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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Jimmie Johnson open to racing Rolex 24 at Daytona in lower category to earn first watch

Jimmie Johnson Rolex 2023
Michael L. Levitt/LAT/USA/IMSA
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Jimmie Johnson could be making his last start in a prototype Saturday, but he still might be racing sports cars at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Le Mans in 2023.

Now that he’s done racing full time in the NTT IndyCar Series, Johnson said this week that his top three priorities for 2023 are 1) racing the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day (commonly known as “The Double”); 2) the 24 Hours of Le Mans and 3) the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Winning a Rolex 24 long has been a goal for Johnson, who has three overall runner-up finishes over nine starts in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener at Daytona International Speedway.

IMSA SEASON FINALE: Details for watching the Petit Le Mans

All of those were in the premier category, but with IMSA overhauling and rebranding the class (from DPi to GTP) next season, it seems there won’t be room for Johnson to return in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac. Johnson will be teamed with Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Rockenfeller in Saturday’s Petit Le Mans season finale, wrapping the second season of endurance races for the Action Express entry.

“I know the landscape with the new prototype class that’s come out, and frankly there’s just not enough cars or open seats available,” the seven-time Cup Series champion said during a Zoom news conference Tuesday. “So I don’t seen an opportunity in the premier division, but I am open to the other divisions on track and would love to finally earn one of those watches.”

That could mean Johnson (who bought an engraved Rolex after winning the 2006 Daytona 500 but wants to earn a signature trophy of sports car racing) entering in an LMP2 or LMP3 or perhaps a GT car for the first time at Daytona next year. He will have Carvana’s primary sponsorship in tow next year that he presumably could bring to a team.

The rest of the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion’s 2023 schedule also remains to be solidified. But it seems Johnson is nearly a lock for a 24 Hours of Le Mans debut in the lineup of the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro, which will be fielded jointly by Hendrick Motorsports and NASCAR.

“The rest of it is just early,” he said. “In the coming weeks on all fronts, conversations will continue forward. I still feel I’m on a short list for the Garage 56 program in Le Mans next year and hope to get some clarity on that in the coming weeks or months. So I wish I had more to report at this point. It’s really about not returning full time to IndyCar, and now that I’ve made that decision and letting that news be known, I really feel like I’ll get some traction here and be able to solidify my schedule for ’23.”

Depending on the interest he draws, his options should be wide open. After racing a Honda the past two years and a Chevrolet for his 20-plus years in NASCAR, Johnson isn’t under contract to any manufacturer or team next year.

Here’s what else Johnson has said about what he wants to do in ’23:

IndyCar: Though his IndyCar track record was much stronger on ovals, Johnson seems open to any part-time schedule.

“I’m running out of specific events that are bucket list races (in IndyCar), and truthfully, that’s kind of what led to my decision to not come back full time,” Johnson said. “But I still am open to tracks that are important to me, races that are important to me and doing it with people and teams that are important to me, so if something develops with Chip (Ganassi) that’s a mixed bag of road and street courses and some ovals, I’m open to it. I’m open to just ‘the Double’ or the Indy 500 alone. I really do have a clean sheet of paper and eager to see what meaningful opportunities develop and make sense.”

Though he is free to talk with other teams, Johnson said returning with Chip Ganassi Racing would be his first choice after racing with the team since 2021.

“I’ve really only spoken to Chip,” he said. “I truly feel like I’m part of the family at CGR. If I’m in IndyCar, that’s really where I want to be. I know that team. I know the inner workings of it. I do feel like we’re working hard to continue the relationship together, so that would really be my intentions if I was able to put something together and come back in IndyCar, I’d love for it to be there.”

NASCAR: Johnson mentioned again that being a past winner of The Clash and All-Star Race previously granted him long-term eligibility for those events (NASCAR since has changed its criteria), so the exhibitions in Los Angeles and North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, are on his radar.

“I do have a few years left on my eligibility for the Clash and for the All-Star Race, so I’m surprised no one has really asked or pushed hard to this point yet,” he said. “I guess I’ve been busy in IndyCar, and people assume my schedule is tied up. But looking forward, those would be easy opportunities to come back, but honestly I’ve not had an in-depth serious conversation with anyone yet on any of those fronts.

“I’d love to go to Wilkesboro. I’ve never driven on that racetrack. Lowe’s corporate offices were just down the street, so I’ve driven by it many times. I went on a long bike ride with Matt Kenseth and some friends a few years ago and actually rode my bicycle around the track. So I’d love to go back in a proper race car and event someday and hopefully that opportunity can develop.”

Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 (which put Kimi Raikkonen in the Cup race at Watkins Glen International) would provide an avenue for Johnson’s re-entry to stock cars.

“Justin’s been a longtime friend and someone I stay in touch with, and he’s certainly made it known that the Project 91 car is available if I have interest,” Johnson said. “So I would need to continue those conversations forward.”

–“The Double”: In trying to become the first driver since Kurt Busch in 2014 to race 1,100 miles at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway in the same day, Johnson believes the logistics should be easier. Namely, he won’t have a full-time commitment in either IndyCar and NASCAR, and the reduced Cup schedule for practice and qualifying should free up more time.

“When drivers did it in the past, we had a lot more on-track activity for both series, certainly on the NASCAR side,” Johnson said. “I think how the NASCAR format works now, there’s less of an ask in time. So I do feel like the potential to apply myself and have physically enough time to pull it off is there. I do think the reduced schedule and not running the full IndyCar schedule will give me the time I need before and after to seriously focus and dedicate everything I can and would need to give my best performance in both races.”