Harvick dominates in Phoenix
Kevin Harvick's win streak stayed red-hot Sunday, when he scored a dominating victory in the CampingWorld.com 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway.
Harvick has won four of the last seven races he's run dating back to last year, and he's finished second in the other three.
Sunday's victory was Harvick's third in a row at PIR and fifth in the last six races at the 1-mile desert track. Once again, Harvick's No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet led the most laps in the race, as he appears just about bulletproof.
The 2014 champ led 225 of 312 laps to win over Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne. In his first race back since being suspended Feb. 20, Kurt Busch finished fifth in a second SHR car.
Tony Stewart was running 10th during Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway when he got into the No. 51 Chevrolet of Justin Allgaier on Lap 236, essentially ending his chance for a top-10 finish.
Stewart lost control during contact, spun out and hit the wall, bringing out the eighth caution flag of the day.
"Smoke" had been running aggressively throughout the day, knocking Austin Dillon out of the way earlier. He had also initiated contact with Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s string of three consecutive top-five finishes came to a halt here Sunday when the Hendrick Motorsports driver suffered a tire failure and crashed during the CampingWorld.com 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.
"Not a lot of guys are having tire problems," Earnhardt Jr. said after exiting the infield care center. "(Sam) Hornish had one similar to us. You just can't abuse it. We were really, really loose and just abused the tire. You want to get angry but you've got to get the balance of the car better.
"A lot of guys are running without any problem. We were super, super loose; it just wore the tire out."
The incident occurred on Lap 181 of the 312-lap race. According to Goodyear officials, the right-rear tire problem was the result of a melted bead and was the same issue suffered by Hornish, who had a tire go down earlier in the race.
Earnhardt opened the season with top-five finishes at Daytona, Atlanta and Las Vegas and entered Sunday's race second in the points standings. Damage to the No. 88 Chevrolet was too extensive to try and repair and get the driver back out before the conclusion of the race.
Earnhardt said crew chief Greg Ives had told him the team had seen no previous tire issues on previous stops Sunday.
"We were progressively getting worse and worse on entry," Earnhardt said. "I imagine we put that set through hell compared to the other ones.
"I like the tire a lot and I applaud Goodyear for trying to soften it up because the other tire we had here wasn't a lot of fun. This one is pretty good to race with, the car's still real, real hard to pass with. Shifting is a little annoying … it's a little bit of a pain in the ass to shift.
Unofficially, Earnhardt was credited with a 43rd-place finish.
KEVIN HARVICK, NO. 4 JIMMY JOHN'S/BUDWEISER CHEVROLET SS – RACE WINNER
The restarts were just really slippery and I learned that in the race yesterday. You had to really maintain your entrance speed and really slide the thing through the center of the corner to try to help keep it pointed up off. But I just want to thank the fans. This is a really special place of all these West Coast race for us to win. I want to thank everybody who helps us on this car and everybody at SHR for uh, man. These things are incredible and really fun to drive.
FOR THE SECOND STRAIGHT YEAR, YOU ARE THE FIRST REPEAT WINNER. AND YOU SAID THERE WOULD NOT BE ANY CHAMPIONSHIP HANGOVER AND THAT YOU WOULD KEEP BUILDING AND THAT YOU HADN'T PEAKED YET
I think when you look at the start of this year, we know each other so much better. We have a lot of things different than what we had last year and we had that experience of everything that we did to race for the championship. So, I just feel like the bond between this team is really special. Rodney Childers (crew chief) and myself and the engineers and everybody gets along so good. It's almost scary how well things are going. You don't want to talk about it too much because you want it to keep going. But I'm just really proud of these guys on this team and everything that they do.
MARTIN TRUEX, JR., NO. 78 FURNITURE ROW/VISSER PRECISION CHEVROLET SS AND GENERAL MANAGER OF FURNITURE ROW RACING JOE GARONE, met with members of the media at Phoenix International Raceway and discussed the teams season thus far, the importance of staying one step ahead of the competition and many other topics. Full Transcript:
TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE OPENING TO THE SEASON AND YOUR OUTLOOK ON TODAY'S RACE:
TRUEX, JR.: "It's been a good start to the year, a pleasant surprise. I think that it all goes back to a great plan going into the off season. All the guys on the team Joe (Garone, General Manager), Barney (Visser, Team Owner), Cole (Pearn, crew chief) having a good plan and executing throughout the off season. The cars have been running good. The team has been making good decisions. The team hasn't been making mistakes. Reliability has been there, so everything we have needed to work on and wanted to get better at has been there. Now it's just a matter of how much better can we get. What are the things we need to work on to improve our performance even more? So far everything has gone well. I've got a good car here for today. I felt like yesterday after practice we were probably a top five car. If we make the right adjustments we can possibly be better than that. If we don't, we could possibly be a little worse. I feel good about what we have. We have had a good weekend here and it should be a good day here at Phoenix.
TALK ABOUT THE CHANGES THE TEAM MADE IN THE OFF SEASON AND HOW THEY ARE PAYING OFF NOW:
GARONE: "I would say the biggest thing to start with was personnel; advancing Cole Pearn to crew chief which really had been planned for a while. The last I think it was eight races of the season he was a lot more heavily involved. It was just kind of a perfect fit for him. We boosted up our engineering staff around him. We were able to make some really good hires. Then it's kind of like Martin said, we were able to go into the off season with a good plan. And focus on our down falls that we learned through the season and just listen to the driver. He told us the cars weren't working and went to work on them and got them better."
LOOKING FORWARD TO NEXT WEEK AT FONTANA WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THAT TRACK?
TRUEX, JR.: "Definitely looking forward to California. I feel like it's a place we should be strong. We did the Goodyear tire test there last fall. I guess it was late October, early November and really liked what we saw there with the new package. We ran 2015 rules and learned a lot there that has helped us throughout this season. I feel really good about it. I had a good car at Atlanta and Vegas and that's a good indication that we should be good on the 1.5-mile, 2-mile tracks. I feel like that will be a good one for us."
THE EVIDENCE AT LEAST LOOKING FROM THE OUTSIDE IS THAT COLE (PEARN, CREW CHIEF) HAS BEEN THE KEY FIGURE IN THIS EARLY SEASON TURN-AROUND. WHAT SPECIFIC THINGS HAS HE CHANGED THAT HAS HELPED THIS MOVE ALONG SO QUICKLY?
TRUEX, JR.: "Well he is certainly a big part of turning the team around and he is a big part of why we are running well. I don't want to give him all the credit because there are a lot of other people that deserve it as well. I think at the end of the day we have better equipment, but we understand our equipment better. Cole is a big part of understanding it better. He's a big part of getting the right people to help him. The engineers we hired those were him. He went out and looked for the guys he needed and said ‘these are the guys that can help me do my job.' He has taken a smart approach to it. He has done a good job with it. I've been very fortunate to work with him. He is a smart kid. He has a bright future in the sport. He is a guy you are going to talk about for a long time being a big crew chief. I think one of the neatest things is that there were a lot of big teams after him last year and this winter. We are very proud that he stayed with us. I'm proud that he stayed with us because he knew what we were capable of. It's been neat to see and it's been fun to have the success early on to keep him motivated and keep him in the game and pushing hard. He is a really awesome guy and he's pushing hard to get our stuff better and go out and win races."
DID HE MOVE FROM NORTH CAROLINA TO DENVER?
TRUEX, JR.: "Yes. He is from Canada. He moved to North Carolina, I guess he started at RCR and had been at RCR for a long time, then went out to Denver."
DO YOU SEE ANY ADVANTAGE GAINED FROM TESTING AT FONTANA GOING INTO NEXT WEEKEND?
TRUEX, JR.: "It depends on what tire they bring back I guess. Anytime you get track time, especially with a new rules package coming in effect. We got some time on the 2015 rules, which was definitely, I think a little bit of an advantage. But I think at the end of the day our car we were fast out there. We felt good about what we had and we have some data to work off of for this year. It really just gave us a little step-up on the competition I think. But everybody around here is pretty smart they will catch up. So we need to get better than we were then. And implement the things that we have learned since then to be better."
A YEAR AGO BARNEY (VISSER) SAID HE CERTAINLY HAD AN INTEREST IN ADDING A SECOND CAR ONE DAY. DID THAT ALL SORT OF GET SHELVED UNTIL MARTIN'S PROGRAM GOT ON THE RIGHT TRACK? IS THAT WHERE WE ARE NOW? OR IS THE FEELING AT FURNITURE ROW THAT A SECOND CAR IN TERMS OF SHARING INFORMATION, ETC. WOULD BE EVEN MORE OF A HELP?
GARONE: "It's one of those situations where if it's a distraction to the focus of what we are doing with Martin it becomes not a real high priority. So of course the better that we are running and when things seem like they are going right I end up going back looking to try and get something else going. Because I think long-term it will help strengthen us. But it isn't the end of all ends. It doesn't have to happen. We just try and approach that from a priority stand point. Getting this car, the No. 78 car and Martin winning races the way he should is top priority."
ONCE YOU PUT TOGETHER A STRING OF GOOD RACES AND ARE RUNNING WELL HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO MAINTAIN THAT?
TRUEX, JR.: "I don't know. I guess we will have to see. I don't think it's that hard. I think that the hardest part about this sport is catching up when you are behind, especially during a season. I think that obviously with the gain we were able to make over the winter, those aren't kind of gains you can make during a season in most cases. I don't know. I think that with the rules being the same throughout this year I think we will be okay. But everybody is consistently working on their program to get better. If we, as Joe (Garone) always say, let grass grow under our feet we are going to decline throughout the season. So we need to keep working hard on finding those little bits and pieces of speed. Hopefully, throughout the year we can find those every few weeks and stay with the competition."
GARONE: "I have to back that up. I mean one of the things that came out of last year from my perspective was just you talk how important it is to move quickly. This sport is moving so fast that if you are not on top of it, it gets away from you quick. That is one of the things we failed at last year was being able to move quickly enough. So moving into this year it is a point that we look at every day. I think to combat a performance issues is just working hard to be ahead of them."
GARONE: "You can look at that when you are having good runs the attitude at the shop; your employees have a kick in their step. You are looking at work you are doing on the cars longer down the road, more testing; instead of unburying yourself so to speak. I think that it is better. That is a benefit for sure."
YOU WIN A COUPLE OF BUSCH CHAMPIONSHIP AND THE FUTURE IS SO BRIGHT YOU HAVE TO HAVE REALLY GOOD SUNGLASSES. THEN YOU HAVE TEAMS COLLAPSE AROUND YOU AND WEIRD STUFF HAPPENS. DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE SETTLED INTO A SITUATION NOW WHERE YOU ARE NOT LOOKING AROUND FOR TRAP DOORS TO OPEN? ARE YOU REALLY COMFORTABLE NOW IN THIS SPOT?
TRUEX, JR.: "Yeah, I like it here. I like the people, I like Barney and Joe. We have a good group of guys that go on the road, especially. So, yeah, I'm comfortable, but you never know what the future holds. If last year told me anything it was you never know what tomorrow is going to bring. You never know what's next. You have to enjoy today. That is what we are doing right now. We will take it one day at a time, one race at a time and see where we end up. I don't think that it's too smart to look too far ahead anymore."
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