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.