The racing gods continued to smile on Kevin Harvick on Saturday afternoon, as he found victory lane for the second time in three NASCAR Xfinity Series starts so far in 2015. Added to his two wins in the four Cup races this season, it's a phenomenal run of form with which to start the year by anyone's standards.
See full race results from Fontana.
"I'm just a lucky guy to be piloting really fast cars," said Harvick, who was celebrating his 46th victory in 319 Xfinity races - six of them coming in just the last 18 series starts alone having led for two thirds of the total race distance, 100 of 150 laps. "Everything is clicking right now. You just have to keep riding the wave!"
"Kevin's an amazing driver," said Dale Earnhardt Jr., the co-owner of the #88 JR Motorsports entry. "He's really focused, and his work outside the car helps him inside the car and helps his team… It don't last forever, so you've got to enjoy it while it's happening."
Harvick has now finished in the top ten in 28 consecutive races, and his last finish outside the top ten was in Phoenix International Raceway just over two years ago when an accident saw him classified in 33rd place. Even so, this weekend was his first win in 19 starts at Fontana in his home state of California.
It had been Joe Gibbs Racing's Erik Jones who had earlier started the Drive4Clots.com 300 from pole position, after the 18-year-old successfully captured his maiden Xfinity pole position in eight starts with a final round time of 40.384s (178.288mph) in qualifying at the two-mile Auto Club Speedway. That was enough to put him 0.137s clear of Richard Childress Racing's Brian Scott who duly joined him on the front row for the start of the Saturday afternoon event.
Jones was only able to lead for three laps before being passed by his JGR team mate Denny Hamlin who was followed in turn by Hamlin's fellow Cup regular Brad Keselowski in the #22 Penske entry. The youngster was able to hold on to third place for the opening laps, and continued to run comfortably ahead of Kevin Harvick until the first debris caution of the race on lap 34.
Everyone had a chance to pit under yellow, and Hamlin won the race off pit road to keep the lead for the restart. However Brad Keselowski massively overshot the Penske pit stall and had to back-up, costing him time and dropping him down to ninth place by the time he managed to sort himself out, meaning that Jones was duly promoted back up to second ahead of Harvick, Scott and HScott Motorsports's Kyle Larson. When the race went green it was Harvick who had the immediate pace and went straight to the front, taking Scott with him past Hamlin and Jones in a four-wide move.
After that, Harvick was firmly in control of the rest of the race. When a second caution came out on lap 47 for fluid on the track, Harvick maintained his lead by staying off pit road and he eventually pitted under green on lap 77 instead. The different pit strategies in play by this point meant that Harvick didn't get the lead back again for another ten laps, but it was inevitable that it would happen eventually and Jones was also able to remain in second albeit now joined by Roush Fenway Racing's Darrell Wallace Jr. ahead of Scott, Regan Smith and Chris Buescher.
Harvick was looking increasingly comfortable out in front and effectively in cruise control for the rest of the race as he pulled out more than three seconds over Jones as the laps counted down. Another round of green flag pit stops broke out on lap 112, which did not go well for Hamlin whose water temperatures were running high because of trash on the grille and who compounded the problem with a pit lane speeding penalty that put him a lap down. Harvick had just completed his own final pit stop of the race when a new debris caution was signalled on lap 117.
Jones did his best to take the fight to Harvick at the restart but the #88 more than had his measure and started to pull away again at the front, the lead eventually stabilising at a little over three seconds by the time the chequered flag came out. His latest victory lakes him the red hot favourite to win again on Sunday and complete an unprecedented sweep of all three events in NASCAR's early spring West Coast swing, having already gone to victory lane in back-to-back races this month in Las Vegas and Phoenix.
Meanwhile Jones was challenged for second place by RCR's Brendan Gaughan who had come out best from the final round of pit stops, and the #62 finally got by on lap 126 and pushed Jones back to third place for the final run to the flag.
“Anytime you're in the top five in this series, you're doing something right. I love the fact that I'm pissed off about being second,” said Gaughan said after his first second place finish since 2009. "I don't care if I finished fifth, I just wanted a shot at it because I know I'm pretty darn good on restarts ... I love my restarts. Our restarts got us there."
"The #88 has just been so fast," sighed Jones. "Running third, that's great. Improved from last week and got better and just keep moving forward ... We're really close. We're right on the verge. I wish we could get that last little piece to get that speed that the guys that are winning races have."
Behind the top three, Harvick's JR Motorsports team mate and reigning Xfinity Series champion Chase Elliott diligently worked his way up from 13th on the grid to clinch fourth place at the line ahead of Roush Fenway Racing's Chris Buescher.
"That was a pretty good day, that's more than I expected out of this Fastenal Ford Mustang today," said Buescher, who will now go on to make his Sprint Cup début in tomorrow's Auto Club 400 race. "It was a challenge. We worked really hard for it. It was a wild race. Some of these restarts, the track is so wide that we get spread out and it's a little hairy, but I'm really proud of these guys. They did a nice job and now it's over and we're looking forward to tomorrow's race and run for the first time on Sunday."
Brian Scott took sixth place ahead of Cup regulars Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski, with Regan Smith (JR Motorsports) and Elliott Sadler (RFR) rounding out the top ten ahead of JGR's Daniel Suarez.
RCR's Ty Dillon retains the lead in the championship standings despite labouring to an underwhelming 13th place this weekend, which means that his lead over Chris Buescher has been cut by eight points to just five, with Chase Elliott a further five points back having leap-frogged Daytona winner Ryan Reed for fourth place in the standings.
The NASCAR Xfinity Series now takes the next two weeks off, skipping Martinsville and then joining the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series in enjoying the Easter break the week after.
Full race results, plus qualifying and practice speeds and full Xfinity Series championship standings.
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