Kevin Harvick started fast and finished first Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway, holding points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. off through a series of four late restarts to win in just his second start with Stewart-Haas Racing.
To say that Harvick’s car lived up to sponsor Jimmy John’s “freaky fast” motto could be an understatement. Harvick rocketed to the front of the field from his 13th-place starting spot and led 224 of the race’s 312 laps en route to his fifth career Sprint Cup victory at Phoenix.
From the drop of the green flag, Harvick began slicing through the field – living up to his nickname of “The Closer” by holding 2014 Daytona 500 winner Earnhardt at bay during the rash of caution flags over the final 65 laps.
The winner was especially pleased since he was driving in just his second race for Stewart-Haas Racing after spending 13 years driving for Richard Childress Racing without winning a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
“Man, this just solidifies so many things and so many decisions," said Harvick. "It’s been so much work with all the time and effort that these guys have put in, but what a race car. Rodney Childers has just done a phenomenal job of putting this team together. These guys all want to win. That’s why they came here. That’s why I came here, too.”
Earnhardt’s runner-up finish leaves him with a six-point lead over Brad Keselowski, who placed third in Sunday’s race.
“I’ve got to congratulate Kevin” said runner-up Earnhardt, who holds a six-point lead in the Sprint Cup point standings after two races. “Those guys (Harvick and his crew) were two tenths faster than everybody else all weekend in practice. To be able to run with them as we did all day was a big confidence builder for us, and even at the end of the race I thought our laps we put together coming up to the checker were faster than him. I would have loved to have won the race, and I’m a little disappointed to come that close but our team is performing so well.”
The victory, Harvick’s third in the last four races at Phoenix, made him the all-time Sprint Cup win leader at the mile oval with five.
The new Chase For the Sprint Cup format rewards those who perform at the highest level when the championship is on the line. The Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup will culminate at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 16.
With the recent changes to the championship format and increased focus on winning, NASCAR will further recognize the winning driver with a WINNER decal to display on their car.
All NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winners now will receive the decal, to be placed next to the driver’s name above the door, following a victory. Harvick was the second recipient of the new decal.
Next up for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers is Las Vegas on Sunday, March 9 (3 p.m. EST, FOX, SiriusXM Radio Channel 90) —Race 3 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 14-16).
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