Harvick wins again after Vegas penalty
By Rick Minter
For people in competitive environments, being mad can be a great motivation. Kevin Harvick proved as much when he bounced back from a week of controversy to win Sunday’s TicketGuardian 500 at ISM Raceway in Phoenix.
Although Harvick doesn’t need much additional motivation to win at Phoenix, as his series-leading nine victories there attest, he did say his anger over the controversy surrounding the sagging rear window of his No. 4 Ford at Las Vegas the week before did affect him. (Although Harvick’s car passed a post-race inspection at Las Vegas, photos of the offending window were widely circulated on social media after the race, and NASCAR responded with a stiff penalty.)
“I’ve been mad as all get out because this team does a great job,” Harvick said in his Victory Lane interview. “This (Stewart-Haas Racing) 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.
“To come here to a race track that is so good for us is a lot of fun, and everyone was just determined this week, and we just wanted to just go stomp them. We didn’t stomp them, but we won. That’s all that really matters. Just proud of this team. Put a fire in our belly.”
Harvick, who now has won three straight Cup races and 40 in his career, wasn’t as dominant at Phoenix as he has been in previous wins there.
Runner-up Kyle Busch led the most laps with 128, but the jack fell on his final pit stop and put him behind at the end. Third-finishing Chase Elliott had another strong performance at Phoenix but also was unable to match Harvick in the closing laps. Nor was fourth-finishing Denny Hamlin, who led 33 laps.
Harvick had the speed when it counted. As the 312-lap event neared the end, Ryan Newman gambled that there would be a late-race caution and stayed on the track, taking the lead as the rest of the leaders pitted. When he finally stopped for fuel and tires with 22 laps remaining, Harvick inherited the lead for good.
Sunday’s race also was an exhibition of strength for both Stewart-Haas Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing, as each team placed all four of its drivers in the top 10. (It was the first time that had ever happened for Stewart-Haas.)
Kyle Busch, who races for Gibbs along with Denny Hamlin, Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones, said he believes Harvick and his Stewart-Haas teammates, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola, are benefiting from their team’s quick adaptation to the new rules for 2018.
“They’ve just kind of picked up where they left off [in 2017],” Busch said of the Stewart-Haas contingent. “With some of the rule changes that happened over the offseason, we felt like that slowed our stuff down a little bit. Didn’t slow theirs down near as much.”
Harvick said his team is succeeding because all four drivers are helping each other figure out how to be fast.
“To see [Almirola] up there, I saw Clint up there, Kurt winning a stage, that’s really the most important thing,” he said. “Because that progression as a race team, when everybody ups the ante on the car, you learn something from each car and each person.”