Kevin Harvick survived two late race restarts to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Phoenix, taking his second consecutive victory and fifth in the last six races at the track.
The 2014 champion took the lead from Joey Logano early on after a poor start from pole position, and dominated the first half of the race, with Logano again his main rival for much of that period.
Harvick continued to keep various opponents at arm’s length, including series returnee and Stewart-Haas teammate Kurt Busch, back from a three-week suspension from NASCAR.
Busch showed no sign of rustiness as he fought his way up the order methodically through the race, finally challenging for the lead with two thirds of the distance remaining.
Harvick then made the most of a caution period for his team-mate and boss Tony Stewart spinning with 76 laps to go, stretching a two-second lead out over a short period after the restart and using the clean air to his advantage.
With 24 laps to go, Stewart ended up in the wall for a second time, bringing the pack back onto Harvick’s tail for the run to the finish. But Harvick held off the challenge of Jamie McMurray – a mainstay in and around the top 10 all day after qualifying third – to become 2015’s first repeat winner after last week’s Las Vegas triumph.
“The restarts were just really slippery, and I learned that in the (XFinity Series) race yesterday,” said Harvick, who finished third in Saturday’s race. “You had to really maintain your entrance speed and really slide the thing through the center of the corner to try to help keep it pointed up off (the corner).”
McMurray admitted the final restart had hurt his chances.
“Matt McCall (crew chief) made a really good decision at the end to stay out (on old tires) and got us on the front row,” McMurray said. “That was a fun battle with Kevin. Those are the kinds you wish you could do over again, because I would have slid up earlier.
“It’s similar to plate racing with the engine package we have now, where if you don’t get the guy cleared, he can kind of stall you out a little bit. And I saw Kevin coming and I thought I could slide up in front of him, but I also knew it was for the win and that we would probably have wrecked there.”
Behind McMurray, Ryan Newman continued his strong start to 2015 by taking third ahead of Hendrick Motorsports’ strongest driver all weekend, Kasey Kahne.
Busch came home fifth after a brilliant recovery – he and Jeff Gordon took four tires at the caution with 24 laps to go and the pair plummeted down the order as others changed only two. Gordon also recovered well – to ninth – after spending the majority of the day struggling with the No. 24 car.
His teammate Jimmie Johnson finished 11th after qualifying uncharacteristically low in 20th. The Hendrick Motorsports driver suffered contact with Joe Gibbs Racing’s Carl Edwards in the pits, forcing Johnson to revisit pitlane for repairs and lose more ground.
Tire wear was a vital issue all day, as both Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Sam Hornish Jr. suffered right-rear tire failures.
Earnhardt had been mired back in the midfield after a pitlane speeding penalty and the tire failure sent him into the wall with just over 200 laps to go. By the time he returned to the pits, his Hendrick Chevrolet’s right rear was on fire and rescue crews struggled to put the flames out.
Hornish’s right-rear deflation didn’t put him out of the race, but did leave him many laps down and out of contention.
RESULTS – 312 LAPS:
|1||Kevin Harvick||Stewart-Haas Racing||Chevrolet|
|2||Jamie McMurray||Chip Ganassi Racing||Chevrolet|
|3||Ryan Newman||RAB Racing||Chevrolet|
|4||Kasey Kahne||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet|
|5||Kurt Busch||Stewart-Haas Racing||Chevrolet|
|6||Brad Keselowski||Team Penske||Ford|
|7||Martin Truex Jr.||Furniture Row Racing||Chevrolet|
|8||Joey Logano||Team Penske||Ford|
|9||Jeff Gordon||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet|
|10||Kyle Larson||Chip Ganassi Racing||Chevrolet|
|11||Jimmie Johnson||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet|
|12||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||Roush Fenway Racing||Ford|
|13||Carl Edwards||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota|
|14||Paul Menard||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet|
|15||Austin Dillon||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet|
|16||Matt Kenseth||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota|
|17||A.J. Allmendinger||JTG Daugherty Racing||Chevrolet|
|18||Justin Allgaier||HScott Motorsports||Chevrolet|
|19||Aric Almirola||Richard Petty Motorsports||Ford|
|20||Casey Mears||Germain Racing||Chevrolet|
|21||David Ragan||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota|
|22||Landon Cassill||Hillman Smith Motorsports||Chevrolet|
|23||Denny Hamlin||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota|
|24||Clint Bowyer||Michael Waltrip Racing||Toyota|
|25||Cole Whitt||Front Row Motorsports||Ford|
|26||Danica Patrick||Stewart-Haas Racing||Chevrolet|
|27||Greg Biffle||Roush Fenway Racing||Ford|
|28||Trevor Bayne||Roush Fenway Racing||Ford|
|29||David Gilliland||Front Row Motorsports||Ford|
|30||Alex Bowman||Tommy Baldwin Racing||Chevrolet|
|31||J.J. Yeley||BK Racing||Toyota|
|32||Brett Moffitt||Front Row Motorsports||Ford|
|33||Mike Bliss||Go FAS Racing||Ford|
|34||Jeb Burton||BK Racing||Toyota|
|35||Matt DiBenedetto||BK Racing||Toyota|
|36||Josh Wise||Phil Parsons Racing||Ford|
|37||Brendan Gaughan||Premium Motorsports||Chevrolet|
|38||Alex Kennedy||Circle Sport||Chevrolet|
|39||Tony Stewart||Stewart-Haas Racing||Chevrolet|
|40||Sam Hornish Jr.||Richard Petty Motorsports||Ford|
|41||Brian Vickers||Michael Waltrip Racing||Toyota|
|42||Michael Annett||HScott Motorsports||Chevrolet|
|43||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet|
LEADING CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS:
|3||Martin Truex Jr.||155|
|6||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||126|
|24||Sam Hornish Jr.||79|
Chase spots provisionally secured: Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson