Kevin Harvick became the winningest NASCAR Sprint Cup driver in the history of Phoenix International Raceway Sunday, turning in a dominating performance to win The Profit on CNBC 500, Presented by Small Business Fueling America.
Leading 224 of the 312 laps, Harvick averaged 109.229 mph and held off attacks from Daytona 500 champion Dale Earnhardt Jr., 2012 Sprint Cup Champion Brad Keselowski and rising star Joey Logano. At the checkered flag, Harvick was 0.489 of a second – about five car lengths – ahead of Earnhardt. The winner was especially pleased since he was driving in just his second race for Stewart-Haas Racing after spending 13 years driving for Richard Childress without winning the Sprint Cup championship.
“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 have put in, but what a race car. Rodney Childers has just done a phenomenal job of putting this team together. These guys all want to win. That’s why they came here. That’s why I came here, too.”
At the start, Logano got the jump from the outside of the front row to take the lead from pole winner Keselowski as the Penske Racing teammates ran 1-2. Overnight rain caused NASCAR to add a Competition Caution period beginning on Lap 37, temporarily scrambling the standings as the leaders made pit stops.
Harvick only qualified 13th fastest for the race as all Sprint Cup teams adapted to the new two-round format, but the 38-year-old charger from Bakersfield, Calif. began passing those in front of him from the drop of the green flag. By lap 5, he had climbed to fifth and he methodically chose his opportunities to pick off those in front. Logano was his last victim, failing to hold off an inside pass going into Turn 1 on lap 74.
Despite seven more caution periods that slowed the action and bunched the field, Harvick consistently grabbed the lead whenever the green flag restarted the racing. Though his lead was never more than a couple of seconds, he seemed to be able to go a little faster whenever he needed to do so.
On the final restart on lap 304, Logano tried to nip below Harvick entering Turn 1, but Harvick closed the door. Logano found himself battling with Earnhardt Jr., but after racing side-by-side for more than a lap, the Daytona 500 winner pulled ahead for good. By then, Harvick had a three-length lead and, barring a problem, the final result was clear.
“I’ve got to congratulate Kevin” said runner-up Earnhardt, who holds a six-point lead in the Sprint Cup point standings after two races with 34 left to run. “Those guys (Harvick and his crew) were two tenths faster than everybody else all weekend in practice. To be able to run with them as we did all day was a big confidence builder for us, and even at the end of the race I thought our laps we put together coming up to the checker were faster than him. I would have loved to have won the race, and I’m a little disappointed to come that close but our team is performing so well.”
Only four of the 43 starters were not running at the end as 20 cars finished on the lead lap. Kyle Larson was the top finishing rookie in 20th.