The box score will read that Kevin Harvick posted a series-high eighth win at Phoenix International Raceway after his victory Sunday in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. But exactly how he brought home his 32nd career win in 542 career starts and his eighth victory at Phoenix will be remembered for quite some time.
The driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) dominated Sunday’s Good Sam 500k NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race, as he led two times for a race-high 139 laps en route to his sixth win in his last eight starts at Phoenix. But the most memorable moments were the very last ones, when a late-race restart led to a door-to-door battle with Carl Edwards to the checkered flag.
“That was not the car that I wanted to see behind me,” Harvick said. “I knew I could beat him down there, and I tried to protect the bottom in (turns) three and four, and I just missed the bottom with all the rubber buildup on the tires and everything. But all in all, I knew I was going to be on defense down there. I got up too high and wasn’t able to stay on the bottom like I wanted to, and then he got into me, like he should have, and I needed to get a good run off the corner, and I was going to have to get into his door – and it worked out, just barely. I just want to thank Jimmy John’s, Busch, Chevrolet, Mobil 1 and everybody at Stewart-Haas for everything that they do.”
After starting a disappointing 18th, Harvick’s No. 4 car lived up to sponsor Jimmy John’s “freaky fast” motto from the drop of the green flag. Even though he battled a tight-handling car during the first run of the race, his crew made adjustments to get him up into the top-five by lap 100. He patiently waited until lap 169 to take his first lead of the race. From there, Harvick led all but four laps of the final 144 laps of the race, bringing him to a series-best 1,484 laps led at the mile oval.
While Harvick’s No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet was the class of the field on Sunday at Phoenix, there were some anxious moments for the crew at the end of the race. Thanks to a late-race caution for an accident involving Kasey Kahne, Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers had to decide whether to pit or stay out with less than five laps to go.
The duo made the call to stay out under the caution at lap 308 of the scheduled 312 laps, while several others behind the No 4. pitted for right-side tires. Harvick, on older tires, had to hold off a hard-charging Edwards, who had two fresh tires, during the final two laps of the race.
“I just like racing here,” Harvick said after adding to his record-breaking win total at Phoenix. “It’s just one of those places where I feel like I’ve been here enough times to where I can move around and find something to make our car work. We struggled a lot this weekend to get the balance where we wanted to, but we knew the feel that we were looking for, and we got pretty close there in Happy Hour and still in the race. I feel like I was good through (turns) one and two, and at times was good through (turns) three and four, but it was very edgy. Maybe that’s a product of the new package or the tires or whatever it is.”
Harvick’s SHR companions – Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Chevrolet SS; Ty Dillon, interim driver of the No. 14 Chevrolet in place of the injured Tony Stewart; and Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 Chevrolet SS – finished sixth, 15th and 19th, respectively.
Edwards finished .01 of a second behind Harvick in the runner-up spot, while Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounded out the top-five. Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon and Ryan Blaney comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were five caution periods for 30 laps, with four drivers failing to finish the 313-lap race, which went into overtime and was extended by one lap.
With round four of 36 complete, Harvick leads SHR in the championship point standings. He is the series points leader with 154 points. Second-place Kyle Busch also has 154 points, but Harvick wins the tiebreaker with his one race victory to Busch’s none. Kurt Busch is fourth with 137 points, 17 out of first. Patrick is 24th with 69 points, 85 out of first.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Auto Club 400 Sunday, March 20, at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. The race starts at 3:30 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by FOX.