Mar 2, 2014, 6:55 PM EDT
Kevin Harvick said he wanted to win as quickly as possible this season for his new team, Stewart Haas Racing.
It didn’t take long.
In just his second start driving the No. 4 SHR Chevrolet, Harvick won his record fifth Sprint Cup event at Phoenix International Raceway in Sunday’s The Profit on CNBC 500.
“This has been a great racetrack for us through the years before the repave, after the repave,” Harvick said. “I feel like when I come here with Trucks, Nationwide, Cup, these are the types of racetracks I was brought up on. We used to come here for the Copper Classic, the Winston West days. This was our Daytona 500. It’s fun to come here. I feel like the flat track stuff is something that we’ve had a good knack at. Over the years, we’ve been able to race a lot of different series and spend a lot of time on this racetrack. You learn and apply that race after race after race and hopefully you can learn something each week.”
It was Harvick’s second straight win at PIR, having also done so last November in his second-to-last race for Richard Childress Racing.
“This just solidifies so many things and so many decisions,” Harvick said, alluding to leaving RCR at the end of last season for SHR.
Even though he led the final 78 laps, a number of late restarts due to cautions caused Harvick some angst, especially with fourth-place finisher Joey Logano, who was the biggest thorn in Harvick’s side on those restarts.
“The 22 (Logano) was able to time the restarts and I knew he was going to take a shot down low,” Harvick said of the final restart. “Man, this is awesome.”
After finishing 13th in the season-opening Daytona 500, Harvick dominated Sunday’s race, leading 224 of the 312 laps in the 500-kilometer race.
“I’m just the lucky guy that gets to drive the car around the racetrack when they’re dialed in like they were today,” Harvick said. “Luckily, we were able to put it all together.”
Logano led the second-most laps (71).
“The back of Kevin’s car says ‘Freaky Fast,’ and they weren’t lying,” Logano said. “It was freaky fast because he just drives away from me. … He’s got something really figured out here and knows what he needs from his race car and was able to deliver. I went to school behind him a little bit, learned a little bit but I didn’t have enough to beat him.”
It was the 24th win of Harvick’s 14-year Sprint Cup career, and qualifies him along with Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. for this year’s reformatted Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Harvick, whose winning average was 134.524 mph, beat runnerup Earnhardt to the finish line by a margin of .060 seconds.
“We got running side-by-side for second, I just let Kevin get out a little too far,” Earnhardt said. “They did a great job all weekend. We ended up where I thought we should have finished. We were a little faster by the end, but they were stellar, impressive. We worked our butts off.”
Finishing third through 10th were Penske Racing teammates Brad Keselowski (who was also the pole-sitter) and Logano, Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon ad Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Jamie McMurray.
Of all the drivers that had the best chance to potentially catch Harvick at the end, Logano seemed to have the edge, but ultimately came up short.
“I tried really hard,” Logano said. “With the new points structure, a win means so much to get you into the Chase. I was sitting there third and I knew my restarts were really good all day and I was able to push him along.
“I wasn’t sure if I had enough to get three-wide and go for it, but on the last restart, you go for it, you’ve got nothing to lose. Third place doesn’t mean nothing today. … It just didn’t work out.”
Johnson was disappointed not to get a top-five finish.
“We were decent all day long, we just need a little more time with the new package of this race car,” the six-time Sprint Cup champ said. “Strategy was on our side. We were certainly making up some time. Solid day. We’ll take it. Looking forward to next week’s race in Las Vegas.”
Other key elements of Sunday’s race:
— Kurt Busch had a strong run early, but apparently lost an engine cylinder early in the second half of the race, which ultimately led to the motor in his No. 41 Chevrolet blowing up with 15 laps. Busch ended up with a disappointing 38th place finish.
— Still recovering from last summer’s broken leg, and even with his No. 1 hero, A.J. Foyt, cheering him on, Tony Stewart finished 16th.
— Danica Patrick had a rough day, finishing 36th. First she got into a minor wreck with Justin Allgaier and then about a dozen laps later, she went for a single-car spin after flat-spotting her left rear tire.
— Kyle Busch, who dominated in winning his third straight Nationwide Series race at PIR on Saturday, wound up ninth in the Sprint Cup main event.
— Denny Hamlin, who finished second at Daytona, was never really a factor at Phoenix, ending up with a 19th-place finish, the second-to-last driver on the lead lap.
— Logano, made a somewhat unusual pit stop 80 laps from the checkered flag, taking four tires and a full load of fuel. While the pit window was more like 65 to 70 laps, Logano’s crew chief, Todd Gordon, felt that with the fuel mileage his driver’s Ford Fusion was getting, that the car could make it to the finish line on that tank.
— Kyle Larson was the highest-finishing rookie, ending up in 20th place, the last driver on the lead lap.
— Fellow Sprint Cup rookie Austin Dillon, who started on the pole at Daytona last week, was barely heard from in Sunday’s event. Dillon ultimately finished 24th, one lap off the pace.
— Morgan Shepherd, who reset his own record for oldest driver in a Sprint Cup race (he’s 72), finished last, completing just 28 laps before calling it a day.
Here’s the unofficial finishing order:
1. Kevin Harvick
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
3. Brad Keselowski
4. Joey Logano
5. Jeff Gordon
6. Jimmie Johnson
7. Ryan Newman
8. Carl Edwards
9. Kyle Busch
10. Jamie McMurray
11. Kasey Kahne
12. Matt Kenseth
13. Clint Bowyer
14. Casey Mears
15. Aric Almirola
16. Tony Stewart
17. Greg Biffle
19. Denny Hamlin
20. Kyle Larson
21. Marcos Ambrose
22. Martin Truex Jr.
23. Paul Menard
24. Austin Dillon
25. Brian Vickers
26. AJ Allmendinger
27. Cole Whitt
28. David Ragan
29. David Gilliland
30. Justin Allgaier
31. Reed Sorenson
32. Brian Scott
33. Michael McDowell
34. Michael Annett
35. Ryan Truex
36. Danica Patrick
37. Blake Koch
38. Travis Kvapil
39. Kurt Busch
40. Joe Nemechek
41. Alex Bowman
42. Parker Kligerman
43. Morgan Shepherd
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