KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), is ready to test his mental and physical limits Sunday in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway – the longest NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of the season on the most prestigious day on the world motorsports calendar.
The Sunday of Memorial Day weekend is what racing enthusiasts around the world refer to as the “Greatest Day in Motorsports.” The day starts with the Formula 1 Grand Prix of Monaco on the 2.075-mile street circuit through the streets of Monte Carlo. IndyCar’s Indianapolis 500 at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the second race of the day, followed by the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte.
Growing up in Bakersfield, California, Harvick dreamed of his turn to one day emulate his childhood hero Rick Mears, the four-time Indianapolis 500 champion and three-time IndyCar Series champion who also grew up in Bakersfield. His dream was to win the historic Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day weekend. But, the reigning Sprint Cup champion saw his career take a different path that led him to NASCAR instead of IndyCar. The path that led to NASCAR meant that Harvick would have to slightly amend his dream of winning the Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day weekend, and instead he would have to focus on winning the NASCAR leg of the Greatest Day in Motorsports – the Coca-Cola 600.
Harvick finished second to Jeff Burton by 3.190 seconds in his first Coca-Cola 600 attempt in 2001, but it wasn’t until his 11th attempt that he was able to etch his name on the Coca-Cola 600 trophy and take his place among the auto racing elite to score a win on Memorial Day weekend.
In 2011, Harvick was racing in second position on the white-flag lap when race leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran out of gas as he was racing down the backstretch. Harvick was able to take the lead coming off the final corner to win his first Coca-Cola 600. He led only two laps on the day, but the final lap was the most important.
It didn’t take Harvick long to record his second Coca-Cola 600 win. In 2013, he held off defending race-winner Kasey Kahne and current SHR teammate Kurt Busch in a 10-lap shootout to become just the 14th driver to score multiple Coca-Cola 600 wins on Memorial Day weekend.
If the start to the 2015 race season is any indication, Harvick should be a favorite Sunday.
Eleven races into 2015, Harvick has scored eight top-two finishes – including wins at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway. The only other driver in Sprint Cup history to have eight top-two finishes through the first 11 points races of a season was Cale Yarborough in 1977
Harvick sits atop the driver standings with 437 points. His five straight Sprint Cup finishes of second or better to start the season is a series record. He has led a series-high 1,006 laps with an average finish of 6.2 thus far. His 1,006 laps led are nearly twice as many as the next-closest competitor – 541 by his SHR teammate Busch.
The Bakersfield native leads several other statistical categories: 126.7 driver rating, eight top-five finishes, 10 top-10 finishes, 21 bonus points, 574 fastest laps run, 20.3 percent of fastest laps run, 28.6 percent of laps led, 1,090.38 miles led, 3,209 laps in the top-15, 91.3 percent of laps in the top-15, average running position of 5.7, average finish of 6.2, and a pass differential of 213.
Harvick has finished either first or second in his last seven Sprint Cup starts on 1.5-mile racetracks. He had wins at Charlotte and Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2014 and Las Vegas in 2015 during that streak. He finished second at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth in 2014 and Atlanta Motor Speedway, at Texas again this season, as well as at Kansas Speedway two weekends ago, each time finishing second to Jimmie Johnson.
While Harvick may never join Rick Mears as an Indianapolis 500 winner, a win on Sunday would make Harvick one of only nine drivers to win the Coca-Cola 600 three or more times. Darrell Waltrip won five times – 1978, 1979, 1985, 1988 and 1989. Johnson has won four times – 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2014. And Buddy Baker, David Pearson, Bobby Allison, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne have each won three times.
KEVIN HARVICK, Driver of the No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Is the Coca-Cola 600 more physically or mentally challenging?
“It just depends on how hot it is, honestly. If it’s a good weekend and the weather is nice, then it’s more mentally challenging than physically challenging. Either way, it’s still challenging both mentally and physically in some way, shape or form. The hardest part mentally is just getting yourself to overcome that last hundred miles because you are used to the 400- or 500-mile races.”
Your career stats at Charlotte weren’t overly impressive until just a couple of years ago. What changed to help you become more successful at Charlotte?
“I don’t exactly remember when it was, but I remember that it was somewhere around the 2009 or 2010 mark that the results started to get better. We were just off on some of the things that we were doing at that particular racetrack. The first year I think I finished second, but then it changed and we were just off. I think we got everything straightened out over the last couple of years. Since I got to Stewart-Haas Racing, it’s been a really good racetrack for us and the results have been great.”
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