The fastest car all weekend at Phoenix took the checkered flag.
Kevin Harvick dominated the second Sprint Cup Series race of the season and pulled away on a late-race restart with nine laps to go for his first victory with Stewart-Haas Racing.
In November, Harvick won the penultimate race of the 2013 season at Phoenix while driving for Richard Childress Racing.
"This solidifies so many things and so many decisions," Harvick said in victory lane, referencing his choice to move to SHR before the 2014 season began. He previously said he felt vindicated in his choice during a December test at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Winning probably helps stamp that validation with more authority. Harvick's No. 4 was thoroughly faster than the competition during Saturday's two practices, and that speed carried over from the drop of the green flag Sunday. After starting 13th, Harvick was in the top five with releative ease and had moved to second place just before a competition caution flag on lap 35.
He took the lead for the first time on lap 74, and from that point forward, it was essentially a race for second.
Yes, even through a spate of late-race restarts that kept bunching up the field. Harvick was in the lead when the caution flag flew each time, and each time he pulled away into and through turn one and no one could get close to him. Though Harvick did say the cluster of yellow made him nervous. On the final restart, Joey Logano, who was in third, tried to make it three-wide, but didn't have enough of a run to get inside Harvick's left-rear fender.
"It did, because (Logano) was able to time the restarts there and I knew what was going to happen was that he was going to take a shot down low," Harvick said. "I tried to do the best I could."
With that car, Harvick's half-best would have been good enough.
His nearest pursuer was Dale Earnhardt Jr., last week's winner of the Daytona 500. Junior restarted alongside Harvick during those restarts but Harvick would immediately jump out to a half-second lead and the best Junior could do was try to maintain the gap.
And yes, now Harvick is essentially qualified for NASCAR's Chase along with Junior. Perhaps buoyed by a strong car and being up front all afternoon, Letarte and Junior were adamant about playing a front-running strategy for the win throughout Sunday's race. Will we see Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers do the same going forward, and will it be a theme from race-winners throughout 2014?
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