Kevin Harvick didn’t take long to make his mark as part of Stewart-Haas Racing, taking a dominant victory at The Profit On CNBC 500 at Phoenix International Raceway in only his second race for the team.
Harvick entered the weekend as odds-on favourite, proving the pre-race hype by leading 224 of the 312 laps en route to his record fifth victory at the one-mile circuit and holding off a late-race charge from Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
“It’s just a huge credit to the team really, the organization and everybody who has been a part of this process as we’ve gone through the winter and over the last couple months of last year,” said Harvick. “To see the amount of change within Stewart-Haas Racing with the car, the haulers, the pit boxes, everything that has come with putting all these pieces together is just a huge credit to really these guys and all the guys that work in the shop.
“This has been a great racetrack for us through the years before the repave, after the repave. I feel like when I come here with Trucks, Nationwide, Cup, these are the types of racetracks I was brought up on. We used to come here for the Copper Classic, the Winston West days. This was our Daytona 500.”
Following Harvick and Earnhardt, Jr. across the line was the Penske duo of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, who had locked out the front row of the grid in the all-new qualifying format on Friday evening. Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top six, providing another strong showing for Hendrick Motorsports.
“We just didn’t have enough laps,” said Earnhardt, Jr., in relation to the run to the line. “For one, we didn’t have enough racecar all day long. [Harvick] had just been faster. For whatever reason, that last run, we reeled him in a little bit, cut it probably in half. We needed another 10 laps, but we didn’t have 10 laps.”
The early stages of the race were a well behaved affair, with only a competition caution bringing the field together after 37 laps. A 123-lap green flag run then ensued, with green flag pit stops in full swing before a debris caution flew on lap 163.
As often is the case, cautions then bred cautions, and it was the #10 car of Danica Patrick, team-mate to Harvick, who came off the worst, first being involved in an accident with Justin Allgaier and Travis Kvapil, and then spinning out later in the race as a result of a cut rear tyre.
“Just sad. I’m so sorry, God,” Patrick was heard telling her crew over the radio following her second spin. “All we have for luck is bad.” After the race, Patrick was seen having a heated discussion with Allgiaer, clearly feeling the caution was the rookie’s fault.
Elsewhere there were more issues for Stewart-Haas Racing as the race neared the chequered flag. Kurt Busch struggled with engine issues in the latter stages of the 500km race, before his engine finally gave way just 14 laps from home.