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Harvick Holds Off Earnhardt Jr. To Win Phoenix

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, March 2 2014

Kevin Harvick got the win in Arizona. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Kevin Harvick, fast all week in practices, was fast on race day as well as he notched a dominating win in Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway.

The win was Harvick’s fifth in a Cup race at PIR and first overall since leaving Richard Childress Racing at the end of 2013.

It came after the Stewart-Haas Racing driver led 224 laps of the 312-lap race.

“Man, this just solidifies so many things and so many decisions,” Harvick said, referring to his off season team change.

The win came by just over a half second over Dale Earnhardt Jr., who had his second straight good run a week after winning the season-opening Daytona 500.

“Yeah we had a great car,” Earnhardt said of his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. “Harvick was so fast all weekend, congratulations to him and his whole team. They did an awesome job getting ready for this race and were just fast out of the gate. We got a little bit better; we leaned on our teammates and got the car a lot better. Steve (Letarte) and those guys just keep getting better and better. These cars I’m driving I think are the best in the garage. Right at the end of the race I think we were a little bit quicker than Kevin. Just real, real happy with the cars, just hate to come home second, but that No. 4 car was quick all week.”

Brad Keselowski finished third and Joey Logano fourth. Jeff Gordon finished fifth.

“That was everything we could do to get up there and get third,” Keselowski said. “Nobody had anything for Kevin. We did the best we could and that was really all we had.”

It was all anybody had for the No. 4 SHR car.

“That 4 car was just so fast,” Logano said. “I was joking on the radio that on the back bumper of that car it says freaky fast and they weren’t lying when they put that on there. We had a really good car, just not as good as his. On that last restart, the last two restarts, I figured I might as well go for it. With a win being so important you might as well go for it and I tried to stuff it in there three-wide and gave up a spot by doing that but overall it is all about the win. We didn’t quite get that today but we will go to Vegas and try again.”

Rounding out the top 10 were Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Jamie McMurray.

Logano started the race from P2 but passed Team Penske teammate and pole-sitter Keselowski on the first lap. He kept the lead until lap 74.

On that lap, Harvick moved the lead, where he stayed – by, at times, margins of over a second and a half.

On lap 161, the first non-competition yellow flag of the day waved for debris on the front stretch. After pit stops, Harvick emerged with his lead in tact but with the field closed up behind.

Harvick kept his lead on the lap 170 restart but a lap later, Danica Patrick and rookie Justin Allgaier spun to bring out the caution once again.

On the lap 176 restart, Harvick again emerged from Turn 1 with the lead and again began to sail away from Logano, Keselowski, Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson.

Harvick’s lead was over a half of a second when on lap 186 the cauti0n flag waved again; this time when Patrick suffered a blown tire. But another restart resulted in Harvick again being able to keep – and then build upon – his lead. Ten laps after the lap 192 restart, the lead was .6 over second-place Logano and 1.1 over third-place Earnhardt.

On lap 207, Earnhardt moved to second place past Logano, whose car began to lose some steam. Still, by lap 222, Harvick’s lead was pushed to over a second on Earnhardt.

On about lap 232, green flag pit stops began.

On lap 247, a caution was called for debris, giving six drivers who were pitting out of sequence from the leaders, a chance to pit under yellow for fuel and stay on the lead lap.

Meanwhile, when the race restarted on lap 251, with 61 to go, Harvick had the lead and Earnhardt was second. Harvick pulled out to a half of a second lead quickly.

With 36 laps to go, Harvick had a lead of about a second over Earnhardt. Logano was third, Kesleowski  fourth. But all were iffy on fuel while the out of sequence drivers were good to go to the end.

With 35 laps to go, a caution flag waved. While none of the contenders pitted, the five caution laps did aid the fuel situations of the four drivers up front.

On the restart with 30 laps to go, Harvick broke cleanly while Earnhardt, restarting on the outside, stuttered. Harvick again started to sail away but with 27 laps to go, another caution flag waved when David Gilliland blew a tire.

On the restart, with 21 laps to to, Harvick, with a bump from behind by Logano, again jumped clear. Behind him Earnhardt and Logano battled side by side, allowing Harvick to build a lead of almost a full second.

Finally free of Logano, Earnhardt began to cut into Harvick’s lead. But, with 16 laps to go, Kurt Busch’s engine exploded and out came another caution flag. The ensuing caution laps to clean up Busch’s oil trail took fuel mileage out of the equation but set up another restart for Harvick.

Harvick again was perfect on the restart. From there, he put space between his car and Earnhardt’s and was able to go virtually unchallenged the rest of the way.

“Yeah,” Earnhardt said, “we got running side by side there for second and just let Kevin get out there a little too far. I thought we were running him down those last few laps but we were just too far away.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, March 2 2014
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