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Stewart-Haas Racing’s debut with Ford has Kevin Harvick smiling

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Although Kevin Harvick didn’t win Sunday’s Clash, he couldn’t hide his smile as he walked down pit road after finishing fifth in Stewart-Haas Racing’s first race since switching to Ford.

“This is by far the best we’ve run speed-wise … in the race since I’ve been at Stewart-Haas Racing,’’ Harvick told NBC Sports. “I’m really looking forward to a really strong week.’’

NASCAR’s opening weekend proved to be a good one overall for Stewart-Haas Racing in its debut with Ford.

Danica Patrick finished fourth in the Clash with Harvick fifth. Clint Bowyer, who joined the team this year, was fourth in qualifying. Harvick was seventh.

It wasn’t a perfect weekend, though. Kurt Busch wrecked in the Clash after he was turned by Jimmie Johnson. Busch was 22nd in qualifying and Patrick was 24th. Still, it could have been much worse after all the work to switch from Chevrolet to Ford in the offseason.

“It’s a great effort, considering everything these guys have gone through all season long, switching manufacturers and everything that goes with that,’’ Bowyer said after his qualifying effort Sunday. “That’s a lot. That’s a huge undertaking and these guys did it without fail. 

“The Ford bunch and the Roush Yates horsepower I knew was going to be something we could lean on. We just came up a little bit short, but that’s two of our cars in the top seven. 

“I watched Kevin in that Clash. I liked what I saw there. He could push and move (Brad Keselowski) and (Clash winner Joey Logano). On a track like this, those are your teammates and we’re going to work together and win this damn thing. That’s what we’re here for.” 

Logano said he and Harvick, his new Ford teammate, worked well together toward the end of the Clash.

“We’re able to work really well together because we’re both going to be aggressive to get to the front, and we both understand we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to win,’’ Logano said. “I think that’s a good driver to work with on a speedway, and it’s not the first time we’ve worked together.’’ 

While Harvick walked away smiling Sunday, he wasn’t the only one from Stewart-Haas Racing who was enthused.

“It feels good to be competitive again,’’ Bowyer said. “I was down here last year (with HScott Motorsports) and we were way off the pace. It was crushing because you know deep down you don’t even have a chance, and when you’ve got a car like this – a hot rod like this and a team like this – I’ve got a chance.”

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NASCAR America: Is there cause for concern with Jimmie Johnson’s performance thus far?

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It’s no secret that Jimmie Johnson is off to a slow start in 2017.

The defending and seven-time NASCAR Cup champion has a starting average of 21.8 and a finishing average of 18.8 in the first five races of this season.

He has just one top-10 finish (ninth at Phoenix), along with 34th at Daytona, 19th at Atlanta, 11th at Las Vegas and 21st Sunday at Fontana.

And let’s not forget he’s 17th in the NASCAR Cup standings heading to one of his strongest tracks, Martinsville Speedway, this Sunday.

On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, we discussed this: After such a slow start to the season, is there a cause for concern over Johnson’s performance?

NASCAR America: Mark Martin is definitely a Kyle Larson fan

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On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin shared his experience of racing in his home state of Arkansas, as well as the excitement he feels watching  Kyle Larson compete in the Cup series.

NASCAR America: Kyle Larson involved in minor fender bender while leaving Fontana

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Kyle Larson‘s spectacular weekend at Auto Club Speedway — winning both Saturday’s Xfinity Series race and Sunday’s Auto Club 400 NASCAR Cup event — left him feeling good.

But shortly upon exiting the facility, Larson and several others were involved in a fender-bender right outside the Speedway. Larson was a passenger, not the driver.

No one was injured, Larson tweeted.

But somehow, isn’t that strange fate?

NASCAR America: Kyle Larson’s Fontana win shows continued maturing as a driver

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Kyle Larson finally broke his streak of three straight runner-up finishes with his win in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.

On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, the crew discussed his win as well as his maturation as a driver.