KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – Every year in late April across the United States, signs of spring begin to appear. The grass begins to grow, the weather becomes warmer, flowers and trees start to come into bloom and, for Kevin Harvick, the driver of the No. 4 Outback Steakhouse Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), he’s hoping that things that bloom are not limited to the outdoors.
Outback Steakhouse has celebrated Harvick’s three top-10 finishes thus far in 2014 by giving its customers a free Bloomin’ Onion® on the Monday immediately following the race. And while he’d like to continue those celebrations this weekend by scoring another top-10, he’d prefer to do it in a bigger way – by winning his third NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of the 2014 season and his fourth overall at “The Action Track,” aka Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.
Looking at Harvick’s stats at Richmond, it’s fairly easy to see why he is not only looking forward to Saturday night’s Sprint Cup race, but why he should also be considered a serious contender for the race victory. After all, he is the defending champion of the race, and the most recent winner in the Sprint Cup Series.
With four laps remaining in last year’s event, it appeared Juan Pablo Montoya was on his way to earning his first win on an oval – that is, until the caution flag flew with four laps remaining. Harvick decided to hit pit road for fresh tires with Montoya and the other leaders while three drivers elected to stay out. Three others got off pit road before him, and it seemed Harvick’s chances of earning the victory were slim.
When the green flag flew for the final restart, Harvick was able to plow through traffic, driving from seventh to victory lane for his first win of the season.
Harvick’s loop-data statistics show he can’t be overlooked this weekend. His average running position of 7.9 is third-best at Richmond. He is the fourth-best closer at Richmond, with 20 positions improved over the last 10 percent of laps in the last 18 races. His average driver rating of 110.0 is third-best, and his 6,617 laps spent running inside the top-15 is the most of any driver at Richmond. Harvick also ranks third in laps led at Richmond with 898 over the same span of races.
With his ticket into the postseason punched thanks to his two Sprint Cup victories, Harvick and his Rodney Childers-led crew can head to Richmond feeling less pressure and welcome the opportunity to race aggressively for additional wins. The 25-time Sprint Cup race winner will look to score back-to-back victories for the third time in his career, as well as a “Bloomin’” win for Outback Steakhouse.
KEVIN HARVICK, Driver of the No. 4 Outback Steakhouse Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
You’ve been to victory lane nine times at Richmond. What is it that makes you so good there?
“I grew up racing on a lot of really flat racetracks and Richmond is one of those tracks where the tires wear out a lot and it’s very line-sensitive. You’ve got to work on running well against the bottom of the racetrack, and trying to find grip for the front tires to turn and find grip on the exit of the corner, as well. It’s just a track that really fits my driving style.”
You walk into Richmond as the defending champion of the race. What’s that like?
“Last year was one of those races that we probably shouldn’t have won. That was a really unique restart. We had a really good car, and we were able to line up for the restart on the inside with four fresh tires. Tires meant everything at the end. I always feel, going back to Richmond, that we should run well all night and have a chance to win the race. So, my expectations aren’t anything less than that.”
Talk a little bit about the win. Can you put yourself back in the driver’s seat one year ago? To come from seventh to win in two laps was impressive, to say the least.
“There were a lot of guys gambling. Tires were a big advantage, especially when you’re racing guys who don’t have fresh tires. It looked like we were in two different ZIP codes as far as speed, just for the fact that when my four tires took off, they were spinning their tires and not turning. It looked like I was shot out of a cannon. The biggest thing I learned was that if it comes down to that situation again, I’m coming to pit road to put four tires on it.”
Talk about your sponsor this weekend – Outback Steakhouse – and the unique activation they do around the program, including the Bloomin’ Monday promotion.
“Outback is very involved in what they do. The Bloomin’ Monday promotion is really fun, and it’s something that the fans are really into. It’s something that draws a lot of attention to Monday mornings, afternoons or evenings, whatever time zone you’re in, for everyone to head to Outback Steakhouse. People love free stuff.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine