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NASCAR – Phoenix takeaways: Kevin Harvick promotes short-track racing; Fords keep flying

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today Sports)    —    AVONDALE, Ariz. — Five takeaways from Sunday’s TicketGuardian 500 at ISM Raceway as teams prepare for the third and final stop on the West Coast swing at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. this weekend:

HARVICK GOES SHORT-TRACKING: Next up for Sunday winner Kevin Harvick is Kern County Speedway.

Harvick is scheduled to race Thursday night at the half-mile Kern County track (near his hometown of Bakersfield, Calif.) in a NASCAR K&N Pro Series race. It’s a one-off “fun” race for Harvick, who left Bakersfield for national racing stardom, but it also is part of his mission to boost local short-track motorsports.

After winning at ISM Sunday, Harvick gave a spirited endorsement of short-track racing, saying grass-roots tracks form a major support base of fans for major-league racing. He also criticized ISM track management for no longer scheduling the Copper Classic race, for many years a favorite “big track” race for regional short-track drivers.

“I’ve been mad at Sperber (ISM president Bryan Sperber) here for a couple years now because he won’t have the K&N cars come race here because it doesn’t help his budget,” Harvick said. “In the end, without those grassroots fans, those grassroots people, coming and being able to race here, whether it fits your budget or not, 10 years from now you better hope your ass has some people that will sit in the stands up here wanting to watch these races at your short tracks because those are your hardcore fans.

“One of the best things that happened for racing … was when we had the Copper Classic here. We had midgets, sprint cars. Didn’t matter how many people sat in the grandstands. As competitors, this was their Daytona. On the West Coast, this is what we thought our Daytona 500 was. This is where everybody wanted to race.”

FORDS FLYING: To add to the significance of Harvick’s third consecutive win Sunday, his Stewart-Haas Racing Ford teammates roared home in close formation behind him.

Clint Bowyer finished sixth, Aric Almirola seventh and Kurt Busch 10th, giving SHR almost half of the top 10 and leading team co-owner Tony Stewart to say the team is rolling along at its best level ever.

“It just shows the strength of having four really good teammates that are giving four valid sets of information that they can all feed off of and work off of,” Stewart said. “It just seems like this group of these guys really work well together.”

Harvick specifically mentioned the input of new SHR teammate Almirola, who replaced Danica Patrick in the No. 10 car.

NO. 4 SEEKING NO. 4: Harvick would join some select company if he runs his winning streak to four in Sunday’s Cup race at Auto Club Speedway.

Only 12 drivers have won four in a row in Cup history. Among them are such standouts as Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, David Pearson, Dale Earnhardt Sr., Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson — all present or future Hall-of-Famers.

If Harvick gets four, the next goal on the list would be tying Allison, who won five in a row in the summer of 1971.

Petty owns the all-time winning streak record of 10.

JOHNSON STILL GRINDING: Sunday was another sour race day for Jimmie Johnson.

The seven-time champion finished 14th, leaving him without a top-10 finish four races into the season.

“We certainly made the car better throughout the course of the weekend,” Johnson said. “We got up to eighth and then had some pit strategy kind of work against us and fell back into the teens again, and it’s just so stinking hard to pass.  I think if we could have stayed up there in that top 10 where we were, we would have finished there, but once we got mired back and had to start all over again, it was just a long grind.”

TOYOTAS TRAILING: Toyota won the Cup driving championship last year with Martin Truex Jr.’s eight-win season, but the manufacturer is 0-for-4 one month into 2018.

Truex, a master of stage racing last season, is third in series points but has no stage wins through four races.

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Follow Hembree on Twitter @mikehembree

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