Phoenix Update: Harvick dominating as expected

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Despite starting 13th, Kevin Harvick was pegged as the favorite going into today’s The Profit on CNBC 500 at Phoenix International Raceway and he hasn’t done anything to change that line of thinking in the first half of today’s race.

At Lap 156 of 312, Harvick held the lead over Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, and Jimmie Johnson.

Logano got ahead of polesitter and Team Penske compadre Keselowski on the opening lap, but Harvick quickly raised eyebrows by charging into the Top 5 after just seven laps.

He would then dust Earnhardt, Johnson, and Keselowski to get up to second position before a competition caution kicked in at Lap 35, so teams could check their cars’ tire wear after yesterday’s rains washed the rubber off the one-mile PIR oval.

Logano had already lapped up to 33rd place by the time he and the rest of the leaders came to the pits for their opening stops of the day. He lost the race off pit road to Keselowski but was able to get the lead right back on the restart at Lap 41.

But Harvick was able to break the Penske 1-2 by getting past Keselowski for second on Lap 70. Four laps later, he claimed the lead from Logano with a pass that started along the dogleg backstretch and ended going into Turn 3. Earnhardt then made his way past both Penske drivers to get up to second by Lap 90.

Green flag pit stops began after the Lap 100 mark with Kyle Busch among those that chose to pit a little early in the cycle at Lap 107.

Harvick pitted from the lead at Lap 112 and was able to hold P1 after the cycle played out, with Earnhardt in second, Logano in third, Keselowski in fourth, and Jeff Gordon in fifth.

By Lap 125, Harvick had already stretched out to a lead of 1.5 seconds over the Daytona 500 winner and the gap has stabilized around that margin.

With just one caution in the first half of the race, the pace has been quick enough to leave just 17 cars on the lead lap at the Lap 156 halfway mark.

Andretti Autosport picks James Hinchcliffe for last 3 races of season

Andretti Autosport James Hinchcliffe
Chris Owens/IndyCar
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James Hinchcliffe will finish the NTT IndyCar Series season for Andretti Autosport, replacing Zach Veach in the No. 26 Dallara-Honda.

The team made the announcement Friday afternoon that Hinchcliffe will return after racing for Andretti at Texas Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and the Indianapolis 500.

Hinchcliffe, who also has worked as an IndyCar on NBC analyst and pit reporter, will race in the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida.

“It’s always unfortunate to have to change drivers this far into a season, but we have to look at finishing the year the best we can for the 26 team and start evaluating and looking at options for 2021,” team owner Michael Andretti said in a release. “James has an existing relationship with our team that we’d love to build on and it makes the most sense for him to step in for these last three races. We are looking forward to seeing what he can do.”

Hinchcliffe has a season-best finish of seventh in the Indy 500. He had been working on trying to put together a deal for next season after scrambling to secure a partial schedule this year when he lost his ride at Arrow McLaren SP after 2020 with a year left on his deal.

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“I know, probably better than most, what Zach is feeling right now, and I have to say that he has handled everything about as class act as you can,” Hinchcliffe said. “I’ve known Zach as a teammate, before that as a colleague and even before that as a friend, and he is a guy that I respect in every way. I know he is a fighter and will fight back to where he wants to be.

“For me now, my focus is 100% on racing the Harvest GP and getting the best possible results for Gainbridge, for Honda, for Michael and for the team. I obviously haven’t been on a road course in a while, but at least the last time I was, it was here at IMS! Hopefully that puts us in a good position to go out there and have a strong weekend.”