Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Phoenix is just too easy for Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick wins at Phoenix for eighth time.
Team Chevy Earns Sixth Consecutive Win at PIR

Chevrolet’s Kevin Harvick won the Good Sam 500 at PIR

* Eighth career victory at PIR for Harvick
* Win was sixth consecutive victory for Chevrolet at the 1.0-mile track
* Chevrolet has now gone to winner’s circle twice in 2016 (Jimmie Johnson, Atlanta; Kevin Harvick, Phoenix)

Avondale, Ariz. (March 13, 2016) – Kevin Harvick earned the victory in the Good Sam 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) race at Phoenix International Raceway (PIR) in an exciting overtime finish. The driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS pulled his car into Victory Lane at the 1.0-mile track for a record-setting eighth time in his NSCS career, and has now won five of the last six races at the Arizona venue. A gutsy call by crew chief, Rodney Childers, to stay on-track while most of the leaders pitted, resulted in the closet margin of victory in PIR history. Harvick took home the win by 0.010 seconds ahead of Carl Edwards (Toyota).

“I just like racing here,” said Harvick in Winner’s Circle. “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. I knew he (Edwards) was better through (Turns) 3 and 4. That was not the car that I wanted to see behind me. I knew I could beat him down there and I tried to protect the bottom in (Turns) 3 and 4 and I just missed the bottom with all the rubber build-up on the tires and everything. But, all in all, I knew I was going to be on defense down there. I got up too high and wasn’t able to stay on the bottom like I wanted to and then he got into me, like he should have, and 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. I just want to thank Jimmy John’s, Busch, Chevrolet, Mobil 1 and everybody at Stewart-Haas for everything that they do.”

Harvick’s victory was Chevrolet’s sixth consecutive win at Phoenix. That winning streak now matches the manufacturer’s success at Dover International Speedway, which is the most by any brand in the sport.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr., behind the wheel of the No. 88 Axalta Chevrolet SS, also stayed out on old tires; and restarted second in the ‘overtime format’. He was unable to hold-off his fellow competitors with fresh rubber and was relegated to a fifth place finish.

The No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Chevrolet SS piloted by Kurt Busch brought home a sixth-place finish; while, rookie of the year contender, Chase Elliott, No. 24 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet SS, earned an eight-place finish to match his best career NSCS effort. Austin Dillon was ninth in his No. 3 Dow Chevrolet SS.

Denny Hamlin (Toyota) finished third and Kyle Busch (Toyota) was fourth, to round out the top-five finishers.

The series heads to the final race of the West Coast Swing next weekend at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California on March 20.



THE MODERATOR: We’re going to hear from our race winner. Our race winner is Kevin Harvick, and he drives the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet for Stewart‑Haas Racing. Kevin, eight wins here at Phoenix International Raceway. You’re the all‑time leader in the Sprint Cup Series at this racetrack, 32 career wins. Won five out of six here at Phoenix, and that margin of victory, .010 is the closest in the history of this racetrack, tied for seventh closest in the history of the Sprint Cup Series since the advent of electronic storing.

KEVIN HARVICK: I’ve got a couple in that category.

THE MODERATOR: Yes, you do. Talk about this win and everything that went into the last few laps, the strategy, what you’re thinking, of course what Rodney is thinking, and then of course how you raced there at the end.

KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I guess we can start with the end. I had no idea that the cars behind me had two tires. I never asked. I just figured I was going to be on defense regardless just for the fact that ‑‑ I don’t even know who was third, but everybody wants to win a race, especially these corners where you have the high‑braking situations, you’re pretty vulnerable. I probably went a little bit too much on defense just for the fact that if I got hit, I wanted to be able to drive out of the slide instead of wind up with the fuel cell into the wall.

I made it ‑‑ I think the theory was after talking to Rodney, was definitely to stay in control of the race because the restarts can get a little bit hectic as you get into Turn 1.

I got a good restart, got through 1 and 2 good, got through 3 and 4 fairly well, and they told me that the 19 was back there. I thought I could beat him through 1 and 2 on the last lap there, but I knew I was going to have to be on defense because he beat me through the center of 3 and 4 all day.

I was fully expecting everything that I got, but I just needed to be able to get knocked up the track far enough to be able to put the throttle back down. Maybe a little bit too defensive. I missed the bottom with the way that the rubber had built up on the racetrack, it just kind of walked up the track and he was able to hold the bottom and able to get to the left rear, and I felt like I got back to the throttle even soon enough to be able to hold him off, but I was kind of a couple feet behind and was able to kind of scrub against his door a little bit to slow him back down, and by the time he’d realized that he was going to be behind, we had carried the momentum by him and we were at the start‑finish line.

Fun finish. I think as drivers and as a sport, that’s really the benefit ‑‑ one of the benefits of the low downforce package and the tire situation. The tire situation being the biggest thing is so you have those different strategies with the late cautions to where you have two tires, you have no tires, you probably have four tires, I’m sure, to have the comers and goers and the exciting finishes.

That is exactly what we’re all looking for, for finishes and strategy as you look at the low downforce and the soft tires.

Q. Carl said that basically he meant to move you but didn’t want to hit you hard enough to wreck you. I would assume from your point of view everything was done as it should have been done today?

KEVIN HARVICK: I would have done the same thing, and really after the race that’s exactly what we said to each other. That’s really what NASCAR racing is all about. You’re coming to the checkered flag and he wants to win for his team and I want to win for my team, and there’s a lot on the line. It’s definitely the way that things should have been done.

I fully expected it going into Turn 3 and would have done the same thing.

Q. You’ve been down this road with Rodney before on the tire call at Homestead when you won the championship. When the race is on the line, do you totally trust him or do you guys have back and forth on it?

KEVIN HARVICK: I never asked today. And I never asked at Homestead, the year we won the championship. Rodney and I talked about that before we ever ran a race. Unless there’s something wrong, I don’t have the type of information that he and Dax have sitting up on top of that pit box. Losing control of the race and putting yourself in traffic is a tough spot to be in because we’ve lost a lot of races. You dominate races, and what happens is the field is just waiting to see what you do. They’re going to do the opposite. That’s nine times out of ten when you dominate those days, which we have a lot over the past two‑and‑a‑half years or two years, whatever you want to call it, we’ve been in a lot of these situations to where we’ve lost races just because the strategy just doesn’t work out. But when you have half the field that’s on the lead lap do the opposite of what you do, that’s just what they’re going to do.

If we pit right there, half the field stays out. We’re just in that type of position. I’m glad we’re in that position because our cars are fast, and that’s the only way they’re going to beat us on days like that when it’s all going well.

It was just better for us to keep control of the race than it was to put it in somebody else’s hand and hope you get a good restart.

Q. Rodney was talking about there were some things, I think he said in practice, in qualifying, and even one time an adjustment in this race where he tried things that have worked for you guys in the past that didn’t happen, didn’t work this weekend. I wondered as someone who has won here multiple times and in many fashions, in driving this race today with this package and driving the track, did you find that it did things differently than you have experienced?

KEVIN HARVICK: Yeah, there wasn’t much ‑‑ other than the guys on the team, there wasn’t much that was the same. I felt like Friday we were okay. I felt like we were pretty good in race trim. I felt like our qualifying runs in practice were pretty good, and we got to qualifying and couldn’t even drive it, it was so loose. That happened last week at Las Vegas, as well.

So there’s just a different thought process with ‑‑ you take 30 percent of the downforce off the car, things are just going to be different. We haven’t been that close to really anything that we’ve run. Winning this race is going to allow us to really start to hone in on characteristics, different things that ‑‑ because it’s going to be different. We have a new race engineer that we also have to add into that mix with Dax, who’s done a great job, but he was out at Atlanta. That’s one race that he didn’t even ‑‑ he was sick. Last week I was useless, just didn’t really even want to make a lap in the car, let alone race the car.

So we’ve had a couple of ‑‑ Speedweeks was fine, but I think as you look at the last two weeks, everything has just felt out of sync. There’s so much different. We’ve had pieces missing. We got our jack man back today. He was out with surgery. I felt like the pit stops were great today. So there’s just been a lot of things that have happened that we’ve just felt clunky to me, just not anything in our control, just because of circumstances.

But I think that’s the great part about our team is we’re able to overcome things like that. We’ve still been competitive every week, but it hasn’t been like today. We didn’t qualify well. But we’ve qualified 12th, 18th, 16th, 17th, whatever it’s been. We’re either on the pole or we’re in that neck of the woods when it comes to qualifying. It’s just a hard place to qualify and get it all right.

We’ve had a lot of circumstances that we’ve had to overcome, so winning today is really going to allow us to really hone in on what are the characteristics of the mile‑and‑a‑half tracks, what are the characteristics of the flat tracks, allowing Dax to get up to speed and really understand all the tools that are different from everything that you had at Michael Waltrip Racing for the last however many years.

There’s just a lot of things that we still have to work through, and our team has had to overcome some different things, but every team has to do the same thing because I don’t feel like anybody knows exactly where we need to be. It’s a totally different mentality in practice right now. It’s not about how fast you go, it’s really about how long can you go fast and really working with that graph and trying to get the falloff in the car to stay where it needs to be.

It reminds me of where we were 12, 15 years ago when we would practice. It wasn’t who was the fastest, it was who could go fastest the longest.

Q. Carl was barely ahead of you in that last stretch. Did the side to side, the last side‑to‑side contact ultimately make the difference in you having the margin?

KEVIN HARVICK: I felt like coming off of Turn 4 I had some momentum but I needed to do everything I could to try to scrub some momentum off of his car, and it just worked out timing, and I needed to get away, and by the time he realized that I had that momentum and he tried to do the same thing, scrub the momentum off my car, we were too far towards the start‑finish line. It all worked out. Sometimes I can tell you that you plan it all that way, but sometimes you’re just lucky as hell.

Q. With this Chase format and knowing that a win can pretty much vault you into the playoffs, do you have any idea how much contact you’ll have from ‑‑ knowing how Carl Edwards races, are you thinking, okay, he’s going to be rough but not dirty, or do you have no idea? And then secondly, if the positions are reversed in a few weeks, does the way he raced you today impact the way you race him?

KEVIN HARVICK: I don’t think there’s any real love lost between the two of us. You know, I knew that I was going to get hit, and I’m going to hit him in the same type of manner, just for the fact that I don’t want to spin him out, but you definitely want to rough him up because that’s not the guy that I want to lose to, and I know he doesn’t want to lose to me.

Q. When did you realize you’d won the race? And also, do you feel like you have a psychological advantage over guys at this track now heading into the race?

KEVIN HARVICK: I thought I’d beat him to the start‑finish line with where I thought I was. But sometimes our brains don’t work exactly like they should inside the race car, and you don’t really realize where you are or what you’re doing.

But as far as the other guys, I mean, I don’t really know. I fully expect to come here and beat them. I know that you leave here and you don’t win, you’re disappointed. We had the rain situation last time, and we were all fairly distraught over the situation and not winning the race. It’s a pressured situation that when you come here, your team and your guys and yourself, you expect to be in contention to win the race, but sometimes circumstances dictate exactly what happens at the end of the race.

In the end, it’s been a really good racetrack for us, and we’ll just keep riding the wave.

Q. Can you talk about the endurance out there today? A lot of guys were wiped out. And I talked to Austin, he said they were exhausted after the race. You didn’t have any of that?

KEVIN HARVICK: I never even ‑‑ my feet never even got hot. I have a beer stench to me, but I don’t know that there’s much sweat there.

But I think a lot of that is a credit to the race team. I think as you look at the precautions that our guys take, half a pound or three tenths of a pound is not something that they’re going to leave a foot box shield or something out because it’s March. We’re going to be over‑cautious on keeping the inside of the car cool, and they’ve really been conscious of that just for the fact that I hadn’t been feeling well the last two weeks.

They came here with what we normally wouldn’t have, with an air‑conditioner in the car and the foot box completely insulated and those types of things, just based upon how I felt last week. I felt good, though. We’re going to drive four hours to Vegas and spend the night.

Q. Rodney said next week at Auto Club, he wasn’t really sure what to expect yet. He says you guys have some work to do on the setups and you’re taking the car you won with at Dover next weekend. How do you feel about going to Auto Club?

KEVIN HARVICK: I have no idea what car they’re taking. I never ask them what they’re putting in for a setup. I know that I’m going to be on the top seam throwing dust when practice starts. I think as you look at that particular race, that’s been one of our best races over the years, and I think every driver in the garage is looking forward to racing this particular package at California because it’s going to be ‑‑ there’s been a lot of chatter about it. You can race on the top. You can race on the bottom. And I think it’s going to be pretty exciting.

I know all the drivers seem to be really excited about it. I know I’m excited about it and really looking forward to what happens because the cars are going to be out of control, which is exactly what we’re looking for.

THE MODERATOR: Kevin, congratulations. It was a great race out here today. Best of luck at Auto Club.

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