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Kevin Harvick cruises to victory at Phoenix

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Kevin Harvick taught a little school Sunday. In his second points race for Stewart-Haas Racing, Harvick took the lead on lap 74 and went on to lead a race high 224 laps in route to a dominating win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series race at Phoenix International Raceway.

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Harvick had been fast in the practices leading up to the race and that continued Sunday as no one in the 43-car field seemed to have anything that could compete with the No. 4 Chevy.

“We were a little faster at the end, but they were stellar,” second place finisher Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “Impressive as heck all weekend.”

Joey Logano led the first lap followed closely by teammate Brad Keselowski ; Jimmie Johnson settled into third, Earnhardt Jr. fourth; Harvick who started 13th was in sixth by lap 5. By lap 7 he had made his way into fifth.

The first caution came on lap 37 with a NASCAR mandated competition caution. Keselowski won the race off pit road Logano second, Earnhardt was third, Harvick fourth Jeff Gordon was fifth. The restart came on lap 40; Logano was able to jump back to the front. Gordon and Kyle Busch dueled for fifth for several laps finally nabbing the spot on lap 47. Two laps later Harvick passed Earnhardt for third. He held station until lap 70 when he was able to pass Keselowski for second. Four laps later Harvick passed Logano for the lead and never looked back.

Earnhardt Jr. got by Logano for second on lap 90 as green flag pit stops loomed. Those stops began on lap 103. Earnhardt came in on lap 111, Harvick gave up the lead and came in a lap later. The order remained the same after the cycle: Harvick led , Earnhardt was second, Logano held station in third just over five seconds back.

The race settled in as Harvick held the lead and began lapping the field. The second caution of the race came out for debris on lap 162. The leaders came in for stops; Harvick got out first, Logano second, Earnhardt third. Keselowski and Kurt Busch rounded out the top five. Six of the top ten, including Harvick, elected to take only right side tires.

Harvick took the restart on the inside, Logano was on the outside. Harvick was able to rocket to the front, but on lap 171 the third caution came out, and the first for a crash, as Justin Allgaier and Danica Patrick got together in turn one.

The lineup was the same on the restart on lap 176 as Harvick lined up on the inside. Harvick was again able to move to the front and started to check out. The fourth caution came out on lap 186 when Patrick spun after losing a left rear tire in turn 2. Most of the lead group stayed out.

Harvick led to the green on lap 191. Logano tried to keep pace but Harvick was able to move ahead. On lap 215 Kurt Busch reported engine issues and began to drop back. By lap 219 Earnhardt was back in second and a second behind. By lap 228 Earnhardt was slowing reeling Harvick in as the final pit stops of the day were nearing. Logano came in on lap 232 fearing he would run out of fuel. Earnhardt reported his Chevy was cutting off and dove in for his stop a lap later followed by Johnson. The pit stops came outside the fuel window.

On lap 234 Harvick came in just as the fuel window opened. Gordon took the lead staying out until lap 241 handing the lead to Ryan Newman. Newman stayed out and it played into his hands as on lap 247 NASCAR called the fifth caution for debris.

Harvick was in the lead again when the field got the green on lap 251, Earnhardt was in second. Logano was third, Keselowski was fourth with Newman fifth. It didn’t take long for Harvick to again stretch his lead out over Earnhardt.

The sixth caution, again for debris, came out on lap 278. The lead group, with the exception of Gordon in 14th, stayed out and worked on saving fuel. The restart came with 30 laps to go. Harvick again started on the inside, Earnhardt on the outside. As he had done all day, Harvick was able to jump to the lead while Earnhardt and Logano battled side by side. A lap later, Earnhardt was back in second all alone. The seventh caution came out on lap 286 when David Gilliland lost a tire and spun entering turn 1. There were no takers among the leaders for pit stops.

The restart came with 21 laps to go. Harvick was able to move to the lead as again Earnhardt and Logano fought for second. Behind them the rest of the top five were scrambling for position. Two laps later, the field had spread out and only Newman and Johnson were left to contest for fifth. The eighth caution came out on lap 297 as Kurt Busch’s Chevy finally let go.

The final restart came with 9 laps to go. Harvick was again on the inside, Earnhardt on the outside. As Harvick pulled away, Keselowski tried to slip by Earnhardt for second. Earnhardt was able to hold him off; meanwhile Gordon made his way to the top five. Harvick said those final cautions were making him nervous.

“It did because the No. 22 (Joey Logano) was able to time the restarts there,” Harvick said. “I knew that what was going to happen was he was going to take a shot down low. So, I tried to do the best I could.”

Earnhardt tried to make one last run but didn’t have enough as Harvick was able to cruise to his fifth career Phoenix victory.

Earnhardt was second, Keselowski third, Logano fourth and Gordon fifth.

“That 4 (Harvick) 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.”

Johnson was sixth. Newman came home seventh, Carl Edwards eighth, Kyle Busch ninth and Jamie McMurray rounded out the top ten.

“Man, this just solidifies so many things and so many decisions,” said Harvick who left his longtime team Richard Childress Racing at the end of last season. “I’ve just got to thank all these guys at Stewart-Haas Racing ... It’s been so much work with all the time and effort that these guys have put in, but what a race car.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. leads Keselowski in the points with Gordon third (-10), Harvick fourth (-11), Johnson fifth (-12), Logano sixth (-15), Kenseth (-20), Denny Hamlin (-22), Edwards (-25) and Greg Biffle (-26) round out the top ten as the NASCAR Sprint Cup series heads to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for next Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400.

“I hope everybody enjoyed the race,” a smiling Earnhardt Jr. said. “We were really working out butts of there and giving it everything we had.”

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