your mind because it’s a brand new chassis.

I had high hopes for Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards coming into the race, but I didn’t see enough to think they’ll be strong contenders to win Sunday. Kasey Kahne also falls into that group. They’ll all finish well, but they don’t appear to have what the five top-rated drivers do, and that’s lots of speed in short and long distances. Jeff Gordon is a driver who fits that criteria and probably should have made the list, but he was narrowly edged by Edwards for the 10th spot.

Read More Here....Final Driver Ratings

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