AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Kevin Harvick qualified only 13th for the Profit on CNBC 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. But long before the green flag, his competition pegged him as the man to beat.
Correctly, as it turns out.
Harvick led 224 of 312 laps in a dominant performance to claim his first victory for Stewart-Haas Racing. The Bakersfield, Calif., native kept his cool through a series of late-race restarts to hold off Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Joey Logano for the win.
After he answered questions throughout the winter about his move to Stewart-Haas after spending his entire 13-year Sprint Cup career with Richard Childress Racing, Harvick's performance on the track proved that he made the right decision. He has won a record five times at Phoenix, including three of the six races run since the famous desert mile was reprofiled and repaved.
"Just a huge credit to the team, the organization and everyone who has been a part of this process over the winter," Harvick said following his 24th career Sprint Cup race win. "I'm just the lucky guy that gets to drive the car around the racetrack when it's dialed in like it was today.
"This has been a great racetrack for us through the years, before the repave and after the repave," he continued. "These are the types of tracks I was brought up on. I used to come here to the Copper World Classic, and that was our Daytona 500. I feel like the flat tracks are something that we've had a knack at."
It certainly looked that way Sunday. Harvick worked quickly through the field, and by the time NASCAR threw a competition caution on Lap 35, he was already in second place. By Lap 75, he was in command, ceding the lead only during pit stop exchanges.
While the first half of the race was fast and green, the second half was interrupted by a series of cautions that put Harvick's restart skills to the test. He passed with flying colors, his only worry being a couple of taps on his rear bumper by Logano going into Turn 1.
"You're always concerned, because the restarts can be really crazy," Harvick remarked. "You're vulnerable as the leader, especially with the third-place car anticipating your moves. Joey had been knocking on the bumper all day long and I spun the tires a couple times. But we've been talking about the restart [gear] ratios for a couple months and they got it right today.
"I felt like Junior had the second-best car, but I was more worried about the 22 [Logano] because of his position on the restarts. I just needed to make sure we didn't get spun out."
Just like Matt Kenseth's move to Joe Gibbs Racing a year ago, the change in scenery to a new team seems to have lit a fire under Harvick. Kenseth said he wanted to get an early win to give the Gibbs team confidence, and Harvick certainly succeeded in doing that in only his second start for Stewart-Haas.
Under the guidance of crew chief Rodney Childers, the No. 4 team has certainly jelled quickly. In addition to having a fast car, Harvick enjoyed the fastest pit service of anyone Sunday.