Kevin Harvick scored yet another impressive victory in Sunday’s Good Sam 500 at Phoenix International Raceway, winning for a record eighth time at the one-mile desert oval track.
In the process, Harvick became the fourth different race-winning driver and Stewart-Haas Racing the fourth different race-winning team in the first four races of the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule.
Here’s how Harvick did it — and why some top contenders came up short.
TAKEOFF POWER — With passing so difficult to do at PIR, making good restarts was critical. Harvick made a great one on Lap 235, when he blew by leader Carl Edwards to take over the top spot as the race headed into its final stretches. And once out front, Harvick was untouchable, as he usually is at PIR. He made a perfect final restart and held off Carl Edwards to the checkered flag for the win by 0.010 seconds — the closest finish in PIR history while also matching the margin of victory of this year’s Daytona 500.
LONG RUNS — With only five cautions at PIR and a race that’s just 312 laps long, the fastest cars were able to get to the front and stay there. It took Harvick more than half the race to get to the front — he took his first lead on Lap 169 of 312 — but once he got there, he was in command.
TRACK POSITION — Jimmie Johnson had a car fast enough to win, but he crashed in qualifying and had to go to a backup car, which meant he started at the tail end of the field.
Although Johnson made steady progress and got as high as fourth, a slow pit stop three-quarters of the way through the race dropped him back to eighth, and he was never able to get to the front.
DON’T USE TOO MUCH BRAKE — Three drivers — Ryan Newman, Paul Menard and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. all melted the tire beads on the right-front end of their cars. Then Brad Keselowski had a right-rear tire go down with about 100 laps to go.
Excessive use of brakes meant high heat levels, which led to the beads of the tires melting, which caused hard crashes for Newman, Menard and Stenhouse.
"I definitely didn’t want to do that going into Turn 1," said Stenhouse. "That is just a product of using too much brake and getting the tire too hot. Bummer we didn’t quite have the setup like we wanted but we will go back and get ’em next week at California."
PERILS OF PIT ROAD —Kyle Busch started on the pole and led the first 74 laps, but pit problems hurt him greatly. On the first round of stops after a caution flag on Lap 53, Busch’s crew chief, Adam Stevens, called for two tires when most everyone else took four. That allowed Dale Earnhardt Jr. to run Busch down and pass him on Lap 75.
And when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. crashed just past the halfway point, a slow stop dropped Busch all the way to 18th place on Lap 166. He never led again.