AVONDALE, Ariz. -
Kevin Harvick is redefining dominance at NASCAR's highest level.
The defending NASCAR champion won his fourth consecutive race at Phoenix International Raceway yesterday with yet another rout of the field. The 42 other drivers knew this was Harvick's race to win, and he made it look easy.
He led more than 200 laps for the third straight time at Phoenix, where he has won five of the last six races and a record seven overall.
More important, he continued a streak of dominance that dates to last season. He has seven consecutive top-two finishes and has won four of the last seven races, which includes the final two of last year's championship season.
He opened this season with two runner-up finishes, then won last week at Las Vegas and now Phoenix.
The last driver to open a season with four finishes of second or better? Richard Petty in 1974.
"Man, these things are incredible and they are just fun to drive," Harvick said about his Rodney Childers-built No. 4 Chevrolet.
"It's scary how well we get along with each other. I don't want to talk about it sometimes so I don't jinx it."
Harvick now heads to California looking to sweep NASCAR's three-race West Coast swing. It's not out of the question, particularly with how well he's running. But Harvick won at Auto Club Speedway in 2011, and has been among the best drivers there since 2009.
Two late cautions forced Harvick to sweat a little bit, as he twice had to hold off Jamie McMurray on restarts to preserve his victory.
He cleared McMurray on the final restart with 12 laps remaining and beat the Chip Ganassi Racing driver by 1.154 seconds.
Ryan Newman was third and followed by Kasey Kahne and Kurt Busch as Chevrolet drivers took the top five spots.
It was a strong run for Busch, who was making his season debut following a NASCAR suspension that lasted the first three races. He was sidelined for an alleged domestic assault but reinstated this week and promptly returned to Stewart-Haas Racing's No. 41 Chevrolet.
"I've got a strong team, and personally, it's great to get back to them," Busch said. "The way we raced today was with heart."
It wasn't a perfect day for SHR, though. Team co-owner Tony Stewart crashed out of his third race of the season and finished 39th.