Last season the story broke that Kevin Harvick would be leaving Richard Childress Racing, the only team he's driven for in the Sprint Cup Series, for Stewart-Haas Racing for the 2014 season. Then he went and won the very next race at Phoenix International Raceway.
Fast-forward a year. Harvick came back to Phoenix for his second-to-last race with RCR. And he went out and won again.
Harvick had one of the fastest cars all weekend long. He was fast during the race, and he led the most laps with 70. But he didn't coast his way across the finish line. No, it wouldn't be a Harvick win without a late-race pass for the win.
This was a race that saw three different pit strategies being used. Harvick and his crew chief Gil Martin thought theirs would be the one to get it done, and that they'd done all their math correctly. But Harvick ran out of fuel while leading just before his final pit stop. It almost cost them, but fortunately for them the tank ran dry as Harvick entered turn three and the car restarted easily once fuel was added.
He dropped back to eighth after the pit stop, worked his way back up to second after a restart, and then set his sights on Edwards. Edwards was told by crew chief Jimmy Fennig that he may be at least a lap and a half short and that he needed to save fuel. But Edwards had to push it to keep Harvick from closing in. Fennig's math proved to be right on the money as Edwards ran out of fuel entering turn three with two laps to go. Harvick squeezed by Edwards on the outside coming out of turn four and held on to win his fourth race of the season.
While the battle for the win was exciting, the battle for the championship heading into Homestead may be anything but. Jimmie Johnson entered the race seven points ahead of Matt Kenseth after winning last weekend in Texas. Johnson was fast all race long, but Kenseth struggled with a loose race car all day long.
But while Johnson's 48 was fast, it was far from an easy day for the five-time champion. He started on the pole, but found himself in the middle three-wide with Joey Logano to his inside and Denny Hamlin to his outside entering turn three on the first lap of the race. Logano got loose underneath Johnson and tapped the left-rear of Johnson's car. Johnson got sideways, out of the groove, but he saved it to only fall back to sixth. Then near the midpoint of the race he found himself on the outside of another three-wide situation with Harvick and Edwards to his inside going into turn one. Edwards got loose underneath Johnson and got into his left-rear and once again Johnson's car jumped sideways but he saved it.
Johnson rebounded from both incidents to finish third. Kenseth finished a lap down in 23rd. Now Johnson heads to south Florida with a 28 point lead over Kenseth. All Five-Time has to do to become Six-Time is finish 23rd or better. Though while that may sound simple enough, one should remember that Johnson's last two races at Homestead saw him finish 32nd and 36th.
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