AVONDALE, ARIZ. – Kevin Harvick won his fourth consecutive race at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday with yet another rout of the field.
The 42 other drivers knew this was Harvick's race to win, and he made it look easy. The reigning series champion led more than 200 laps for the third consecutive time at Phoenix, where he has won five of the past six races and a record seven overall.
Overall, he has seven consecutive top-two finishes and has won four of the past seven races, which includes the final two of last year's championship season.
He opened this season with two runner-up finishes, then won last week at Las Vegas and now Phoenix. The last driver to open a season with four finishes of second or better? Hall of Famer Richard Petty in 1974.
"Man, these things are incredible and they are just fun to drive," Harvick said about his Rodney Childers-built No. 4 Chevrolet.
"It's scary how well we get along with each other. I don't want to talk about it sometimes so I don't jinx it."
Harvick now heads to California looking to sweep NASCAR's three-race West Coast swing. It's not out of the question. He won at Auto Club Speedway in 2011, and has been among the best drivers there since 2009.
Two late cautions forced Harvick to sweat a little bit, as he twice had to hold off Jamie McMurray on restarts. He cleared McMurray on the final restart with 12 laps remaining and beat the Chip Ganassi Racing driver by 1.154 seconds.
Ryan Newman was third, followed by Kasey Kahne and Kurt Busch as Chevrolet drivers took the top five spots.
It was a strong run for Busch, who was making his season debut following a NASCAR suspension that lasted the first three races. He was sidelined for an alleged domestic assault on an ex-girlfriend, but reinstated this week and promptly returned to Stewart-Haas Racing's No. 41 Chevrolet.
"I've got a strong team, and personally, it's great to get back to them," Busch said. "The way we raced today was with heart."
It wasn't a perfect day for SHR, though. Team co-owner Tony Stewart, in desperate need of a good finish, crashed out of his third race of the season. He wound up 39th and has not placed higher than 30th this season.
He had steadily picked his way through the field — at times showing his fiery side by nudging both Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Austin Dillon out of his way — and into the top 10. But he spun while racing Justin Allgaier, had to go to pit road for repairs, and lost three laps before he got back on the track.
Stewart later slammed hard into the wall, bringing bring out the first of two late cautions.