AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) — For the second time in a month, two cars crossed the finish line seemingly together and no one was sure who won.
Electronic scoring and slow-motion replays put Kevin Harvick in a familiar spot on top at Phoenix International Raceway, and NASCAR celebrated another thrilling race to start the season.
Harvick and Carl Edwards twice bumped on the final lap before Harvick inched over the finish line first by 0.01 seconds in an overtime finish Sunday for his record eighth Sprint Cup victory at the mile oval.
It was the same margin of victory as Denny Hamlin’s over Martin Truex Jr. last month in the Daytona 500.
“That’s really what NASCAR racing is all about,” Harvick said. “You’re coming to the checkered flag and he wants to win for his team and I want to win for my team. There’s a lot on the line.”
Harvick had the lead off a late restart, but Edwards had two fresh right-side tires and made it a side-by-side duel.
“I knew he was better through (Turns) 3 and 4,” Harvick said. “That was not the car that I wanted to see behind me.”
Harvick, on the high side, turned into Edwards’ door first to try to slow his momentum. Edwards returned the favor in what he called “a drag race,” but came up just short.
“If we had one more lap, I could have passed him clean,” Edwards said. “But it just wasn’t going to work without bumping him. So I decided to hit him as hard as I did. I really didn’t want to wreck him. I thought I moved him enough to get by, but it’s just racing.”
Harvick made up for qualifying 18th by shooting toward the front early in the race. He took the lead for good in the No. 4 Chevrolet when he immediately passed Edwards on a restart with 77 laps to go.
Harvick built a lead approaching 3 seconds before Kasey Kahne hit the wall with six laps left to bring out the caution.
Harvick crew chief Rodney Childers decided to stay on the track while Edwards and others took on two tires.
Harvick had enough fuel for the extra two laps, but needed to do some banging to hold off Edwards’ Toyota.
“I don’t think there’s any real love lost between the two of us,” Harvick said. “I knew that I was going to get hit and I’m going to hit him.
“I don’t want to spin him out, but you definitely want to rough him up because that’s not the guy I want to lose to and I know he doesn’t want to lose to me.”
It was another success for NASCAR’s new downforce and aerodynamic packages. Used for the first time on a mile-track, it helped produce plenty of passing and only a handful of tire issues on long green-flag runs.
Harvick led a race-high 139 laps in the closest finish in track history. It’s tied for seventh-closest overall since NASCAR began electronic scoring in 1993.
Hamlin recovered from an early pit penalty to finish third. Kyle Busch, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, started from the pole and led the first 77 laps before ending up fourth.
Dale Earnhardt Jr, who ended Harvick’s four-race winning streak at Phoenix with a rain-shortened victory in November, was fifth.
Two days after a scary crash in which he pulled off his steering wheel in qualifying, Jimmie Johnson finished 11th.
Harvick found another way to win at his favorite track. He’s won five of the past six races and six of eight at Phoenix.
“I just like racing here,” Harvick said. “It’s just one of those places where I feel like I’ve been here enough times to where I can move around and find something to make our car work.”
STEERING WHEEL: Drivers crowded around Johnson backstage before the pre-race introductions as he visually explained how his steering wheel came off before a scary wreck in Friday qualifying.
Johnson was unhurt. Starting 38th in a backup car, Johnson spent most of the race near the front.
NO REPEAT: Brad Keselowski, who won last week at Las Vegas, was running 10th when his right rear tire blew to end his chances. He finished 29th.
THAT’S HOT: Richard Childress Racing drivers Ryan Newman hit the wall in the third turn on the 53rd lap. Teammate Paul Menard did the same 54 laps later. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wrecked after that. Braking issues leading to melted tire beads caused all three crashes, according to Goodyear.
STEWART’S SUB: Ty Dillon, filling in for the injured Tony Stewart, finished 15th in his second race in the No. 14.
DANICA UPDATE: Danica Patrick never threatened, but her 19th-place finish was her best of the season.
UP NEXT: The race at Fontana, California, next Sunday concludes NASCAR’s three-week Western swing.
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