Kevin Harvick continued his domination of the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, winning for a record ninth-time at ISM Raceway in Phoenix, AZ, and for the 40th time in NASCAR’s premier series. Sunday’s win was Harvick’s third-straight victory. “The Closer,” beat Kyle Bush to the checkered flag by .774 seconds. The win allowed him to move past losing the postseason advantage of last week’s win. That misfortune came when two penalties were brought against Harvick and his Stewart-Haas Racing team during post-race inspection at Las Vegas. The infractions found by NASCAR were a faulty rear-window brace and rocker panels (side skirts) not made from the required aluminum.
After Sunday’s victory, Harvick said the Vegas penalties, which saw him lose car chief Robert Smith for two races, motivated the team.
“To come here to a race track that is so good for us is a lot of fun, and everyone was just determined this week, and we just wanted to just go stomp them,” Harvick said. “We didn’t stomp them, but we won. That’s all that really matters. Just proud of this team. Put a fire in our belly.”
Harvick didn’t outrun the field in Phoenix, like he did in Atlanta and Las Vegas where he dominated, but he was able to put his car out front for 38 of the 312 laps. Harvick led the third-most laps on the day, trailing only Kyle Larson, who kept the pace for 54 circuits and Kyle Bush, the driver credited with leading the most laps in the desert, at 128. The eventual winner didn’t even see the front until he manuevered around Kyle Bush on Lap 179.
A desert duel between Kyle and Kevin seemed like a strong possibility as the race neared it’s conclusion. Kyle Bush pitted for service on Lap 260. The team and driver thought they’d have a good chance to run Harvick back down on new tires, the SHR driver pitted four laps earlier, but as Bush’s service was taking place, the jack dropped, extending work on the car by roughly three seconds. Following the miscue, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver rallied from third to get around Chase Elliott, who would finish third, for the runner-up position, closing into a half-second behind Harvick, as the leaders navigated lapped traffic, but that’s as far as he was able to advance.
After finishing second, Kyle Bush said pit road was an obstacle for he, and his team.
“Coming into the green flag stops, had a couple guys pit a little bit before us,” Busch said. “I don’t think that hurt us too bad, but the jack dropping certainly did. We lost the race on pit road today. There’s been races where I’ve won it on pit road, too. We’ll just have to go into next week and see what we can do there.”
Denny Hamlin would end his day in fourth, with Martin Truex Jr. rounding out the top-five. The rest of the top-10 were Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola, Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones and Kurt Bush, respectively.
The top-10 finishes for all the Stewart-Haas Racing drivers is the first time the team has had all four cars in the top-10 since SHR became a four-car organization in 2014. Joe Gibbs Racing also finished with all their cars within the first 10 positions.
The 2018 edition of “NASCAR Goes West” concludes its three event stretch, Sunday, at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA.
Listen below to Episode 4 of Track Talk with my take on hot topics after ISM Raceway.