Harvick wins at Phoenix

by Tucker White On Sun, Mar. 11, 2018

AVONDALE, Ariz. - MARCH 11: Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John's Ford, celebrates with his crew after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series TicketGuardian 500 at ISM Raceway on March 11, 2018 in Avondale, Arizona. Photo: Robert Laberge/Getty Images

As Kevin Harvick’s crew lined the outer pit wall to celebrate with him, he stood on the door of his car, leaned down and smacked the back windshield multiple times. He then craned towards the stands and pointed repeatedly down towards his back windshield, as though he was tempting fans to find something wrong with it this week.

Considering his victory the week prior at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was deemed “encumbered,” and that Harvick believed it was a result of “chatter that was created on social media afterwards” (from his media availability on Friday), that was exactly what the gesture was.

“I’ve been mad as I’ll get. This team does a great job. 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. To come here, to a race track that’s so good to us, is a lot of fun. Everybody was just determined this week and we just wanted to just go stomp them. We didn’t stomp them, but we won. That’s really all that matters.”

While waiting for the final round of pit stops to cycle out, Harvick passed Chase Elliott for third, and thus the win, with 38 laps to go. It’s his 40th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory and ninth at ISM Raceway.

As was the case the week prior, Kyle Busch tried to erase the gap on fresher tires, but lap traffic and a mistake on pit road relegated him to second on the podium.

“Before the race, I knew the 4 car had the car to beat,” Busch said. “I didn’t think we were going to be the second-best car today, but we actually had a shot to race him and out-race him and beat him. But it just didn’t quite work out. Obviously, our pit stop wasn’t stellar. When I was trying to come back up through there, I got back up through there relatively good. I got relatively close. I was counting on the 9 (Chase Elliott) to hold him up a little bit more and be able to protect that spot a little bit longer than he did. That way, I could try to get there. At least get alongside the 4 and trying to make it a three-way battle for the lead, like I did earlier when it was the 11 (Denny Hamlin) kind of holding up the 4. Just never transpired that way.

“I thought that our Skittles Camry was really good. Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and the guys made some awesome changes overnight, because we weren’t that good yesterday. Proud to come home second, but now it’s starting to get frustrating.”

Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the Top-five.

“Yeah, we had a good car,” Elliott said. “It was solid, you know? Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) made a good call there at the end and we had a good pit stop there to get into the lead and I just felt like I needed a little bit of drive there to put the power down in front of him. I had a pretty good turn those last two runs and before that I wasn’t turning good enough and too good of forward bite. So, he was definitely the car to beat and it felt like there were a lot of laps left. I tried my best to hold him off as long as I could, but I felt like him and Kyle (Busch) had just a little bit on us. We’ll go to work and try to get better for California.”

Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola, Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones and Kurt Busch rounded out the Top-10.

RACE SUMMARY

Martin Truex Jr. led the field to green at 3:45 p.m. He was passed by Kyle Larson in Turn 3 before the end of the first lap. After Corey LaJoie brought out the first caution on Lap 25 when his engine expired on the backstretch, NASCAR declared that caution the “competition caution, rather than a planned Lap 35 caution for morning showers.

Truex exited pit road first, and led his first ever lap at Phoenix, and led the field back to green at Phoenix. But Larson swiped the lead from him straight on the restart. Truex fell prey to Kyle Busch, who set his sights on Larson. Closing the gap and applying pressure, he overtook Larson on Lap 58 and won the first stage.

Aside from Michael McDowell going to the rear for speeding, the stage break was uneventful. Busch maintained the lead exiting pit road and led the field back to green on Lap 84.

Larson brought out the third caution on Lap 122 when he got loose and spun out in Turn 3. Keselowski took just right-side tires and exited pit road with the race lead.

After two laps in the lead, following the Lap 127 restart, Kyle Busch got to Keselowski’s inside going into Turn 1 and took back the race lead exiting Turn 2 on Lap 129. Following Chris Buescher’s wall excursion, many of the frontrunners ducked onto pitroad. Kurt Busch took the race lead and won the second stage.

When he pitted under the stage break, Kyle Busch returned to the race lead and led the field back to green on Lap 159. With 133 laps to go, Kevin Harvick ran him down, passed him exiting Turn 4 and took the lead.

Paul Menard suffered a right-rear tire blowout and rear-ended the Turn 2 wall, bringing out the caution with 122 to go. William Byron exited pit road with the lead, after taking just two tires, and led the field to the restart with 114 to go. Denny Hamlin pulled alongside him coming to the line with 103 to go, and exited Turn 4 with the lead the following lap.

With roughly 90 laps to go, Kevin Harvick caught Hamlin and challenged him for the lead. Constant side-by-side battling allowed Kyle Busch to close in, pass Harvick with 72 to go and pass Hamlin for the lead with 69 to go.

Drivers started hitting pit road for their final round of stops with roughly 58 laps to go. Kyle Busch pitted with 52 to go. Unfortunately, the jack dropped on the right side of his car, costing him the lead.

While Brad Keselowski, who had yet to pit, inherited the lead, Chase Elliott and Harvick battled for third, and by extension the lead when the pit cycle ended. Finally, Harvick passed him with 38 to go. Kyle Busch, on a few laps fresher tires, passed Elliott for position with 34 to go. It only truly turned into a battle for the race lead when Ryan Newman pitted with 21 to go, handing it to Harvick with an eight-tenths of a second gap over Kyle Busch.

The gap only grew as he pulled away from Busch and scored his ninth career victory at Phoenix.

NUTS & BOLTS

The race lasted two hours, 53 minutes and 13 seconds, at an average speed of 108.073 mph. There were 15 lead changes among nine different drivers and six cautions for 36 laps.

Harvick leaves Phoenix with a 12-point lead over Kyle Busch.

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