In this era of NASCAR racing, where leveling the cars our athletes drive is front and center, how can one driver display such dominance at a track?
The answer rests primarily in two areas -- technique and frame of mind -- the latter perhaps being the most critical.
Kevin Harvick enters Sunday's race with his sights set on winning his fifth Phoenix race of the half-dozen most recently run. He was second in the rain-shortened race.
This type of dominance in the world of NASCAR parity suggests he has an advantage.
Well ... he does.
Success competing on any level, any discipline, requires you to focus on the reward, the prize, the trophy. Only then can you successfully begin the process of reaching the goal. For a race car driver, it's about understanding the track, identifying pockets of opportunity where you need to capitalize and where you might be vulnerable.
From there, you rehearse your braking points, turn-in points and markers on the track, which serve as references to create your repetition.
Then you go to work. Practice, we call it, and during your limited time on the track you ask your car to react and respond to the inputs of your hands and feet. You're establishing the balance where you and the car become one.
You're connecting the car to the track in the appropriate places (references), which will allow you to capitalize on others' mistakes, fill a hole that opens in front or close a hole hunted by someone from behind. You're creating a solid balance in your car.
All of this is routine for Harvick when he travels west and visits the desert a couple of times each year. It's all on his hard drive, just as it should be for all drivers.
But here's where he has the premier advantage. It's that "frame of mind thing," obtained from success, an advantage acquired only from winning. The pilot of the No. 4 car enters the weekend with the knowledge of what has worked, what to do, what the track will allow, what the track won't.
It's knowledge -- of knowing how to win at a particular track, and it's an enormous advantage. After all, knowledge creates confidence.
At Phoenix, Harvick has a glut.
What does all this mean?
Harvick is the driver to beat Sunday, again. At least until he indicates he is not. Hints of this trip being different would lie in poor lap times, poor qualifying, urgency or panic in his communication during practice.
None of that seemed to exist Friday.
Harvick will be difficult to beat if he gets to the front early, because once unobstructed, with a clear track in front, he has all of the room to position his car, to hit his marks, braking points, etc.
Once the repetition is created, Harvick can mindfully protect his tires, extend their life and take control of the race. Lights out.
How do you beat Harvick?
From a competitor's position, where you need to capitalize against a dominant driver at a dominant track is in traffic -- or better yet, on restarts.
The opposite of everything I just described above, where a driver has freedom of using the entire track from apron on entry, sliding to the wall on exit -- is being prevented. A low lane on entry (a car to your inside) or not being allowed the extra six feet on exit (a car to your outside). During restarts, or in traffic, references and markers do not exist, because you can't get to them.
What I just described is why we often see a driver who wins the pole dominate the first 60 laps of a race, appear unbeatable, but once he finds himself in traffic because of a poor pit stop, a pit road penalty, or poor restart, he appears to be driving just another car.
It will be next to impossible to prevent Harvick from winning if he's allowed to take command at a track he understands better than all others.
You can't outdrive Harvick at Phoenix, you can only hope to deprive him of his strengths.