Sunday's roundup: Harvick wins in wild finish at Phoenix

Mike Cranston
Associated Press
Kevin Harvick celebrates with crew members in victory lane after winning a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway.

Avondale, Ariz. — For the second time in a month, two cars crossed the finish line seemingly together and no one was sure who won.

Electronic scoring and slow-motion replays put Kevin Harvick in a familiar spot on top at Phoenix International Raceway, and NASCAR celebrated another thrilling race to start the season.

Harvick and Carl Edwards twice bumped on the final lap before Harvick inched over the finish line first by 0.01 seconds in an overtime finish Sunday for his record eighth Sprint Cup victory at the mile oval.

It was the same margin of victory as Denny Hamlin’s over Martin Truex Jr. last month in the Daytona 500.

“That’s really what NASCAR racing is all about,” Harvick said. “You’re coming to the checkered flag and he wants to win for his team and I want to win for my team. There’s a lot on the line.”

Harvick had the lead off a late restart, but Edwards had two fresh right-side tires and made it a side-by-side duel.

“I knew he was better through (Turns) 3 and 4,” Harvick said. “That was not the car that I wanted to see behind me.”

Harvick, on the high side, turned into Edwards’ door first to try to slow his momentum. Edwards returned the favor in what he called “a drag race,” but came up just short.

“If we had one more lap, I could have passed him clean,” Edwards said. “But it just wasn’t going to work without bumping him. So I decided to hit him as hard as I did. I really didn’t want to wreck him. I thought I moved him enough to get by, but it’s just racing.”

Harvick made up for qualifying 18th by shooting toward the front early in the race. He took the lead for good in the No. 4 Chevrolet when he immediately passed Edwards on a restart with 77 laps to go.

Harvick built a lead approaching 3 seconds before Kasey Kahne hit the wall with six laps left to bring out the caution.

Harvick crew chief Rodney Childers decided to stay on the track while Edwards and others took on two tires.

Harvick had enough fuel for the extra two laps, but needed to do some banging to hold off Edwards’ Toyota.

“I don’t think there’s any real love lost between the two of us,” Harvick said. “I knew that I was going to get hit and I’m going to hit him.

“I don’t want to spin him out, but you definitely want to rough him up because that’s not the guy I want to lose to and I know he doesn’t want to lose to me.”

It was another success for NASCAR’s new downforce and aerodynamic packages. Used for the first time on a mile-track, it helped produce plenty of passing and only a handful of tire issues on long green-flag runs.

Harvick led a race-high 139 laps in the closest finish in track history. It’s tied for seventh-closest overall since NASCAR began electronic scoring in 1993.

Hamlin recovered from an early pit penalty to finish third. Kyle Busch, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, started from the pole and led the first 77 laps before ending up fourth.

Dale Earnhardt Jr, who ended Harvick’s four-race winning streak at Phoenix with a rain-shortened victory in November, was fifth.

Two days after a scary crash in which he pulled off his steering wheel in qualifying, Jimmie Johnson finished 11th.

Harvick found another way to win at his favorite track. He’s won five of the past six races and six of eight at Phoenix.

“I just like racing here,” Harvick said. “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.”

Montoya wins IndyCar opener

There seemed little doubt that a Team Penske driver would win the IndyCar season-opening race even after Will Power was sidelined with a concussion.

Juan Pablo Montoya won on the streets of St. Petersburg for the second consecutive year to continue the Team Penske dominance at this event.

The win by Montoya was the eighth in 12 tries for Penske drivers. Simon Pagenaud finished second to make it a 1-2 Penske finish, but Ryan Hunter-Reay spoiled the sweep by passing Helio Castroneves with three laps remaining.

“It’s nice to start the year with a win. You know what I mean?” Montoya said. “When you’re in Team Penske, there’s always that pressure that you’ve got to win races. You have to win. You’re in the best car, you’ve got to win races. So to start the year with a win, it’s like, ‘Oh, I got that one out of the way.’”

Castroneves finished fourth as Chevrolet and Penske drivers took three of the top four spots. Hunter-Reay in third was the highest-finishing Honda. Mikhail Aleshin and Takuma Sato were fifth and sixth for Honda.

But it was a Penske show the entire weekend, and the four drivers dominated nearly every session to set up the eventual victory. Team Penske, which is celebrating its 50th year of racing, has a record 179 wins in open wheel racing.

The day got off to a rocky start for the Penske organization, though, because pole-sitter Power was diagnosed with a concussion that made him a Sunday morning scratch. He wrecked during a Friday practice session but was medically cleared to drive. Power broke his own track record three times in Saturday qualifying to lead a 1-2-3-4 Penske sweep in qualifying, but he was ill every time he exited the car.

IndyCar diagnosed him with a mild concussion and he was placed in the protocol program. He can’t race again until he’s been medically cleared by IndyCar. The next event is April 2 at Phoenix International Raceway.

“To be honest, I was surprised he qualified. He wasn’t feeling that well before qualifying,” Montoya said. “He did an amazing job, how sick he was. He did really good.”

Oriol Servia was brought in to replace Power. He started last in the field and made up a good bit of position but was involved in an eight-car accident that relegated him to an 18th-place finish.

Montoya, meanwhile, led the final 25 laps and beat Pagenaud by 2.3 seconds to win for the second year in a row. Montoya led the points last year from the opening race until the finale, where he lost the championship on a tiebreaker to Scott Dixon. Along the way, he won the Indianapolis 500 for the second time in his career. Asked Sunday if he’s headed to another Indy 500 win, Montoya indicated he’s taking each race one at a time.

“We’re here to win everything,” he said.