NASCAR: Harvick channels anger, races to 3rd straight win

AVONDALE, Ariz. — Kevin Harvick knows how to get around ISM Raceway — and channel his anger.

He needed both skills Sunday to drive away with his third straight NASCAR Cup Series victory and record-extending ninth at the mile oval southwest of the Phoenix.

"I'm 42, done this for a long time," Harvick said. "Any time you can reach out and grab motivation, for me, that's just a piece of the puzzle."

The California driver sarcastically tagged "Happy" is at his best when he's mad, so much so that former crew chief Gil Martin used to try to rile him during races.

Current crew chief Rodney Childers didn't have to say anything. Not after Harvick and the Stewart-Haas Racing team were penalized Wednesday for technical violations last week at Las Vegas on the No. 4 Ford.

"Everybody just came here mad, chip on their shoulder, wanting to do exactly what we did today," Harvick said. "That's the type of determination and grit that you want in a race team. There's nothing better to be a part of than something like that.

"Actions speak a whole lot louder than all the words I can say this week, tweets that you can send out. Parking that thing in victory lane is the most powerful thing, most powerful message you can send, and says the most about our organization and our team."

After saying Friday he would jump up and down on the back of the car if he won, Harvick completed his burnouts and pulled over next to his crew to celebrate. He playfully patted the back window and pointed at it in a nod to social media photos of his buckled rear window in Las Vegas.

"I made it very clear to pat my window and thank it for doing its job," he said.

Harvick got in front of Kyle Busch on the last series of pit stops in the 312-lap race. Busch's team dropped the jack and had trouble with the right rear tire on the stop with 53 laps left, allowing Harvick — who pitted three laps earlier — to slip ahead.

"We lost the race on pit road today," Busch said. "But we've won races on pit road, too."

Harvick got around Chase Elliott — the first car with four fresh tires after the pit stops — and took the lead with 22 laps left when Ryan Newman finally made his last stop.

Busch didn't seriously challenge Harvick after that, finishing 0.774 seconds back. The two had a series of entertaining battles, with Harvick also dueling Elliott and Denny Hamlin.

"When you have Kyle Busch sticking his finger out of the window with his thumb up talking about having fun and sending messages on the radio, you know everybody is having fun," Harvick said.

Fun, and stressful for Childers on the pit box.

"Man, it was a heck of a battle," Childers said. "To sit down there in the corner and watch these guys race like that was like my short track days."

Elliott was third, followed by Hamlin and pole-sitter Martin Truex Jr.

"I needed a little bit of forward drive there at the end," Elliott said. "I was turning pretty good and just had a hard time putting the power down."

Stewart-Haas racing had all four drivers in the top 10 for the first time. Clint Bowyer was sixth, Aric Almirola seventh and Kurt Busch 10th.

"That's probably what I'm most proud of," owner Tony Stewart said.

The Busch brothers won the opening 75-lap stages. Kyle held off Harvick in the first. Kurt stayed out during a caution and swiped the second in a one-lap shootout.

NO APPEAL

Stewart said Sunday he won't appeal the penalties for the Las Vegas infractions.

"How many appeals have you seen overturned?" he explained.

Inspectors at NASCAR's research and development center in North Carolina found Harvick's car violated a rule requiring rear window support braces to hold the glass rigid, and another requiring the right rocker panel extension to be aluminum.

Harvick was penalized the seven playoff points he earned for winning the Las Vegas race and its first two stages. He was docked 20 regular points and the team lost 20 owners' points. Childers was fined $50,000, and car chief Robert Smith was suspended two races.

Harvick regained the points lead Sunday, moving 12 ahead of Kyle Busch. And with the victory, the No. 4 was headed back to the R&D facility.

BY THE NUMBERS

Harvick began the winning streak at Atlanta after crashing and finishing 31st in the season-opening Daytona 500. He's the first to win three straight Cup races since Joey Logano in 2015.

Harvick broke a tie with Kyle Busch with 14 NASCAR national-series victories at the track. In 31 Cup starts in Phoenix, Harvick has 15 top-five finishes. He has one Xfinity win and four Truck victories at the track. The victory also was the milestone 40th of Harvick's Cup career.

UP NEXT

Sunday, March 18, at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

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More AP auto racing: https://racing.ap.org

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