AVONDALE — Four months ago, Kevin Harvick had a nice send-off with Richard Childress Racing, winning his next-to-last race with the team at Phoenix International Raceway.
On Sunday, he announced his arrival at Stewart-Haas Racing by winning the second race with his new team — and doing it on the same weekend he celebrated his 13th wedding anniversary, no less.
Yeah, Harvick kind of likes it here in the desert.
Disappointed at the Daytona 500 after a last-lap crash, he bounced back quickly by charging to the front and dominating the rest of the way to win consecutive races at PIR with different teams.
Harvick won the race last fall after Carl Edwards ran out of fuel at the white flag.
He needed no such help Sunday.
Harvick had the fastest car in practice, and kept it rolling in the race, charging to the front after starting 13th, then essentially staying there. He led 224 of 312 laps on the odd-shaped mile oval and pulled away on several late restarts for his fifth NASCAR Sprint Cup victory at PIR, passing Jimmie Johnson for the most at the track.
Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second, pole-sitter Brad Keselowski was third, and Penske Racing teammate Joey Logano fourth.
Jeff Gordon rounded out the top five on a warm and partly cloudy day after downpours wiped out the final 32 laps of Saturday’s Nationwide race, won by Kyle Busch.
Harvick had no trouble making his way through the field after the green flag dropped, passing Keselowski on the apron, then Logano for the lead on lap 74. Harvick maintained the lead coming out of green-flag pit stops with just under 200 laps left and again with about 70 laps left.
A series of cautions came out late in the race, with Harvick easily pulling away each time to earn a very nice capper to his anniversary weekend with wife DeLana.
“I’m just the lucky guy who gets to drive around the racetrack when they have it dialed in like they did today,” Harvick said. “We were able to put it all together.”
Earnhardt worked his way up in the opening third of the race, passing Logano and Keselowski to pull up behind Harvick. He dropped back a couple times, fighting back to get Harvick within his sights, but didn’t ultimately have enough to track him down.
NASCAR’s new knockout qualifying system made its Sprint Cup debut at Phoenix. Keselowski came out on top, edging Logano for his fourth career pole.
Not long after that, Keselowski found out he would be without his crew chief for the race, as Paul Wolfe went back to North Carolina for the birth of his first child.
With team engineer Brian Wilson and Nationwide Series competition director Greg Erwin at the helm, Keselowski ran near the front all day. But like everyone else, he didn’t have enough to keep up with Harvick.