Kevin Harvick wins at Phoenix in just second start for new team

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Kevin Harvick said he wanted to win as quickly as possible this season for his new team, Stewart Haas Racing.

It didn’t take long.

In just his second start driving the No. 4 SHR Chevrolet, Harvick won his record fifth Sprint Cup event at Phoenix International Raceway in Sunday’s The Profit on CNBC 500.

“This has been a great racetrack for us through the years before the repave, after the repave,” Harvick said. “I feel like when I come here with Trucks, Nationwide, Cup, these are the types of racetracks I was brought up on. We used to come here for the Copper Classic, the Winston West days.  This was our Daytona 500. It’s fun to come here. I feel like the flat track stuff is something that we’ve had a good knack at. Over the years, we’ve been able to race a lot of different series and spend a lot of time on this racetrack.  You learn and apply that race after race after race and hopefully you can learn something each week.”

It was Harvick’s second straight win at PIR, having also done so last November in his second-to-last race for Richard Childress Racing.

“This just solidifies so many things and so many decisions,” Harvick said, alluding to leaving RCR at the end of last season for SHR.

Even though he led the final 78 laps, a number of late restarts due to cautions caused Harvick some angst, especially with fourth-place finisher Joey Logano, who was the biggest thorn in Harvick’s side on those restarts.

“The 22 (Logano) was able to time the restarts and I knew he was going to take a shot down low,” Harvick said of the final restart. “Man, this is awesome.”

After finishing 13th in the season-opening Daytona 500, Harvick dominated Sunday’s race, leading 224 of the 312 laps in the 500-kilometer race.

“I’m just the lucky guy that gets to drive the car around the racetrack when they’re dialed in like they were today,” Harvick said. “Luckily, we were able to put it all together.”

Logano led the second-most laps (71).

“The back of Kevin’s car says ‘Freaky Fast,’ and they weren’t lying,” Logano said. “It was freaky fast because he just drives away from me. … He’s got something really figured out here and knows what he needs from his race car and was able to deliver. I went to school behind him a little bit, learned a little bit but I didn’t have enough to beat him.”

It was the 24th win of Harvick’s 14-year Sprint Cup career, and qualifies him along with Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. for this year’s reformatted Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Harvick, whose winning average was 134.524 mph, beat runnerup Earnhardt to the finish line by a margin of .060 seconds.

“We got running side-by-side for second, I just let Kevin get out a little too far,” Earnhardt said. “They did a great job all weekend. We ended up where I thought we should have finished. We were a little faster by the end, but they were stellar, impressive. We worked our butts off.”

Finishing third through 10th were Penske Racing teammates Brad Keselowski (who was also the pole-sitter) and Logano, Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon ad Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Jamie McMurray.

Of all the drivers that had the best chance to potentially catch Harvick at the end, Logano seemed to have the edge, but ultimately came up short.

“I tried really hard,” Logano said. “With the new points structure, a win means so much to get you into the Chase. I was sitting there third and I knew my restarts were really good all day and I was able to push him along.

“I wasn’t sure if I had enough to get three-wide and go for it, but on the last restart, you go for it, you’ve got nothing to lose. Third place doesn’t mean nothing today. … It just didn’t work out.”

Johnson was disappointed not to get a top-five finish.

“We were decent all day long, we just need a little more time with the new package of this race car,” the six-time Sprint Cup champ said. “Strategy was on our side. We were certainly making up some time. Solid day. We’ll take it. Looking forward to next week’s race in Las Vegas.”

Other key elements of Sunday’s race:

— Kurt Busch had a strong run early, but apparently lost an engine cylinder early in the second half of the race, which ultimately led to the motor in his No. 41 Chevrolet blowing up with 15 laps. Busch ended up with a disappointing 38th place finish.

— Still recovering from last summer’s broken leg, and even with his No. 1 hero, A.J. Foyt, cheering him on, Tony Stewart finished 16th.

— Danica Patrick had a rough day, finishing 36th. First she got into a minor wreck with Justin Allgaier and then about a dozen laps later, she went for a single-car spin after flat-spotting her left rear tire.

— Kyle Busch, who dominated in winning his third straight Nationwide Series race at PIR on Saturday, wound up ninth in the Sprint Cup main event.

— Denny Hamlin, who finished second at Daytona, was never really a factor at Phoenix, ending up with a 19th-place finish, the second-to-last driver on the lead lap.

— Logano, made a somewhat unusual pit stop 80 laps from the checkered flag, taking four tires and a full load of fuel. While the pit window was more like 65 to 70 laps, Logano’s crew chief, Todd Gordon, felt that with the fuel mileage his driver’s Ford Fusion was getting, that the car could make it to the finish line on that tank.

— Kyle Larson was the highest-finishing rookie, ending up in 20th place, the last driver on the lead lap.

— Fellow Sprint Cup rookie Austin Dillon, who started on the pole at Daytona last week, was barely heard from in Sunday’s event. Dillon ultimately finished 24th, one lap off the pace.

— Morgan Shepherd, who reset his own record for oldest driver in a Sprint Cup race (he’s 72), finished last, completing just 28 laps before calling it a day.

Here’s the unofficial finishing order:

1. Kevin Harvick

2. Dale Earnhardt Jr.

3. Brad Keselowski

4. Joey Logano

5. Jeff Gordon

6. Jimmie Johnson

7. Ryan Newman

8. Carl Edwards

9. Kyle Busch

10. Jamie McMurray

11. Kasey Kahne

12. Matt Kenseth

13. Clint Bowyer

14. Casey Mears

15. Aric Almirola

16. Tony Stewart

17. Greg Biffle

18. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

19. Denny Hamlin

20. Kyle Larson

21. Marcos Ambrose

22. Martin Truex Jr.

23. Paul Menard

24. Austin Dillon

25. Brian Vickers

26. AJ Allmendinger

27. Cole Whitt

28. David Ragan

29. David Gilliland

30. Justin Allgaier

31. Reed Sorenson

32. Brian Scott

33. Michael McDowell

34. Michael Annett

35. Ryan Truex

36. Danica Patrick

37. Blake Koch

38. Travis Kvapil

39. Kurt Busch

40. Joe Nemechek

41. Alex Bowman

42. Parker Kligerman

43. Morgan Shepherd

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IndyCar 2017 driver review: Remaining part-time drivers

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MotorSportsTalk wraps up its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017 with the remaining part-time drivers, after the 23 drivers who ran anywhere from six events to the full season.

There were 15 drivers who made four or fewer starts this season. Some overly impressed or drew major headlines in their limited opportunities.

They were, by start count:

  • Sebastian Saavedra (No. 17 Juncos Racing Chevrolet, No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, 4)
  • Gabby Chaves (No. 88 Harding Racing Chevrolet, 3)
  • Oriol Servia (No. 16 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, 3)
  • Jack Harvey (No. 50 MSR w/Andretti Autosport Honda, No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, 3)
  • Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet, 2)
  • Zach Veach (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, No. 40 A.J. Foyt Enterprises Chevrolet, 2)
  • Fernando Alonso (No. 29 McLaren Honda Andretti Honda, 1)
  • Pippa Mann (No. 63 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, 1)
  • Jay Howard (No. 77 Team One Cure/SPM Honda, 1)
  • Sage Karam (No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Chevrolet, 1)
  • James Davison (No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, 1)
  • Tristan Vautier (No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, 1)
  • Buddy Lazier (No. 44 Lazier Racing Partners Chevrolet, 1)
  • Zachary Claman DeMelo (No. 13 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, 1)
  • Robert Wickens (No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, Practice Only)

Going through them, in terms of impact, Alonso’s one-off at the Indianapolis 500 easily resonated loudest. It was incredible to witness the amount of buzz, worldwide support and media attention that Alonso generated, and fueled a running joke that he was the only driver in this year’s race. It was capped off when he beat Ed Jones to race rookie-of-the-year honors, despite losing a Honda engine late while Jones dragged a broken Dale Coyne Racing car to third place.

Elsewhere, Chaves and Harding Racing’s debut was the most unexpected pleasant surprise from a driver and team standpoint. A solid ninth at Indianapolis was followed by an even more impressive fifth at Texas. Their three oval races laid the groundwork for a step-up to a full-time entry in 2018.

Montoya proved he still had it with a pair of top-10s in a fifth Team Penske car. He’ll be in Penske’s Acura prototype sports car program next year and the hope is that we haven’t seen the last of him in IndyCar.

Saavedra re-established himself on the scene after a year-plus hiatus. The likable Colombian overachieved given low expectations with two different teams. Whether it was enough to see him and longtime backer AFS Racing for further races in 2018 is unknown.

Harvey and Veach each came up to IndyCar for a cup of coffee, both rookies in the Indianapolis 500 alongside Alonso and Jones while also getting additional road course starts. Neither of them looked a world-beater in their road course outings owing to tough circumstances, but they logged key laps and miles to build for a brighter future from 2018 and beyond in recently announced multi-year programs (Harvey with Michael Shank Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and Veach with Andretti Autosport).

Of the rest, Servia’s results left a bit to be desired, a potential top-five fading in Indy when he and Davison collided to trigger a multi-car pileup. Davison and Vautier impressed in their lone starts of the year with their pace and aggression but were unable to parlay them into results.

Mann made her usual Indy 500 one-off entry and secured her best finish in six starts, but pressed through a challenging month that she’ll be keen to improve upon in 2018. Her day was significantly better than Howard’s and Lazier’s, who both ended their ‘500 bows in the wall, and with Howard having contributed to Scott Dixon’s savage accident when he crashed in Turn 1 and then came into Dixon’s path.

“ZCD” made his debut at Sonoma in a second RLL Racing entry and did rather well, competitive on lap times as the weekend progressed on a track that’s notoriously low-grip. Wickens never got that far. Despite a preseason ride swap with his close friend James Hinchcliffe that reignited his passion for open-wheel after several years, and with Mercedes announcing it would pull the plug on its DTM program after 2018, Wickens got only a practice day at Road America before Mikhail Aleshin sorted his visa issues. The circumstances evolved in Wickens’ favor at season’s end to see him get the second seat for 2018 at SPM after all.