Kevin Harvick’s incredible start to the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season continued Sunday at Auto Club Speedway, where the Stewart-Haas Racing driver finished second to Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski.
In a race dominated by Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin, Harvick had one of the only cars in the field that was able to keep pace and stay near the front all race long.
However, Harvick’s drive to his eighth consecutive finish inside the top two was not altogether easy. When two green-white-checkered restarts bunched up the field in the closing laps, Harvick was forced to deal with a host of new contenders while trying to earn his third straight victory.
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On the final GWC restart, Keselowski was able to get the advantage with four fresh tires, and moved by Harvick and his SHR teammate Busch on the white flag lap. When Busch drove hard into the final corner and caught the outside wall, Harvick was able to slip past and earn the runner-up finish.
"I hate that the 41 (Busch) wasn’t able to hold on for the win there," Harvick said. "I would have loved to see those guys get their first win."
With the second-place finish, Harvick came up one spot short of sweeping the three early-season West Coast races, after winning at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway.
The finish did extend the Stewart-Haas Racing driver’s streak of finishing first or second to eight straight races, dating back to last season. That record of eight straight 1-2 finishes is second only to Richard Petty, who had 11 straight.
Along with the multiple late-race restarts, a four-tire pit stop just before the first GWC restart seemed to be the key to Keselowski’s success at the end. On that stop, Harvick took two tires and restarted fifth, while Keselowski was 18th.
With Fontana’s wide corners and multiple grooves, Keselowski worked his way through the traffic while Harvick was focused on wrestling the lead from Busch. When the caution flew for debris to set up the second GWC, Busch got the initial advantage as Keselowski charged past Harvick.
"You just never know how the strategy is going to work out," said Harvick. "You’re kind of on both sides of the fence there, as to what you should and shouldn’t do. (If) the second restart doesn’t come about, then two tires is the right call. You just never know. Just really proud of Rodney (Childers, crew chief) and everybody on our Jimmy John’s/Budweiser team for everything that they do."