No one puts Happy in a corner. Days after NASCAR fined the Stewart-Haas Racing team for infractions found on the Ford Harvick won with at Las Vegas, Kevin Harvick charged to victory in the Ticket Guardian 500 at ISM Raceway in Phoenix Sunday.
“I’ve been mad as all get out because this team does a great job,” Harvick said. “This organization does a great job and we’ve got fast race cars. And to take that away from those guys just really pissed me off last week.”
It was the 40th win of his career and the first time Harvick has won three consecutive races. Unlike his last two however where he led the most laps, Sunday’s win came only after some hard racing and smart pit strategy.
After the races sixth, and what turned out to be the final, caution for a spin by Paul Menard, William Byron and Aric Almirola used a 2-tire pit strategy to take over the first and second spots. Behind them Harvick, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin who had taken four tires soon got by and those three staged a furious battle for the lead; Hamlin emerged with the top spot with Harvick second and Kyle Busch third.
After a late race round of green flag stops that started on lap 253 of 312, Harvick fought his way forward passing Chase Elliott for fifth on lap 274. A total of six cars had stayed out in hopes of catching a caution flag and Harvick had to deal with the remaining four of those while holding off Kyle Busch who had pitted just after Harvick.
“He was definitely the car to beat,” Elliott said. “It felt like there were a lot of laps left. I tried my best to hold him off as long as I could, but I felt like him and Kyle (Busch) had just a little bit on us.”
The last of those cars pitted on lap 289 and Harvick inherited the lead. From there Harvick was able to hold off Busch for the win.
There was no drama in the final laps as Harvick cruised to the win for the third straight race. For the second week in a row, Kyle Busch was second; Elliott was third, Hamlin fourth and Martin Truex Jr. was fifth.
“Today wasn’t easy and I wouldn’t say any day is ever easy, but today was definitely just a bit harder than other days,” Busch said. “It’s just so much physicality out there to make sure you’re right on top of the edge and flirting with it a lot during the race and try to chase down that 4 (Kevin Harvick) car.”
Clint Bowyer came home sixth followed by Almirola, Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones and Kurt Busch. The Busch brothers swept the first two stages with Kyle holding Harvick at bay to win the first, and Kurt Busch staying out while the leaders pitted to win the second.
Sunday’s third win in the first four races by a driver was the first time that has happened since 1992. It was also the 9th time Harvick has won at Phoenix.
“To come here to a race track that is so good for us is a lot of fun,” Harvick said. “Everyone was just determined this week and we just wanted to just go stomp them. We didn’t stomp them, but we won.”
The win also sent a strong message to the rest of the field, to fans and to NASCAR.
“I’m 42, done this for a long time,” Harvick said. “Any time you can reach out and grab motivation, for me that’s just a piece of the puzzle that I like to be a part of and feel that controversy and that enthusiasm. Succeeding in these types of moments with all that controversy swirling around you, there’s nothing better… there’s nothing louder than the action of parking that car in Victory Lane.”
The final leg on the Western tour sends the series to Auto Club Speedway for next Sunday’s Auto Club 400. Live coverage will be on Fox with the green flag coming just after 3:30 p.m. ET.
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