Kevin Harvick races to 3rd straight NASCAR Cup victory
By JOHN NICHOLSON
AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) Kevin Harvick is at his best when he's mad, so much so that former crew chief Gil Martin used to try to rile him up during races.
Harvick was running extra hot when he got to ISM Raceway after penalties for technical violations marred his victory last week at Las Vegas. When he finally cooled off Sunday afternoon, he celebrated his third straight NASCAR Cup victory and record-extending ninth at the mile oval southwest of Phoenix.
"Everybody just came here mad, chip on their shoulder, wanting to do exactly what we did today," Harvick said. "That's the type of determination and grit that you want in a race team. There's nothing better to be a part of than something like that.
"Actions speak a whole lot louder than all the words I can say this week, tweets that you can send out. Parking that thing in victory lane is the most powerful thing, most powerful message you can send, and says the most about our organization and our team."
After saying Friday that he would jump up and down on the back of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford if he won, Harvick simply patted the back window in a nod to social media photos of his buckled rear window in Las Vegas.
"I made it very clear to pat my window and thank it for doing its job," he said.
Harvick got in front of Busch on the last series of pit stops. Busch's team dropped the jack and had trouble with the right rear tire on the stop with 53 laps left, allowing Harvick - who pitted three laps earlier - to slip ahead.
"We lost the race on pit road today," Busch said. "But we've won races on pit road, too."
Harvick got around Chase Elliott - the first car with four fresh tires after the pit stops - and took the lead with 22 laps left when Ryan Newman finally made his last stop on the sunny day after morning rain. Busch never challenged Harvick after that and finished 0.774 seconds back.
"Man, it was a heck of a battle today," Harvick crew chief Rodney Childers said. "To sit down there in the corner and watch these guys race like that was like my short track days."
Busch won the first 75-lap stage, and brother Kurt Busch stayed on the track during a caution and won the second segment in a one-lap shootout.
Stewart-Haas racing had all four drivers in the top 10 for the first time, with Clint Bowyer finishing sixth, Aric Almirola seventh and Kurt Busch 10th.
"That's probably what I'm most proud of," owner Tony Stewart said.
NASCAR said Wednesday that inspectors at its research and development center in North Carolina found Harvick's Las Vegas car violated a rule requiring rear window support braces to hold the glass rigid, and another requiring the right rocker panel extension to be aluminum.
Harvick was penalized the seven playoff points he earned for winning the Las Vegas race and its first two stages. He was docked 20 regular points and the team lost 20 owners' points. Childers was fined $50,000, and car chief Robert Smith was suspended two races.
Stewart said he won't appeal the penalties.
"How many appeals have you seen overturned?" he explained.
Harvick regained the points lead Sunday, moving 12 ahead of Kyle Busch. And with the victory, the No. 4 was headed back to the R&D facility.
BY THE NUMBERS
Harvick began the streak at Atlanta after crashing and finishing 31st in the season-opening Daytona 500. He's the first to win three straight Cup races since Joey Logano in 2015.
Harvick broke a tie with Kyle Busch with 14 NASCAR national-series victories at the track. In 31 Cup starts in Phoenix, the 42-year-old California driver has 15 top-five finishes. He has one Xfinity win and four Truck victories at the track. The victory also was the milestone 40th of Harvick's Cup career.
Chase Elliott was third, followed by Denny Hamlin and pole-sitter Martin Truex Jr.
"I needed a little bit of forward drive there at the end," Elliott said. "I was turning pretty good and just had a hard time putting the power down."
Alex Bowman overcame electrical problems to finish 13th
"Everything inside the car quit," Bowman said. "My helmet blower quit, everything quit. It was hot. I burnt my feet pretty good, but the race car wasn't bad."
The 24-year-old driver from Tucson is in his first season as the retired Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s replacement in Hendrick Motorsports' No. 88 Chevrolet.
Jimmie Johnson finished 14th to extend his winless streak to 27 races, the longest drought of his career. The seven-time season champion has four victories at Phoenix.
Sunday, March 18, at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.
More AP auto racing: https://racing.ap.org
Updated March 11, 2018