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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press Kevin Harvick has been the quickest in practice leading up to today's race as he's seeking his third consecutive win. He's won a record 8 times at ISM Raceway.

Sunday, March 11, 2018 1:00 am

Harvick on track for 3 in a row

Veteran quickest in practice, has 8 wins at track

JOHN NICHOLSON | Associated Press

AVONDALE, Ariz. – Kevin Harvick left everyone else behind the last two weeks in Atlanta and Las Vegas. He figures to be even harder to beat Sunday at ISM Raceway where he has a record eight victories.

Trying to become the first driver to win three straight NASCAR Cup races since Joey Logano in 2015, Harvick topped the speed charts for both practice sessions Saturday. Fittingly, the 2014 season champion's Stewart-Haas Racing Ford has a Jimmy John's “Freaky Fast!” paint scheme.

“When things are going good, you need to hammer it home,” Harvick said. “Let's just keep pushing things forward and try not to stumble along the way and screw up what's going on. To me, it feels a lot like 2014, except now you've got a team with five years of experience, and that's pretty scary.”

Yes, it is.

“In Atlanta, we kind of chalked it up to Kevin being probably the best driver at Atlanta and we just thought it was Atlanta and he is typically fast there,” said Logano, the 2016 Phoenix fall winner. “Vegas was one of those things where we all thought, 'Wow, maybe it wasn't just Atlanta.' Phoenix has always been a good track for him as well. It takes a few weeks to realize where you stand. I think we are in good shape so far, but I do think that he is a solid step in front of everybody right now.”

Harvick's victory March 4 in Las Vegas was marred by penalties in part fueled by social media photos of his buckled rear windshield. NASCAR said inspectors at its research and development center in North Carolina found the Ford violated a rule requiring rear window support braces holding the glass rigid and another requiring the right rocker panel extension to be aluminum.

On Wednesday, Harvick was penalized the seven playoff points he earned for winning the race and the first two stages. He was docked 20 regular points and the team lost 20 owners' points. Crew chief Rodney Childers was fined $50,000, and car chief Robert Smith suspended two races.

“I can't wait to win another race and jump up and down in victory lane on the back of my car,” Harvick said Friday.

Defending series champion Martin Truex Jr. will start from the pole in the No. 78 Toyota. Hendrick Motorsports has the next three spots, with Kyle Larson second, Chase Elliott third and Tucson driver Alex Bowman fourth. Logano will start fifth, and Harvick 10th.

Social media help

Matt DiBenedetto added Zynga Poker as the primary sponsor of Go Fas Racing's No. 32 Ford for the weekend through a social media posting – and Denny Hamlin's retweet.

“We hate doing this, but we are UNSPONSORED as of right now for @ISMRaceway this weekend!” DiBenedetto posted along with a video. “If you or anyone you know has the ability to help us connect with a business interested in coming on board this weekend please contact the @GoFasRacing32 page ASAP!

Enlisted Nine Fight Company and Pit Stops for Hope also signed on.

“The power of social media can be crazy, and sure enough, it actually blew our minds,” DiBenedetto said. “Getting the support of Denny Hamlin starting the wave of tremendous support and that led into it just spreading like wildfire.”

Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip each donated $5,000.

“Those are some of the folks that I go to for any advice, because — Denny, Kevin, Darrell —those are guys that are going to tell you the way it is,” DiBenedetto said.

DiBenedetto qualified 30th. He finished 27th at Daytona, 31st at Atlanta and 22nd at Las Vegas.