No one can ever say something is a sure thing in motorsport, and certainly not when it comes to the wild ride that is the new-look Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, where anything can and already frequently has happened to upset the apple cart.

But the odds on Kevin Harvick winning the penultimate race of the year at Phoenix International Raceway were about as overwhelming as you're ever likely to see, thanks to his past track record here. And sure enough, once he took the lead for the first time on lap 44 the win never looked like going to anyone else all afternoon.

"This is a place that I love coming to race here. I love the fans. I've raced here since the mid-90s," he said after the victory lane celebrations. "This is one of those places that for me as a kid, this was our Daytona 500, so to come here and have this moment and have these wins and be able to accomplish the things that we've been able to accomplish here is very cool. A lot of those fans out there have been coming here for a long time. Unfortunately I'm old enough to have met most of their kids, too. I learned that this weekend!"

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Even so, the comparative ease with which he won the race was a surprise, with no one making any last minute challenge that could have spelled disaster as happened last week at Texas with Brad Keselowski spinning Jeff Gordon at the last-but-one restart which had led to a huge pit lane brawl that Harvick was also peripherally involved in. Both Keselowski and Gordon were once again to the fore this weekend at Phoenix, but there was no last minute mayhem this time.

"I think we've all proven as the goofy drivers out there driving that we can do anything dumb," said Harvick. "I thought the outside was the safest place for me. As the sun crept in, I felt like I had good markers going into Turn 1 to be able to drive in further than the guys on the bottom.

"But in the end, you've got to be ready for everything, you just never know," he added. "I think that the #24 and the #2 on the bottom to me had the most intriguing line-up as you looked in the mirror and kind of analysed what you had going on on that particular restart.

"This format has just created that. You have to do things that you normally wouldn't do, and in the end you have to try to make something happen for your team. It wouldn't have surprised me, but you try to put yourself in a position to where you can be on the best defensive side of that to try to make it out of the corner without getting wrecked."

Talking of wrecking prompted memories of Harvick's costly clash with Matt Kenseth at Martinsville which had left Harvick mired at the bottom of the championship points standings, meaning that only a victory here at Phoenix was capable of putting him through to the final four in contention for the title at next week's season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

At the time, Harvick had hinted that he would wreck Kenseth rather than let the Joe Gibbs Racing driver win the title if it came to that, but as it turns out Harvick is the one who remains in the running while Kenseth has now been eliminated; in any case, Harvick revealed that they had made up since the original row.

"I let him off the hook last week," said Harvick. "I felt bad after Martinsville. Yeah, you know, Matt and I have become pretty good friends throughout the last ten years, and he sent me a message last week, and I was kind of an ass to him probably at Texas. He's like, look, this is where things have been over the last ten years. He's like, I promise you that you know that I didn't do anything wrong, and I know I didn't do anything on purpose. We need to move forward.

"I said, you know what, I just need to move on, and I didn't need to come here with any of that stuff on my mind," Harvick explained. "I feel like the last two weeks have been good learning lessons for me in how to approach things with people that are your friends and situations and things when you do things wrong. Last week ate me up. I know from a competitor's standpoint, it was good to have those guys going at each other ... but in the end, it is what it is, and you move on, and you take those as life lessons and try to learn from them."

Finding peace of mind over those early setbacks certainly seems to have paid off with his almost serene win this week at Phoenix, putting Harvick among the final four contenders for the 2014 title alongside Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman. While he's positive about his own chances of coming out of next week's race with his first Cup championship, Harvick admitted that in reality it was wide open.

"You just never know," he said. "We've been fortunate to have speed. Obviously the #22 [Logano] has had speed and won races. Denny has a good history, I guess you could say, at Homestead.

"[But] it's definitely the best position that myself personally I've ever been in," he added. "We're going to Homestead to race for a championship. I don't even care how we got here. I'm just so honoured to have the opportunity to race with these guys.

"You just go down there and approach the week just like we approached this week: have fun with it, prepare your cars just like you've done all year, and feel like you've already been in that position as far as knowing how to prepare and how to mentally prepare yourself going into the week because we just came here and did it this week.

"We won [this] race with our backs against the wall: had great pit stops, we had great practices. They prepared the car great in the shop. Just do it one more week," he summed up. "Keep doing the last thing you've done, the last restart. Just hit repeat. Obviously those guys are going to race as hard as they can, and you just have to go down there and do the same thing.

"We've had a great year, and our cars have been fast, so we just need to keep doing the same things that we've been doing and see where it all falls in the end," he added. "Hopefully we had all of that crazy stuff happen at the beginning of the year, and we can keep it away for one more week."

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