March 2, 2014 — race report by Managing Editor Jacob Seelman — Jerry Markland/Getty Images photo — AVONDALE, AZ — Freaky fast.
That’s the slogan printed on the back of Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, and he proved to the entire NASCAR Sprint Cup Series field why on Sunday afternoon at Phoenix International Raceway.
Harvick led a remarkable 224 of the 312 laps run in The Profit on CNBC 500 Sunday en route to a dominating victory in the Valley of the Sun. The win was his fifth Sprint Cup Series victory at Phoenix, his second straight victory in the Arizona desert, and his 24th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series triumph.
The victory was also Harvick’s first with Stewart-Haas Racing in just his second start with SHR after moving to the operation from Richard Childress Racing in the offseason.
“Oh man. This just solidifies so many things and so many decisions,” said Harvick in Victory Lane. “It has been so much work. To see the time and effort that these guys have put in. But man, what a race car.”
“The 22 (Logano) was able to time the restarts there and I knew what was going to happen was he was going to take a shot down low,” Harvick said when asked about the final restart. “I tried to do the best I could. Just really happy.”
The victory makes Harvick the second driver to all but assure himself a spot in the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, joining Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. as an early championship contender.
It also proved that Harvick’s decision to change teams was the right one in his mind.
“Rodney Childers has just done a phenomenal job of putting this team together,” Harvick said. “These guys all want to win. That’s why they came here. That’s why I came here, too.”
“I’ve just got to thank (owners) Gene (Haas) and Tony (Stewart), and (Stewart’s business manager) Eddie Jarvis. In 2012 I told (Jarvis) it would be fun to have Tony and I on the same team, and here we are in Victory Lane.”
Earnhardt Jr., a two-time winner at Phoenix, had another strong performance just a week removed from his second Daytona 500 triumph. He finished second, coming up 0.489 seconds short to Harvick in the race’s final laps.
“We got running side-by-side there for second and just let Kevin get out there a little bit too far,” Earnhardt said after the event. “I thought we were running him down there those last few laps but we were just too far away. A great job by Kevin and his whole team. They did a great job all weekend. They were fast.
“We worked on our car. We got a little help from our teammates, and it was a lot of hard work to get better and better. I ended up where I thought we should have finished. We were a little faster at the end, but they were stellar. Impressive as heck all weekend.”
Team Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano came home third and fourth, respectively, with Jeff Gordon, another former Phoenix winner, completing the top five at the finish.
Ryan Newman, defending race winner Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Jamie McMurray completed the top 10.
The caution flag flew eight times on the afternoon, and that was the only thing that slowed Harvick all day.
Harvick rolled off the grid 13th and wasted no time charging towards the front. He was fifth by the time the competition caution flew at lap 35, and after restarting fourth, finally took the top spot from Logano at lap 74.
From there, the No. 4 Chevrolet was simply untouchable. Harvick only gave up the lead during pit cycles for the rest of the afternoon, despite four of the race’s eight cautions coming within the final 100 laps. Each time Harvick restarted alongside Earnhardt Jr., but each time he was able to get out front and pull away from the field.
Engine trouble derailed a promising day for Kurt Busch, who ran in the top 10 early in the race before seeing his engine blow late, bringing out the final caution on Lap 296 and setting up a nine lap sprint to the finish.
Logano was the only other driver besides Harvick to spend a significant time leading the field, pacing 71 laps early before Harvick took control.
“On the back of Kevin’s car it says freaky fast,” Logano reminded everyone post-race. “They weren’t lying.”
The Sprint Cup Series returns to action on March 9 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the Kobalt 400.