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NASCAR Phoenix preview: All eyes on Kevin Harvick

Identifying the favorite to win Sunday is easy, as Kevin Harvick has won four of the past five Phoenix races. The challenge is coming up with a way to stop him from winning again.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The evidence is overwhelming. To the point it almost feels preposterous to think anyone but Kevin Harvick could win Sunday's NASCAR race barring something unforeseen like a parts failure or an accident.

But if the wheels stay on the No. 4 car, the motor stays running and a meteorite doesn't strike Phoenix International Raceway, it certainly seems like once again Harvick will storm to another victory at the one-mile oval.

"He has won four of the last five, so apparently he is the guy to beat," said second-place qualifier Joey Logano. "It seems he is pretty good here."

An obvious assessment when you consider Harvick has won three consecutive Phoenix races, including a sweep a year ago where he led 78 percent of all laps. Or that he's the all-time track wins leader with six. If that's not enough Harvick also sped to the pole in qualifying Friday, then was fastest in final practice Saturday.

And if more confirmation is needed to sway you, Harvick enters Phoenix coming off a win last weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and riding a streak of six consecutive finishes of second or better dating to last season.

So how does one prevent the seemingly inevitable from occurring Sunday? According to Harvick, it's not an unimaginable scenario.

"There are just so many circumstances that you can't control," Harvick said. There are so many things that can go wrong. There are so many mistakes that you can make."

Although he may downplay his air of invincibility, others readily acknowledged Harvick's dominance.

After capturing the pole position, Harvick was speaking with reporters when Logano inquisitively asked Harvick his Phoenix secret. Like a magician who knows better to reveal his tricks so not to lose his aura, Harvick declined. A fact not lost on Logano.

"I don't know if you noticed his answer, the only was he can get beat is him screwing up," Logano said. "Sounds like it will take a mistake or crash or strategy call."

The way Logano sees it, what makes Harvick so strong at Phoenix isn't just a superior car, as his recent run spans two different teams. In 2013, Harvick was with Richard Childress Racing when he took victory in the fall race, then was with Stewart-Haas Racing last season where he won the spring and fall events.

No, what separates Harvick from the pack is a combination of elements. Of which Logano is still trying to fully deduce.

"He knows something here," Logano said. "He just knows what he needs in the race car. Whether he is figuring that out in practice or it is a setup thing. I doubt it is a setup thing, though.

"I think it is something he looks for and a feel that he is able to maintain his tires throughout a long run. I think that is what we all strive for, to figure that part out."

The theory offered by Logano that Harvick's brilliance is because of the way he manages tires carries some validity. Long green flag runs are commonplace at Phoenix, with this race last year featuring a stint of 122 lap without a caution.

Without delving too much into his bag of Phoenix secrets, Harvick said another key is having a car that will turn towards the center of the corner, which allows him to produce consistent lap times.

"For me, any time I can have good reference points, it's easier to repeat what you're doing," Harvick said. "And that's really one of the things that we concentrate on is just trying to get our car to drive as good as possible so that you can be consistent and run the same lap times lap after lap."

It would seem then the only thing potentially derailing Harvick Sunday would be a miscue of some sort. But others have emerged as challengers, including Logano and Kurt Busch, a teammate of Harvick's. Both were fast throughout practice, each showing the necessary speed over long runs.

And if he needed a confidence booster, Logano trounced the field in Saturday's Xfinity Series race leading 176 of 200 laps. Harvick finished fourth. Furthermore, Logano has also been competitive in the past three Phoenix Cup races with an average finish of 6.3. Logic dictates that if Harvick is to go down Sunday, the Daytona 500 winner is the likeliest of candidates.

"(Harvick) is human like anyone else," Logano said. "He is beatable, believe me. We just have to figure out the way to do it. I feel plenty confident in my team that we can do it.

"We are making strides and I feel like we are getting closer. It is just weird. Sometimes you go to the race track and it is the same guy every time and you know it. Certain tracks are like that and this is one for him. It doesn't mean he is not beatable. We can do it. We are not that far off. We are just a little off. We are in the ballpark."