Kevin Harvick went to victory lane for the third Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race in a row at ISM Raceway on Sunday. Harvick, winning at Atlanta Motor Speedway two weekends ago and at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last week, led the TicketGuardian 500K for 38 of the 312 circuits.
The series veteran from California has three top five and three top 10 finishes in 2018. At ISM Raceway, formally known as Phoenix Raceway, Harvick now has nine victories at the one-mile track and leaves with an average finish of 9.5.
“To come here to a race track that is so good for us is a lot of fun and everyone was just determined this week and we just wanted to just go stomp them,” said Harvick after the win. “We didn't stomp them, but we won. That's all that really matters. Just proud of this team. Put a fire in our belly.”
The team battled their way to victory lane after a frustrating week going into the event. Car chief Robert Smith was suspended for the next two events while crew chief Rodney Childers was fined $50,000 dollars for an L1 penalty. After the race at Las Vegas, NASCAR found a broken rear window support brace and a right-side rocker panel extension not meeting NASCAR specifications.
“I've been mad as all get out because this team does a great job,” Harvick later said regarding last week’s penalty. “This organization does a great job and we've got fast race cars. And to take that away from those guys just really pissed me off last week.”
Auto Club Speedway, the site of the next Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, is a track that sits in Harvick’s backyard. The Bakersfield native won at the two-mile oval in 2011 and has six top five and 11 top 10 finishes through 24 starts there.
Kyle Busch will leave ISM Raceway with the runner-up spot. Busch, driver of the No. 18 Skittles Sweet Heat Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, led the most laps of any driver on Sunday and will leave the track with his second top five finish of the year.
“Our guys did a great job. We didn’t have a second-place car yesterday so Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and the guys did a phenomenal job overnight of making some adjustments to this thing and getting it where we needed it in order to have a fast race car to keep up with the 4 (Kevin Harvick),” said Busch after the race.
Busch pitted from the lead at lap 260 in the final round of green flag pit stops. The jack dropped a little too soon while changing the left side tires and caused the No. 18 Toyota to spend additional seconds on pit road. They were able to quickly recover and rejoin the field.
“Through much of the race today I actually managed to out-race the 4 and beat him. There with the 11 (Denny Hamlin), when the 11 was holding up the 4, I had an opportunity to get to his outside and make a three-way battle for the lead and take the 4 before the 4 got clear of traffic,” Busch added. “Once the 4 gets clear of traffic and gets in his own air, it’s hard to beat that guy. I was trying to count on that happening again with the 9 (Chase Elliott), hoping that the 9 would hold him up just long enough for me to get there. I was rushing to get there and I feel like I burned my stuff up by doing that, but once the 4 got out front, he was in his own air and just picking off traffic. There was nothing I could do with that, he was too fast to beat. I felt like if we were in his shoes and it was the other way around, we probably would have been the same way.”
Chase Elliott rounded out the top three finishers in the Phoenix desert on Sunday. Elliott scored his first top five finish of the season along with his second top 10 after starting third.
Denny Hamlin and pole sitter Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the top five.
Aric Almirola and the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford continued their success this weekend at ISM Raceway. Almirola, who came oh so close in the Daytona 500 nearly a month ago, took his Smithfield Ford to a seventh-place finish. The team had work at the beginning of the event after starting 22nd on the leaderboard.
“We just keep plugging away. Johnny and the guys made a lot of good adjustments on the car throughout the day,” said Almirola after the race. “We started off okay and then we started dialing ourselves out the first few stops. We got some track position there with that two-tire call and got our Smithfield Ford Fusion up front and it really liked the clean air. Our car got a lot better up there. I am proud of everybody. We just keep building on it. Top-10 ‘em to death. Just keep scoring points and doing what we do.”
Almirola goes into the fifth race of the season with two top 10 finishes.
Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Lowe’s for Pros Hendrick Motorsports team will leave ISM Raceway with their second top 15 finish of the year. Johnson, who finished 38th at Daytona, 27th at Atlanta and 12th last weekend at Las Vegas, will leave Phoenix sitting 14th. The California native started 17th on the starting grid.
The series will head a little further West for the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway. Coverage will begin at 3:30 p.m. ET. on FOX and MRN.