by Nick Bromberg
Lincoln Electric is a proud partner of Stewart-Haas Racing.
Avondale, AZ (March 15, 2015: Breaking news: Kevin Harvick is the master of the repaved Phoenix International Raceway.
Sunday, Harvick got his fourth-straight win at the track and his fifth in six races, dominating after he started first.
There was some late drama, as Harvick had to hold off Jamie McMurray on a restart with 12 laps to go after a caution precipitated by Danica Patrick's spin. But while McMurray nudged ahead of Harvick off turns one and two, he couldn't clear him.
The defending Sprint Cup Series champion was able to keep McMurray pinched down just enough to get a run heading into turn three and cleared him through turn four and led the final 11 laps.
“The restarts were just really slippery and I learned that in the race yesterday," Harvick said. "You had to really maintain your entrance speed and really slide the thing through the center of the corner to try to help keep it pointed up off."
Phoenix was given a fresh coat of asphalt in the middle of 2011. Sunday's race was the eighth race at the track. Even accounting for a 19th-place finish in the first race on the track's new surface, Harvick's average finish at the track since the repave is fifth. Astounding. It's a fact that the entire field will be well-aware of when the circuit returns to Phoenix for the penultimate race of the season. If Harvick is still alive in the Chase, everyone will be chasing him for one of the bids to Homestead.
The win also meant Harvick recorded his seventh-straight top-two finish dating back to Texas, the third-to-last race of the 2014 season. He's the first driver since Richard Petty in 1974 to start a season with four-straight top-two finishes and the first driver since Petty in 1975 to have seven-straight top twos.
Harvick won at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last week and is the first driver to repeat in 2015 after Joey Logano and Jimmie Johnson won the first two races of the year.
Kurt Busch finished fifth in his first race back after he was reinstated by NASCAR. He was running as high as second before he pitted under caution with 20 laps to go and fell back in the field because not everyone elected to pit.
While Harvick and Busch succeeded, the rest of Stewart-Haas Racing struggled. In addition to Patrick's spin, Tony Stewart crashed twice. The first one happened after he worked his way into the top 10 and spun around after contact with Justin Allgaier. The second came when his wounded car lost a tire on the frontstretch.