March 15, 2015
By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
AVONDALE, Ariz.—Yes, the best car won Sunday’s CampingWorld.com 500 at Phoenix International Raceway — but one-man juggernaut Kevin Harvick had to hold off charging Jamie McMurray on the final restart with 12 laps left to notch his fourth straight victory at the one-mile track.
The box score will show that the reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champ led 224 of 312 laps, but McMurray took his best shot on the Lap 301 restart, driving hard to the inside of the race winner and, for the briefest of moments, clearing Harvick’s No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet off Turn 2.
But the driver who has become an all-but-irresistible force in NASCAR’s premier series fought back to the outside, cleared McMurray’s No. 1 Chevrolet and cruised to the finish line 1.153 seconds ahead of the race runner-up.
The victory was Harvick’s second straight this season, his fourth straight at Phoenix and the 30th of his career. Harvick has won five of the last six races at the one-mile track in the Sonoran Desert — seven overall — and his string of seven straight top-two finishes in the Sprint Cup series, dating to last season, is the longest since Richard Petty rattled off 11 consecutive top-results in 1975.
“When you said the Richard Petty part, that just gives me chills,” Harvick said after the race.
The last driver to win four straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at the same track was Jimmie Johnson at Charlotte in 2004-05.
With restarts as crucial as they were on Sunday, Harvick was glad he had raced in the XFINITY Series event on Saturday afternoon.
“The restarts were just really slippery, and I learned that in the race yesterday,” said Harvick, who finished third in Saturday’s race. “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 (the corner).”
Harvick did that to perfection on the last four restarts, holding off Stewart-Haas teammate and fifth-place finisher Kurt Busch when action resumed on Laps 234 and 242 and outdueling McMurray (after Busch pitted for tires under the ninth of 10 cautions) on Laps 296 and 301.
Ryan Newman ran third, followed by Kasey Kahne and Busch. Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Jeff Gordon and Kyle Larson completed the top 10. Truex posted his fourth consecutive top-10 finish, the first time a Furniture Row Racing driver has accomplished that feat.
McMurray left the track wishing he had a mulligan on the final restart.
“Matt McCall (crew chief) made a really good decision at the end to stay out (on old tires) and got us on the front row,” McMurray said. “That was a fun battle with Kevin. Those are the kinds you wish you could do over again, because I would have slid up earlier.
“It’s similar to plate racing with the engine package we have now, where if you don’t get the guy cleared, he can kind of stall you out a little bit. And I saw Kevin coming and I thought I could slide up in front of him, but I also knew it was for the win and that we would probably have wrecked there.”
Notes: With two victories and two second-place finishes this season, Harvick leaves Phoenix with a 22-point lead over Logano in the series standings… Dale Earnhardt Jr. blew a right rear tire — the result of a melted bead — and slammed the Turn 2 wall on Lap 180. Credited with a 43rd-place finish, Earnhardt dropped four spots to sixth in the series standings, 56 points behind Harvick… Busch scored 39 points in his return from a three-race suspension, good for 33rd place in the standings. To be eligible for the series championship, Busch must be in the top 30 in points at the end of the 26-race regular season.