Five thoughts from Phoenix
AP Sports Writer
AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Kevin Harvick and the rest of the new team at Stewart-Haas Racing are still trying to learn everyone’s names.
That hasn’t stopped them from winning right away.
Dominating from the start, Harvick raced away from the field for his second straight win at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday, putting a stamp of validation on his new relationship with Stewart-Haas Racing.
"This phenomenal," said Gene Haas, co-owner of SHR with Tony Stewart. "I think there was a lot of skepticism last year about what myself and Tony (Stewart) what we were up to, was there a lot of madness to this? Quite frankly, it’s a great team, there’s a lot of synergy at the shop, people working together. I don’t know what we did, but I think we put together a great organization."
Harvick raised a few eyebrows last season when word leaked that he was leaving Richard Childress Racing, a team he had been a part of since 1999, for Stewart-Haas.
Harvick worked around the distractions by winning his penultimate race with RCR and spent the offseason trying to mesh with everyone on his new team.
After a last-lap crash at the Daytona 500, Harvick had the fastest car in practice at Phoenix and carried it into the race, charging to the lead early and staying there most of the day. He led 224 of 312 laps and pulled away on several late restarts to win for the fifth time on the odd-shaped oval at PIR, passing Jimmie Johnson for most all-time.
Not bad for his second race with SHR and new crew chief Rodney Childers.
"As you go through time, the sky’s the limit for this team because everybody’s still trying to learn each other’s names, let alone what’s going on with the race car," Harvick said. "They all know the parts and pieces of the race car that they’re working on, but I guarantee you if line them all up, there would not be one person who knew everybody’s name on the team."
A few of the other developments from Sunday’s race:
JUNIOR’S FINISH: Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a whirlwind week after winning his second Daytona 500, spending the week making appearances and accepting congratulations.
It would have been easy for him to have a letdown or be fatigued with everything that went on, but he didn’t back off the throttle.
Earnhardt qualified fifth in NASCAR’s new knockout qualifying and ran near the front all afternoon.
He didn’t have enough to catch Harvick, but finishing second a week after winning at Daytona was quite an accomplishment. Earnhardt leads the Sprint Cup series with 90 points.
KESELOWSKI STILL STRONG: Brad Keselowski had a strong start to his weekend, earning a pole sweep in Nationwide and Sprint Cup in Phoenix.
He had to spend the last half of the weekend without his crew chief, Paul Wolfe, who left the desert to be with his wife for the birth of their first child.
Keselowski did just fine with team engineer Brian Wilson and Nationwide Series competition director Greg Erwin at the helm, running near the front all day to finish third.
"They did a great job," Keselowski said. "Still had two spots to go, but all things considered I thought they did really well. I was very proud of the effort."
LOGANO’S GAMBLE: Joey Logano started on the front row next to Keselowski and stayed up front most of the day. He was running third on the final restart and tried to dive down to the inside for a pass, but didn’t have enough pace to pull off the move and ended up losing a spot, to fourth.
"It’s all about the win, right?" Logano said. "Really, third place doesn’t mean anything. Last year, you may have taken third place and taken the points. This year, hey, go for it."
ROUGH DAY FOR DANICA: Danica Patrick had a rough weekend at what’s essentially her home track.
Patrick, who lives in the Phoenix area, struggled in NASCAR’s new knockout qualifying, starting 33rd, and didn’t have much luck once the race started, either.
She was involved in a crash with Justin Allgaier around the race’s midpoint and the damage to her fender caused the rear left tire to blow out a few laps later, sending her back to the pits.
Patrick had an animated discussion with Allgaier following the race and finished 36th after crashing at the Daytona 500 last week.
JOHNSON’S DAY: Jimmie Johnson spent the last part of the 2013 season focusing on winning the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, a decision that led to his sixth series title.
He expected it to slow him for the start of the 2014 season. The No. 48 team didn’t participate in test sessions with the 2014 car package in Charlotte at the end of last year, so the team was a little behind to start this season.
Even so, Johnson managed to finish sixth at Phoenix after a fifth at the Daytona 500.
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