Kevin Harvick claimed his first NASCAR Sprint Cup victory for Stewart-Haas at Phoenix in only his second event with the squad.
Ex-Childress driver Harvick was only 13th on the grid after narrowly missing out on a spot in the pole shootout when the series’ new knockout qualifying format made its debut on Friday. He showed his pace by topping both Saturday practice sessions, and wasted no time in surging to the front on race day.
Harvick took the lead on lap 74, and ultimately led 224 of the 312 laps. His main rivals were Penske’s front row qualifiers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, plus Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr.
But Harvick always had just enough in hand to keep all pursuers at arm’s length, and was helped by their habit of jostling with each other at restarts and letting him escape. He ultimately beat Earnhardt to the win by half a second, as Keselowski pipped Logano for third.
“Man, this just solidifies so many things and so many decisions,” said Harvick, who left Richard Childress Racing after 13 seasons to make the move to Stewart-Haas. “It’s been so much work with all the time and effort that these guys (the crew) have put in – but what a racecar.”
In Harvick’s view, the victory vindicated his decision to change teams.
“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.”
“We got running side by side there for second and just let Kevin get out there a little too far,” Earnhardt said of the final restart. “I thought we were running him down those last few laps, but we were just too far away.
“It was 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.”
Jeff Gordon slipped past Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman to secure fifth at the final restart.
Results - 312 laps: Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap 1. Kevin Harvick Stewart-Haas Chevrolet 2h51m23.000s 2. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet +0.490s 3. Brad Keselowski Penske Ford +1.361s 4. Joey Logano Penske Ford +1.661s 5. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet +2.849s 6. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet +3.328s 7. Ryan Newman Childress Chevrolet +4.238s 8. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford +4.347s 9. Kyle Busch Joe Gibbs Toyota +5.214s 10. Jamie McMurray Ganassi Chevrolet +5.490s 11. Kasey Kahne Hendrick Chevrolet +6.885s 12. Matt Kenseth Joe Gibbs Toyota +6.885s 13. Clint Bowyer Waltrip Toyota +7.411s 14. Casey Mears Germain Chevrolet +7.726s 15. Aric Almirola Petty Ford +8.235s 16. Tony Stewart Stewart-Haas Chevrolet +8.381s 17. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford +8.753s 18. Ricky Stenhouse Jr Roush Fenway Ford +9.229s 19. Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Toyota +12.309s 20. Kyle Larson Ganassi Chevrolet +12.521s 21. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford +1 lap 22. Martin Truex Jr Furniture Row Ford +1 lap 23. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet +1 lap 24. Austin Dillon Childress Chevrolet +1 lap 25. Brian Vickers Waltrip Toyota +2 laps 26. AJ Allmendinger JTG Daugherty Chevrolet +2 laps 27. Cole Whitt Swan Toyota +2 laps 28. David Ragan Front Row Ford +3 laps 29. David Gilliland Front Row Ford +3 laps 30. Justin Allgaier Hscott Chevrolet +3 laps 31. Reed Sorenson Baldwin Chevrolet +4 laps 32. Brian Scott Childress Chevrolet +4 laps 33. Michael McDowell Leavine Ford +5 laps 34. Michael Annett Baldwin Chevrolet +5 laps 35. Ryan Truex BK Toyota +5 laps 36. Danica Patrick Stewart-Haas Chevrolet +6 laps 37. Blake Koch Front Row Ford +6 laps 38. Travis Kvapil Go FAS Ford +10 laps 39. Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota +20 laps Retirements: Kurt Busch Stewart-Haas Chevrolet 292 laps Alex Bowman BK Toyota 230 laps Parker Kligerman Swan Toyota 226 laps Morgan Shepherd Shepherd Toyota 28 laps