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Kevin Harvick takes Sprint Cup victory at Phoenix

AVONDALE, Ariz. — Kevin Harvick had a nice send-off with Richard Childress Racing, winning his penultimate race with the team in November at Phoenix International Raceway.

Back at Phoenix four months later, he stamped his arrival at Stewart-Haas Racing by winning the second race with his new team — on the weekend he celebrated his 13th wedding anniversary, too.

Yeah, Harvick kind of likes the desert.

Disappointed at the Daytona 500 after a last-lap crash, Harvick bounced back quickly by dominating Sunday's The Profit on CNBC 500 to win consecutive races at PIR with different teams.

"Man, this is awesome," Harvick said.

Harvick won the fall race after Carl Edwards ran out of fuel at the white flag.

He needed no help Sunday.

The 14th-year Sprint Cup veteran had the fastest car in practice and kept it rolling in the race, charging to the front after starting 13th and pretty much staying there. He led 224 of 312 laps on the odd-shaped mile oval and pulled away on several late restarts for his fifth series victory at PIR, passing Jimmie Johnson for the most at a track where NASCAR has raced since 1988.

Not bad for someone still trying to feel his way around with a new team and new crew chief Rodney Childers.

"It took long enough," SHR co-owner Gene Haas joked. "… I think there was a lot of skepticism last year about what myself and Tony (Stewart) what we were up to, was there a lot of madness to this. Quite frankly, it's a great team, there's a lot of synergy at the shop, people working together. I don't know what we did, but I think we put together a great organization."

Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second, pole-sitter Brad Keselowski, minus his crew chief, was third with Penske Racing teammate Joey Logano fourth and Jeff Gordon fifth.

Harvick had a solid finish in his sights at Daytona last week before a last-lap crash dropped him to 13th.

At Phoenix, Harvick just missed the final stage of NASCAR's new knockout qualifying format, nipped by 0.001 seconds, but had the fastest car in Saturday morning's final practice.

He had no trouble making his way through the field after the green flag dropped in the race, passing Keselowski on the apron, then Logano for the lead on Lap 74. Harvick kept the lead coming out of green-flag pit stops with just under 200 laps remaining and again with about 70 laps left.

A series of cautions came out late and Harvick easily pulled away on each restart to earn a quick win with SHR, a nice capper to his anniversary weekend with wife DeLana.

"Man, this just solidifies so many things and so many decisions," said Harvick, who spent his first 13 seasons with Childress. "It's been so much work with all the time and effort that these guys (the crew) have put in. But what a racecar."

Earnhardt had a whirlwind week after his second Daytona 500 victory, needing his girlfriend to get him extra clothes while he went on a media tour. He had a solid followup, putting the distractions aside to qualify fifth.

Earnhardt worked his way up in the opening third of the race, passing Logano and Keselowski to pull up behind Harvick. He dropped back a couple of times and fought back to get Harvick within his sights again, but didn't have enough to track him down.

"I've got to congratulate Kevin. Those guys were two-tenths faster than everyone all weekend in practice. They were just phenomenal," Earnhardt said. "To be able to run with them all day was a big confidence builder for us."

The new knockout qualifying system made its Sprint Cup debut at Phoenix and Keselowski came out on top, edging Logano for his fourth career pole.

Not long after, Keselowski found out he would be without his crew chief for the race. Paul Wolfe went back to North Carolina for the birth of his first child.

With team engineer Brian Wilson and its Nationwide series competition director Greg Erwin at the helm, Keselowski ran near the front all day, but, like everyone else, didn't have the speed to keep up with Harvick.

"They beat everybody before they came to the track today," Keselowski said. "It's a great combination. They were prepared for the weekend.

"To me, Rodney Childers is like a rubber-stamp, carbon-copy of Paul Wolfe. He's a great crew chief and it was just a matter of time before he found a combination that he excelled with."

Kevin Harvick takes Sprint Cup victory at Phoenix 03/02/14 [Last modified: Monday, March 3, 2014 12:07am]
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