Everybody's trying to catch Harvick

Staff Report - NASCAR Wire Service Friday, Mar 20 1297
Most of the week, the major debate in the sports world has been, "Can anyone beat Kentucky in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament?"
A parallel question has been raised in NASCAR.

"Can anyone stop Kevin Harvick?"

Harvick will attempt to sweep NASCAR's three-race West Coast swing by winning Sunday's Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX).

Also on the line is Harvick's string of seven consecutive top-two finishes -- the longest such streak since NASCAR's all-time wins leader Richard Petty reeled off 11 straight top twos in 1975.

The No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing driver's freaky fast run dates to his runner-up performance at Texas Motor Speedway on Nov. 2, 2014, 137 days ago.

"When you said the Richard Petty part, that gives me the chills," Harvick said when a NASCAR official mentioned the historical significance of his streak.

Early-season results indicate the driver with the best chance to knock off Harvick is Joey Logano. The Daytona 500 champion is the only competitor that has been able to consistently run up front with Harvick in the first four races.

Logano has posted one victory, a Coors Light Pole Award and 197 laps led. In comparison, Harvick has accumulated two wins, one pole and 482 laps led.

"He's human like everyone else so, I mean he's beatable, believe me," Logano said before last week's race at Phoenix International Raceway.
Harvick proceeded to dominate the competition at the Arizona track, leading 224 of 312 laps (71.8 percent) and posting a perfect 150.0 driver rating on his way to Victory Lane.

Jimmie Johnson, the six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, is the only race winner other than Logano or Harvick this season.

Johnson holds an Auto Club-record five victories, and with a big-time performance this weekend, can assert himself as Harvick's greatest competition or even the championship favorite.

Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon has brought fast cars to the race track this season, as evidenced by his two starts from the pole.

But he has had some tough-luck finishes, wrecking in the first three races.

Gordon produced his first top-10 showing at Phoenix (ninth) and might be poised to repeat his production from last season, when he won four races and posted more top 10s than any driver in the series.

"We started off well in 2014 with top-10 finishes in each event leading into California, but it wasn't until that event that I knew we had a car and team that could really be a threat week in and week out in 2014," Gordon said.

"This year is much different with our results, but we have had the speed and I think we can have another strong showing at Fontana and continue to move up higher in the standings."

Other threats to Harvick at Auto Club include Brad Keselowski and Kyle Larson.

Keselowski, the 2012 champion, travels to the two-mile oval coming off three straight top-10 finishes. He is hunting for his first win of 2015 after leading the NSCS with six victories last year.

Regarded as one of the top young talents in NASCAR, Larson placed second at Auto Club last season. He has had a solid West Coast swing,
with finishes of eighth at Las Vegas and 10th at Phoenix.

Harvick's crew chief Rodney Childers voiced concern about every driver on the circuit knocking off the No. 4 team.

"I had someone ask me last night, 'Who are you worried about?'" Childers said. "Well, I'm worried about everybody. That's the way you got to be.

"You got to keep working on your stuff and keep making it better. If you don't, you're going to get beat."