Harvick claims fourth win in a row at Phoenix

Avondale, AZ (SportsNetwork.com) - Kevin Harvick continued his dominance at Phoenix International Raceway and in the Sprint Cup Series with a convincing win in Sunday's CampingWorld.com 500.

Harvick, the defending Sprint Cup champion, started on the pole and led 224 of 312 laps for his fourth consecutive victory and fifth in six races at Phoenix, a flat, one-mile racetrack. He became the first driver in the series to win four in a row at the same track since Jimmie Johnson last accomplished the feat from 2004-05 at Charlotte.

It's also the seventh straight Sprint Cup race that Harvick has finished either first or second, a streak dating back to November at Texas. He won last weekend's 400-mile event at Las Vegas. Harvick has now scored 30 career victories in the series.

NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty was the last driver to finish in the top- two seven consecutive times, doing so in 1975. In fact, Petty finished either first or second in 11 straight races that year (Charlotte - North Wilkesboro).

"It's almost scary how well things are going," said Harvick, who won a Sprint Cup race at Phoenix for a record-extending seventh time. "You don't want to talk about it too much because you want it to keep going."

NASCAR's top series wraps up its three-week West Coast swing next weekend at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Harvick won the 2011 race at that two-mile track. He finished 36th in last year's event there.

With the victory at Phoenix, Harvick widened his lead in the drivers' standings to 22 points.

Jamie McMurray placed second. McMurray challenged Harvick for the lead following the last restart with 12 laps to go, but he ended up crossing the finish line 1.153 seconds behind Harvick.

"That was a fun battle with Kevin," McMurray said. "Those are the kinds you wish you could do over again because I would have slid up earlier."

Harvick also had to hold off McMurray after a restart on lap 296. Danica Patrick spun out in turn 4 on that lap, forcing the 10th and final caution.

"The restarts were just really slippery, and I learned that in the race yesterday (Saturday's Xfinity Series race here)," Harvick said. "You had to really maintain your entrance speed and really slide the thing through the center of the corner to try to help keep it pointed up off."

Ryan Newman was third, while Kasey Kahne took the fourth spot.

Kurt Busch finished fifth in his first race this season. NASCAR had placed Busch, the driver of the No. 41 Chevrolet and Harvick's teammate at Stewart- Haas Racing, on suspension Feb. 20, two days before the Daytona 500, when it learned that a Delaware judge had concluded that he "more than likely not" committed an act of domestic violence against his ex- girlfriend Patricia Driscoll in his motorhome at Dover International Speedway last September.

Busch missed the first three races before NASCAR reinstated him this past Wednesday. He became eligible to return to racing under indefinite probation subject to additional mandatory requirements that included but were not limited to participation in a treatment program and full compliance with any judicial requirements placed upon him. Busch continues to maintain his innocence.

"I've got a strong team, and personally, it's great to get back to them and produce a result like this on our first day back," Busch said. "I can't thank them enough for believing in me. The truth will be shown later on. But the way that we raced today, it was with heart. And I thought there had been enough good will in the bank to try to bring home a win. But Kevin was tough. Congratulations to my teammate, Kevin Harvick, for winning."

Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Jeff Gordon and Kyle Larson completed the top-10.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. forced the fifth caution on lap 181 when he blew his right- rear tire and made hard contact with the wall in turn 2. Earnhardt suffered heavy damage to the rear of his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and had to call it a day.

"The car was really, really loose today and just wore the right rear tire out and blew the tire," Earnhardt said.

Earnhardt had placed fourth or better in the first three races this year before he finished last in this event. Earnhardt and Tony Stewart, Harvick's teammate, were the only drivers not running at the finish. Stewart first spun out and hit the wall on lap 237 when he got loose and bumped into Justin Allgaier. Then on lap 289, he cut his right-rear tire and shot up into the wall coming out of turn 4, putting him out of the race. He finished 39th.