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Kevin Harvick leads Saturday’s first Cup practice at Auto Club Speedway

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Kevin Harvick was fastest in the second practice session for Sunday’s Auto Club 400.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver, who also topped Friday’s lone practice session, posted a speed of 186.075 mph around the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway.

He was followed by teammate Kurt Busch (184.431).

The top five was completed by Chase Elliott (184.021), Kyle Larson (183.908) and Ryan Blaney (183.861).

Harvick and Jimmie Johnson each recorded the most laps in the session with 31.

Harvick had the best 10-lap average at 181.009 mph.

Click here for the speed chart.

Kurt Busch’s No. 41 becomes first car revealed for this year’s throwback race at Darlington Raceway

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If Kurt Busch’s car in this year’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 throwback race at Darlington Raceway looks familiar, there’s a good reason for it.

Busch will drive a car with a paint scheme similar to the car he drove at the 1.366-mile egg-shaped track in the 2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400.

And what a race that was. Busch’s No. 97 Rubbermaid-sponsored red and gray Ford had a last-lap fender-banging battle with Ricky Craven’s No. 32 Cal Wells Racing Pontiac, which ended up 0.002 seconds ahead of Busch for the win.

Ironically, tomorrow, March 16, marks the 15th anniversary of what at the time was the closest finish in NASCAR history.

Busch’s Darlington black, red and gray throwback scheme – the first of all teams to be revealed for this year’s race – on his No. 41 Haas Automation Ford Fusion, was first unveiled by NASCAR.com.

Busch has never won at Darlington. His 2003 runner-up finish has been his highest finish, though he’s also finished third in 2010 and in last year’s race.

This will be the fourth consecutive year for Darlington’s popular throwback weekend. This year’s theme is “seven decades of NASCAR” across the entire weekend from Aug. 31 to Sept. 2.

Stewart-Haas Racing has won the best throwback paint scheme the last two years (in voting at NASCAR.com), last year with Danica Patrick’s No. 10 car (a blue-and-white look that honored NASCAR Hall of Famer Robert Yates), and Tony Stewart’s car for his final race at Darlington in 2016 that honored Bobby Allison.

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Stewart-Haas Racing puts together best race yet (video)


It’s a good time to be Stewart-Haas Racing.

In the midst of celebrating its 10th anniversary, the team enjoyed its best Cup race yet as a four-car operation Sunday at ISM Raceway.

While Kevin Harvick grabbed a third consecutive Cup win for the first time, SHR put all four of its cars in the top 10 for the first time ever.

Clint Bowyer finished sixth, Aric Almirola finished seventh and Kurt Busch, who won Stage 2, placed 10th.

Busch has two top 10s through four races. Bowyer has two top 10s and one top five. Almirola has two top 10s. He was a half a lap away from winning the Daytona 500 until he was wrecked on the backstretch.

The team has four races with its new driver lineup after Danica Patrick departed at the end of last season. It’s also in its second season of working with Ford.

Team co-owner Tony Stewart took note of the team’s improvement at Atlanta, a race he watched from home due to the threat of rain.

“I took a picture of the screen when we had all four cars in the top seven,” Stewart said. “I took a screen shot of it as a fan. Just kept looking at it, going, ‘This is really cool.'”

Is this the strongest his team has ever been?

“I don’t think there’s any question about that,” Stewart said. “It just shows the strength of having four really good teammates that are giving four valid sets of information that they can all feed off of and work off of.  It just seems like this group of these guys really work well together.

“I think a lot of it, too, is having that little extra time like we mentioned last week, for these guys to be able to massage everything, take everything we had and make it better. It’s nice to look on the board and see all four cars in the top 10. That’s a proud moment.”

Harvick, who earned his 17th win with SHR, received a positive text message from Almirola Saturday night predicting a top-10 run for his No. 10 Ford.

“Dude, you’ve got a top-five car,” Harvick responded.  “You need to go out and run in the top five.”

Almirola’s result is his best in 15 starts at ISM Raceway.

“That’s really the most important thing because that progression as a race team, when everybody ups the ante on the car, you learn something from each car and each person,” Harvick said. “The confidence in the company goes up. The evolution of things starts to happen more rapidly. Now that the 10 car is in that evolution, it is good for our company.”

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What drivers said after Phoenix race

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Kevin Harvick – Winner: “I’ve been mad as all get out because this team does a great job. This organization does a great job, and we’ve got fast race cars. And to take that away from those guys just really pissed me off last week. To come here to a racetrack that is so good for us is a lot of fun, and everyone was just determined this week, and we just wanted to just go stomp them. We didn’t stomp them, but we won. That’s all that really matters. Just proud of this team. Put a fire in our belly. What a badass team right there!”

Kyle Busch – Finished 2nd: “Today wasn’t easy, and I wouldn’t say any day is ever easy, but today was definitely just a bit harder than other days. It’s just so much physicality out there to make sure you’re right on top of the edge and flirting with it a lot during the race and try to chase down (Kevin Harvick). I think if roles were reversed there on that final pit stop, I don’t think (Harvick) would have got to us. I think our cars were evenly matched, and I thought we were right there with him. His car definitely turned the center a little bit better all throughout the day, and I know when he was racing with (Denny Hamlin) there, he was getting his stuff burned up pretty bad, and he was getting held up. I was just thankful that I got out there and got clear and was able to make some ground there on those guys and then before that green-flag pit stop.”

Chase Elliott – Finished 3rd: “Yeah, we had a good car. It was solid, you know? Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) made a good call there at the end, and we had a good pit stop there to get into the lead, and I just felt like I needed a little bit of drive there to put the power down in front of (winner Kevin Harvick). I had a pretty good turn those last two runs and before that I wasn’t turning good enough and too good of forward bite. So, he was definitely the car to beat, and it felt like there were a lot of laps left. I tried my best to hold him off as long as I could, but I felt like him and Kyle (Busch) had just a little bit on us. We’ll go to work and try to get better for California.”

DENNY HAMLIN – Finished 4th: “Just lacked a little speed honestly. Once we got the rear of the car hooked up there in the middle part of the race after the pit road miscue, the car took off and ran extremely well. Once we started to lose rear grip, that’s when those guys started to run us back down. We got a good baseline there to come back here in November in the playoff race, and we’ll build on that and come back. We’re running well, we’re leading laps, and we’re doing some things that are good. We just need a little bit. Obviously, I want to be a little faster and a little more consistent and eliminate some mistakes we’re making on pit road.”

Martin Truex Jr. – Finished 5th: “Just a solid day for us, not a great day and not what we were hoping for. There were times in the race where we were really good and just lost some track position there with about 100 or 80 to go. We had one run that went really long that we got really bad on, but overall today we were pretty close. We just lost a little there and felt like we could have run second or third maybe – one run we were as good as anyone, just couldn’t get perfect all day.”

Clint Bowyer – Finished 6th: “It was a solid day. We just have to get better as a team. I buried us a little bit in qualifying. It was a good run for us. A good run for Stewart-Haas Racing. We weren’t very good here last year. We sucked as a matter of fact, so that is a breath of fresh air after stubbing our toe last week. Having a good run today is definitely some positive mojo going.” 

Aric Almirola – Finished 7th: “We just keep plugging away. Johnny (Klausmeier, crew chief) and the guys made a lot of good adjustments on the car throughout the day. We started off okay and then we started dialing ourselves out the first few stops. We got some track position there with that two-tire call and got our Smithfield Ford Fusion up front, and it really liked the clean air. Our car got a lot better up there. I am proud of everybody. We just keep building on it. Top-10 ‘em to death. Just keep scoring points and doing what we do.”

DANIEL SUÁREZ – Finished 8th: “We didn’t have a winning car, but we had a good, solid top-10 car all race long. We made a couple of mistakes there with adjustments and on pit road, but we were able to overcome. Those mistakes were early in the race that we were able to overcome. I am just excited. We really needed something like this. We have had fast race cars and have had some issues and bad luck and stuff like that. Finally we were able to make it work.”

Erik Jones – Finished 9th: “It was kind of a struggle all day. The SportClips Camry fired off really tight, and we had to fight all day to get it back to the balance we were looking for. We got it close there at the end. We were finally getting where we needed to be and came in sixth on the pit stop and got some damage on pit road. We had to go to the back, and it just went green until the end. It was nice to be able to get back to ninth to get a top 10, but it would have been nice to race up there in the top five. We’ll keep working at it. We just have to keep working on some stuff and some adjustments we make overnight and fire off these races a little bit closer. We’ll keep working that way and come out strong for the next one.”

Kurt Busch – Finished 10th: “The car responded well to my steering and gas inputs. I was a little slow on restarts, but I love being able to lean on the right-rear tire and make passes later in the run. Our strategy unfolded the best it could have to win Stage 2 and get back in the top 10. We just didn’t run the same lap times we did at the end as we did at the beginning of the race, but all in all, it was a good day.”

Ryan Newman – Finished 11th: “The one thing we struggled to do last season was to lead laps and now we’ve led in two races so far. It’s great to see the RCR Chevys up front. Our biggest challenge was maintaining track position, and it is pretty evident what we need to work on, and I’m sure we’ll get it resolved. I’m just proud to have contended because the more laps we lead will soon convert into wins.”

William Byron – Finished 12th: “I think the two tires worked for us, just the way our car was handling. We were really tight all day, and we couldn’t really get that out of it. But the middle stage of the race, we started running closer to the top 10, ninth or 10th I think, and that was the perfect call at the time. I was a little, I guess, not sure if it was going to work out just because we had done it already one time. But it worked out. We could kind of keep some clean air, and I think that was a net gain for sure.”

Alex Bowman – Finished 13th: “Yeah, it was a frustrating day. I don’t know if we had brake fans or not because we didn’t have any other fans, everything inside the car quit. My helmet blower quit, everything quit. It was hot. I burnt my feet pretty good, but the race car wasn’t bad. Just my trackbar quit when everything else quit, so I had no adjustment all day, too. We overcame a lot. I sped on pit road, when I swerved to miss some debris. Had some bad pit stops and rebounded from it. We will take 13th for as rough as today was.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 14th: “We certainly made the car better throughout the course of the weekend. We got up to eighth and then had some pit strategy kind of work against us and fell back into the teens again, and it’s just so stinking hard to pass. I think if we could have stayed up there in that top 10 where we were, we would have finished there, but once we got mired back and had to start all over again, it was just a long grind.”

Kyle Larson – Finished 18th: “(The spin) definitely wasn’t a tire going down. We’ve had, all weekend, like a wheel hop, tire chatter, some issue like that. It’s hard to kind of tell what it is. I feel like it just starts as soon as I get to the brakes and turn the wheel, and then I just start wheel hopping. I fought it all day yesterday and was hoping that we could fix it. We still had the issue in the race. It was fairly annoying having the tires bounce around underneath you, but hopefully we will figure out what was going on all weekend with our setup and come back later in the year better.”

Kasey Kahne – Finished 24th: “I was on the loose side the whole race.  So, that made it a little tough to do anything on restart, usually we would get taken advantage of, but it would actually come in alright, just kind of stalled out.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 30th: “Our GEICO Camaro ZL1 fired off great to start the race because we were tight, and that worked well for us on the green racetrack. Once the track started to rubber up and change, we were too tight. I tagged the wall there in the middle of the first stage and had body damage to the right rear of the car that we needed to fix. We worked on the damage on every stop after that until the fender was clear, and my team kept adjusting the car to keep my balance in a good spot throughout the race. We had some good moments today in being able to muscle around the cars in front of us and using strategy at the end of Stage 2 to pick up our first stage points of the season. We know that we need to be in a position each week to get more of those points because they are so critical, and we’re going to get there. I have no doubt about this team’s ability and the fight that we’ll put up to keep growing and improving.”

Paul Menard – Finished 36th: “I think the tire went down. The right-rear tire blew. Not sure what caused it (Goodyear later said it was a melted bead on the right-rear tire). Maybe bead temp or something. It is a disappointing day for sure. We made some good adjustments early and I thought we would be OK. I had a hard time getting in the corner that last run and we started backing up, then something happened to the tire.”

Say it again: Defiant Kevin Harvick wins at Phoenix for 3rd in a row


Kevin Harvick scored his third consecutive victory Sunday, earning his ninth career win at ISM Raceway and sending a message to those who questioned his team after its recent penalty.

Harvick’s victory comes after his team was penalized this past week for a failed window brace and a side skirt not made of aluminum. Harvick lost all seven playoff points he earned at Atlanta. After exiting his car, Harvick leaned over to pound the rear window of his car.

 “I’ve been pissed is what I’ve been,” Harvick said to Fox after the win. “I’ve been mad as all get out because this team does a great job. This organization does a great job and we’ve got fast race cars. And to take that away from those guys just really pissed me off last week. To come here to a race track that is so good for us is a lot of fun and everyone was just determined this week and we just wanted to just go stomp them. We didn’t stomp them, but we won. That’s all that really matters. What a badass team right there!

“This really felt more important than winning at Homestead, racing for a championship, just to drive it home for all those supporters out there. And all you haters (smiles and points), I see you.”

MORE: Phoenix Race results 

MORE: Points report

Harvick, 42, becomes the first driver age 40 or older to win three consecutive races since Harry Gant won four in Sept. 1991 at age 51. Harvick is the first driver to win three Cup races in a row since Joey Logano won three consecutive races in the second round of the 2015 playoffs.  Harvick’s win also is his seventh in the last 12 races at the Arizona track.

Kyle Busch finished second Sunday. Chase Elliott placed third and was followed by Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr.

Stewart-Haas Racing placed all four cars in the top 10 for the first time with Harvick (first), Clint Bowyer (sixth), Aric Almirola (seventh) and Kurt Busch (10th).

Stage 1 winner: Kyle Busch

Stage 2 winner: Kurt Busch

How Kevin Harvick won the race: He took his time, worked his way to the front and took control of the race in the second half after leap-frogging Kyle Busch on a green-flag pit stop.

Who had a good race: Kyle Busch scored his second consecutive runner-up finish. … Chase Elliott’s third-place finish marked the first top-five result of the season for Hendrick Motorsports. … Aric Almirola finished seventh and has not placed worse than 13th in any of the first four races this year. … Daniel Suarez finished a season-best eighth. … William Byron finished a career-best 12th and led his first laps in Cup.

Who had a bad race: Paul Menard’s race ended early when his car broke loose after the bead on his right-rear tire melted, causing it to break loose and back into the SAFER barrier. he finished 36th. … Darrell Wallace Jr. finished 28th, slowed by two separate loose wheels during the race. … Jamie McMurray placed 26th for his second consecutive finish outside the top 25.

Notable: Kevin Harvick’s win marks the third time a driver has won three of the first four races in a season. Only one driver has won four of the season’s first five races (Bill Elliott in 1992).

Quote of the day: “All you haters, I see you,” Kevin Harvick said after the win.

Next: The Cup series races at Auto Club Speedway at 3:30 p.m. ET on March 18.

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