NASCAR's foray into Phoenix proved to be fruitful for Kevin Harvick, who took home the checkered flag over Carl Edwards in a nail-biter.
It looked like Harvick would cruise to an easy victory down the stretch, as he held a huge lead over Dale Earnhardt Jr. before a late caution forced a reset. When things finally got started, Edwards made a late move to finish within an eyelash of the win, via NASCAR:
Harvick's victory was an historic one at Phoenix, as Jayski noted after the race:
Here's the full leaderboard from Sunday's race at Phoenix International Raceway:
|2016 NASCAR at Phoenix Results - March 13|
|5||Dale Earnhardt Jr.|
|14||Martin Truex Jr.|
|37||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.|
This year's Good Sam 500 was all about four drivers. Pole-sitter Kyle Busch held the top spot for 75 total laps before relinquishing things to Earnhardt, who went inside to take the lead, via NASCAR:
It appeared early that Junior was in for a good day on the track because of his history in Phoenix, via Phoenix Raceway:
As good as Earnhardt has been overall at Phoenix Raceway, his three victories on the track have come at November's Can-Am 500. He did finish second at this event in 2014, but he brought up the caboose last year after blowing a tire on Lap 181.
Busch didn't have an incident that bad, though there was an amusing moment when he attempted to pull into pit row just after the halfway mark, via NASCAR:
After falling back to 18th in the standings, Busch was able to battle back late. He climbed all the way back up to the third spot with less than 80 laps to go.
Harvick and Edwards were in a battle for the lead while Busch was making his comeback. The duo went into pit road around the 230-lap mark, with ESPN's Bob Pockrass providing the scene as they were coming back on the track:
Even though that moment didn't go Harvick's way, he would quickly vault into the top spot, leading a race-high 139 laps.
Harvick's resume at Phoenix has been more impressive than Earnhardt's, as noted by Phoenix Raceway on Twitter:
Dustin Swedelson of SiriusXM's Speedway summed up Harvick's success in Phoenix nicely:
There were questions about Harvick's fuel late in the race, though Pockrass noted his team wasn't holding him back from opening things up:
Motor Sports Network offered a comedic GIF of how crews were faring coming down the stretch because of the fuel strategy:
The win also proved to be big for Harvick in the points standings, as he is now tied with Busch for the lead early this season:
|2016 NASCAR Chase Standings Top 10|
|9||Martin Truex Jr.||117||37|
|10||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||115||39|
Harvick, Busch, Edwards and Earnhardt were the only drivers who led in the race, though there were a total of seven lead changes. The photo finish was appropriate because of how close the battle between Harvick and Edwards was all day.
This marks Harvick's fourth top-10 finish in four races in 2016. His consistent level of performance made a win inevitable, while also putting the rest of the field on high alert. Winning on Sunday will give him the momentum needed to start getting some separation in the chase standings early in the year.
Given his success on this track, it's no surprise that Harvick had good things to say about it after his win, via Pockrass: "I just like racing here. It's just one of those places where I feel like I've been here enough times to where I can move around and find something to make our car work."
On the other side of the spectrum, included in Pockrass' report, Edwards said he couldn't find an opening to make up the slim margin he needed to get a win: "[Harvick] was pretty fast, even on old tires. Once we got clear, I thought we were going to get one shot. I tried to go to the outside of him, and he blocked a little bit, and I didn't have anywhere to go but rub him a little bit."
Harvick also said, "I knew I was going to be on defense down there" at the end, but " I needed to get a good run off the corner, and I was going to have to get into his door, and it worked out just barely."
Things couldn't have worked out better for Harvick, even with the close finish in overtime. He's got his first win and can look ahead to next week in Fontana, California.