Phoenix was only the fourth race of the season, but Kevin Harvick has already served noticed that his Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet is once again going to be a threat to make a trip to victory lane at every stop on the schedule.
Sunday’s win was Harvick’s second consecutive win of the young season and the 30th of his career. The win firmly planted him on top of the point standings as he has now built up a 22-point lead over second-place Joey Logano.
Harvick’s stellar run was not the only bright spot on the day for Stewart-Haas as teammate Kurt Busch returned from a three-race suspension to finish fifth. Busch was suspended indefinitely in the days leading up to the Daytona 500 as a result of domestic violence allegations made by a former girlfriend. The suit was filed in Delaware but when the State Attorney General declined to file charges against the driver, NASCAR lifted its suspension.
Busch won a race last season and made the Chase and even though he has only one start in the series this season, he is in the 33rd position in the points. The guidelines for making the Chase require that a driver start all points events to be Chase eligible unless the sanctioning body authorizes a wavier for a driver that has missed races. NASCAR has already ruled that Busch would be eligible to run for the Chase this season, but he must still win a race and finish in the top-30 or gain entrance solely on his position in the points.
Busch’s strong return along with Harvick’s early season dominance has made Stewart-Haas Racing the strongest organization in the sport at this time, but it raises some serious question about the horrible runs that teammate and part owner Tony Stewart has put together to begin the season. SHR also has a fourth team in Danica Patrick, but its past performances have never really raised the kind of expectations that are expected from the three other teams.
Stewart looked as if he was ready to break out of his early season slump as he was running 10th on Sunday when he and Justin Allgaier tangled, resulting in Stewart spinning out and hitting the wall. It took a couple of laps for his team to make the necessary repairs and get him back on the track in the 35th position. It wasn’t long after he returned to the track that he lost control of his Chevrolet again, sending it back into the wall. The damage resulted in a 39th-place finish for the three-time Sprint Cup Champion.
Stewart’s struggles actually began in 2013; he was only able to start 21 races that season due to a broken leg that he suffered while racing a Sprint car. Last season his struggles continued both on and off the track as he went winless and missed several races after being involved in an accident while racing in a Sprint car race that resulted in the death of another driver.
His last win was in June of 2013 at Dover and since that time his winless streak has climbed to 45 races and he has yet this season to become a real threat on race day to make it to victory lane. His best finish this season was a 30th at Las Vegas with his two other finishes being a 33rd at Atlanta and a 42nd place finish at Daytona after qualifying seventh.
The four finishes of 30th or worse has him in 36th in the point standings, making him the lowest driver in the points who have started all four races. That is three spots below teammate Busch who has only started one race and 10 spots below teammate Patrick in 23rd.
In this sport, all it can take is one good run for a driver to crawl out of slump and this week at Auto Club Speedway may be just the race that Stewart needs. He has posted two wins there and has six top-5’s in 21 career starts at the California track.
. Race Preview Auto Club 400 Track: Auto Club Speedway (2.0 mile D-shaped oval, 14o banking in the turns) Date: March 22, 3 p.m. TV: FOX Radio: MRN Defending Champion: Kyle Busch