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Harvick Has the Finishing Kick

He catches Biffle with 10 laps left, then cruises to the victory. Stewart battles back to finish second. Kenseth takes over the points lead.

April 23, 2006|Jim Peltz | Times Staff Writer

AVONDALE, Ariz. — Kevin Harvick made it a sweep in the desert Saturday night by winning the NASCAR Nextel Cup race 24 hours after taking the Busch Series race as well.

The Bakersfield native ran down a hard-luck Greg Biffle with 10 laps left and kept his No. 29 Chevrolet in the lead as Biffle ran out of gas to win the Subway Fresh 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

The Cup win was Harvick's first for Richard Childress Racing since he captured the race in Bristol, Tenn., a year ago, and it was his first victory in a Cup car at the lopsided one-mile oval track here.

"We didn't have the best car all day, but we had the best car when it counted," said Harvick, 30.

Tony Stewart, who clawed his way from last place after a pre-race penalty, finished second on a warm, breezy evening before more than 80,000.

Matt Kenseth was third in a Roush Racing Ford, and he climbed past Jimmie Johnson to lead the points race. Johnson finished seventh in a Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

And Johnson teammate Kyle Busch -- who led the 43-car field from the pole after being loudly booed by fans at the driver introductions -- once again found controversy and this time was called for his actions by NASCAR.

After starting the race 15th, Harvick appeared headed to the victory circle. He had hovered near the lead in recent races and had jumped to ninth in the points from 23rd over the three previous races. He also won Friday night's Busch Series race and the previous week's Busch race in Nashville.

"We just needed the circumstances to go our way" to win another Cup race, he said. "Once we were able to get out front, we just started conserving fuel" to avoid running out.

Biffle wasn't so fortunate, handing him another disappointing finish -- 21st -- after a strong performance. The same scenario played out at the California Speedway in February and at several other races this year.

Chosen by many to win the Nextel Cup this year, Biffle still does not yet have a top-five finish. But his teammate Kenseth said he "had no doubt" that Biffle would be in the chase for the title.

"He's running so strong [and] he's got cars that can do it," Kenseth said.

The Cup's first night race of the year -- which ran 312 laps -- began with an unusual penalty that forced Stewart to start his Joe Gibbs Racing Chevrolet at the rear.

Stewart had qualified third, but his crew accidentally returned his qualifying tires to Goodyear. That broke a NASCAR rule requiring that the qualifying tires also be on the car when the race starts.

Despite the handicap, Stewart said "we just kept working on it all night" to steadily move to the lead.

But he said the last adjustment to the car "put us over the top a little too much," so that during "the last 30 laps I was sideways off of [Turn] Four on every lap."

Several cars were involved in simultaneous wrecks on the 100th lap, with one again sparking controversy for Kyle Busch.

The defending winner of the fall race here, Busch collided with Casey Mears in the first turn. Behind them in the fourth turn, several other drivers also tangled, including Elliott Sadler, Kyle Petty and Joe Nemecheck.

The crash brought out a red flag -- in which all the cars must come to a stop -- that lasted nine minutes. Yet while the cars were idle, Busch moved over and tapped Mears' car again in apparent retaliation.

Busch lost several laps as his crew repaired his Chevrolet. But as soon as he brought the car back to the track, NASCAR slapped him with an additional five-lap penalty for hitting Mears during the red flag.

And it was Busch's second penalty of the race. Earlier, NASCAR cited him for driving too fast into the pits and sent him to the rear of the field.

All of which prompted NASCAR to order Busch, who finished 36th, to a post-race meeting with NASCAR officials.

"We want to talk to him ... about his aggressive driving," said NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston. Busch declined to be interviewed after the race.

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