AVONDALE, Ariz. — Kevin Harvick crashed Junior Nation’s party on Sunday.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. tried everything he could to give his fans another win after his Daytona 500 victory a week ago, but Harvick would have none of it.
Harvick won the Sprint Cup Series’ second race of the season, at Phoenix International Raceway, with a dominant performance that included keeping Earnhardt repeatedly at bay on several late restarts.
“This is awesome,” said Harvick, who led 224 of the race’s 312 laps. “What a race car.”
Harvick, 38, has a mastery of the one-mile track west of downtown Phoenix, where he often raced early in his career before reaching the Cup series. “These are the type of race tracks that I was brought up on,” he said.
The Bakersfield, Calif., native has won three of the last four Cup races at PIR and he holds the record for most Cup victories at the raceway with five.
Harvick “feels good and confident about what he’s doing here,” Earnhardt said, adding that “we didn’t have enough race car all day long” to catch Harvick.
Earnhardt was second, Brad Keselowski finished third and Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate Joey Logano was fourth.
Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, Earnhardt’s teammates at Hendrick Motorsports, finished fifth and sixth, respectively.
The victory, the 24th of Harvick’s Cup career, was not unexpected. Although Harvick qualified 13th, his No. 4 Chevrolet had been among the fastest cars in practice all weekend.
“They beat everybody before they came to the track today,” Keselowski said. “I would look for big things out of that team.”
Harvick this year moved to Stewart-Haas Racing, the team co-owned by three-time Cup champion Tony Stewart (who finished 16th on Sunday).
Harvick changed teams after spending 13 years at Richard Childress Racing, where he initially took over the car driven by Earnhardt’s late father, Dale Earnhardt, in 2001.
So Harvick was eager to produce a victory for his new team. In addition, rules changes implemented this year mean Harvick’s win virtually assures him a berth in NASCAR’s Chase for the Cup playoff in the fall.
The first half of the race was free of accidents. But there were several mishaps in the latter half that triggered caution periods and bunched the field back together.
That meant Harvick had to keep holding back not only Earnhardt but Logano and Keselowski when the race resumed with double-file restarts.
The final restart came with 10 laps remaining. As Harvick pulled away, Keselowski tried to get by Earnhardt but Earnhardt fought off the challenge and finished a half-second behind Harvick at the checkered flag.
The series moves to Las Vegas Motor Speedway this Sunday.