Phoenix International Raceway knows how to put on a show. It will convince you that the race will be dull, yet there will be a moment where everything changes. The flat, one-mile track is the first race after the Daytona 500, and it’s where redemption can begin. Add that to the threat of fuel running out, and you have the makings of a thrilling race.
Kevin Harvick was the strongest car all weekend, and that didn’t change on Sunday. The No. 4 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing was in an area code all by himself, the closest neighbor being last weekend’s winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. To put the dominance into words is almost impossible; nothing but a few cautions near the end could stop him, but nobody was a match for him. The way the former Richard Childress Racing driver races PIR is incredible.
Speaking of RCR, it’s the first win for Harvick since he left his old team. A Matt Kenseth-like feel is surrounding the No. 4 teams. It may be too early in the season to say that, but it’s there. The secret weapon? Rodney Childers, one of the minds that could arguably challenge Hendrick Motorsports’ Chad Knaus on any given weekend. Don’t underestimate him, because that would be a huge mistake.
The race as a whole was solid. Pace began to pick up after halfway, when all the caution started coming. Urgency settled into the drivers’ bones, and spins resulted from the impatience. The only multi-car incident happened on lap 171, where Travis Kvapil, Justin Allgaier, and Danica Patrick all floundered together. Patrick was not pleased with the situation, reportedly having a heated discussion with Allgaier after the race. The driver of the No. 10 is most likely getting tired of getting caught up in messes, and that can lead to more problems down the road. Patrick needs to have a sit-down with her teammates at SHR, find out how to become competitive every week, and do it. This could be a make-or-break year for her, and it’s not starting out well.
Props must be given to Earnhardt Jr., who finished second after winning the 2014 Daytona 500 last Sunday. Not only was it a powerful effort, but it’s possible he’s been running on mediocre sleep for the past week. It’s not easy doing an entire media tour with another race around the corner.
Point Standings after The Profit on CNBC 500
1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (–)
2. Brad Keselowski (-6)
3. Jeff Gordon (-10)
4. Kevin Harvick (-11)
5. Jimmie Johnson (-12)
6. Joey Logano (-15)
7. Matt Kenseth (-20)
8. Denny Hamlin (-22)
9. Carl Edwards (-25)
10. Greg Biffle (-26)
10. Casey Mears (-26)
10. Jamie McMurray (-26)
13. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (-27)
14. Kyle Busch (-29)
15. Ryan Newman (-30)
16. Austin Dillon (-34)
FAN REACTION: Fans were consistent in their ratings, staying at a ‘B+’ to ‘C-’ range. Many agree that the first part was lacking, yet it picked up at the end. Harvick’s dominance dampened the race for some. This just goes to show that you can’t please everybody, but you certainly can’t please NASCAR fans.
Harvick’s win at Phoenix International Raceway shows that his move to SHR was a fantastic choice, and his partnership with Childers is adding fuel to the fire. It’s a long season to go, but it’s a safe bet that the No. 4 will be up front often.