Chasing Las Vegas
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – Kevin Harvick heads to Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend seeking his first Sprint Cup win at the 1.5-mile tri-oval. It’s one of only nine racetracks on the Sprint Cup circuit where the driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) has never won, but he certainly has momentum on his side thanks to a dominating win at Phoenix International Raceway last weekend in just his second points-paying race start with SHR.
There’s something else Harvick is seeking at Las Vegas, and that’s a seat at the head table for the 2014 banquet. Harvick’s early win virtually guarantees his No. 4 team a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs. While there’s still plenty of racing to be done between now and Nov. 16, when the championship is decided at Homestead-Miami Speedway, there’s a bit of pressure that’s relieved for the Bakersfield, Calif., native. Knowing he’s likely punched his ticket into the postseason, Harvick and his Rodney Childers-led crew can now race aggressively for additional wins.
And that all starts this weekend, when the 24-time Sprint Cup Series race winner will look to score back-to-back victories for the third time in his career.
In 13 Sprint Cup starts at Las Vegas, Harvick has three top-five finishes, five top-10s and has led 58 laps. While he’s yet to find his way to victory lane there, it has been a stout venue for Harvick, who recorded a runner-up finish there in 2010. His average finishing position of 12.7 ranks Las Vegas sixth-best among active tracks for the 38-year-old driver. While he has not recorded a Sprint Cup win at the racetrack, he does have two wins in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, which came in 2004 and 2010.
And in loop-data statistics, Harvick leads all drivers in the category of positions improved in the last 10 percent of laps in each race, ranks sixth in average running position and green-flag passes, and seventh in the number of laps spent running in the top-15. Harvick’s average driver rating of 94.8 ranks him eighth-best among all drivers at Las Vegas.
Optimism is high for the driver of the Jimmy John’s Chevrolet, knowing that Las Vegas has been a strong racetrack for SHR in recent years, as well. Teammate and team co-owner Tony Stewart claimed the checkered flag there in 2012.
So while Harvick will be focused on the task at hand for the year’s first visit to Las Vegas – winning Sunday’s Kobalt 400 – he’ll also be keeping an eye on the big picture, and that’s making a second trip to Las Vegas for December’s Sprint Cup banquet, when he hopes to take his seat at the head table for the first time in his career.
KEVIN HARVICK, Driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Talk about your victory at Phoenix, and what it meant for you and your Stewart-Haas Racing team.
“Well, it’s just a huge credit to the team, the organization and everybody who has been a part of this process as we’ve gone through the winter and over the last couple months of last year. To see the amount of change within Stewart-Haas Racing with the car, the haulers, the pit boxes, everything that has come with putting all these pieces together is really just a huge credit to these guys and all the guys who work in the shop.”
Talk a little bit about the satisfaction of putting Stewart Haas Racing in the Chase so soon.
“There’s been a lot of skepticism as we’ve gone through the offseason. For me, I heard it, I paid attention to it during the offseason, but as we’ve gone through the first few weeks, you try to put yourself in your own little world. All in all, Gene (Haas, SHR co-owner) has given us every resource that you can imagine. Tony (Stewart) has been very supportive of whatever we wanted to do. Rodney (Childers, crew chief) has put together a group of guys who believe in what we’re doing. Rodney is a relationship guy. He’s taught me a lot about trying to make sure you know who the people are, what they’re doing, and to support them as they do it. We had some hiccups throughout the first week. I felt like we were going to have those. I think everybody anticipated those. Nobody has pointed fingers and said, ‘It’s this guy’s fault or that guy’s fault.’ It’s, ‘What do we need to fix that or this to try to make that better?’ I think, as you go through time, the sky’s the limit for this team because everybody is still trying to learn each other’s names, let alone what’s going on with the racecar. I’ve heard Gene say as he’s walked through the race shop that the enthusiasm is contagious at SHR. I think that is very important. You’re only as good as the people you have around you. I’m very honored to have driven the Jimmy John’s Chevrolet into victory lane in week two. It’s quite an honor to be a part of that.”
Talk a little bit about coming to Las Vegas, and having the test day Thursday.
“Well, we tested with the new no ride-height rule at Charlotte when we did the NASCAR test at the end of last year and I expect the cars to have a little bit more grip and a little bit more speed than what we had before. Along with that, when you have those changes in the car, it changes all the springs and the way the engineers go about looking at everything that they do. So it’s a whole different thought process than it was last year. And, as we found out at Daytona in the Sprint Unlimited, the main thing you have to pay attention to is being able to get the tires off the car on a pit stop. So, we had to adjust for that during the rest of Budweiser Speedweeks a little bit. I know they’ve worked hard on it, but things happen a lot more aggressively coming into the pit stall and everything is hot and so you’ve just got to make sure that’s right.”
So, how important is the Thursday test session going to be?
“For us, it’s a new team. We had some things here and there – a lot of things here and there – that we had to work through at Daytona and Phoenix and everybody did a good job. So, those four extra hours to get everything sorted out for us is important. But I think there are just so many new things, and the way you look at things, and the way you go about things, and the springs and things you run underneath the car. They are so drastically different than what you ran last year that we’re looking for that baseline to be able to understand exactly what we need and where to work from. In that same sense, things will evolve really fast because things are quite a bit different. So, you’ll have something that will evolve into something new by the time you get to the next week.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine