Striving for All-Star Excellence
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – No points are earned for competing in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, but it is a $1 million payday for the winner. Thus, there is nothing to lose and some serious dough on the line in the 30th running of the invitation-only exhibition race Saturday night at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway.
Who gets into the All-Star field are race winners from the 2013 and 2014 seasons, All-Star Race winners and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions from the past 10 years, the top-two finishers from Friday night’s Sprint Showdown – a last-chance race to make it into Saturday night’s main event – and the winner of the fan vote.
While Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Hunt Brothers Pizza Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) already has All-Star status, having won the race in May 2007, a victory Saturday night would put him in some elite company. Only six drivers have won the annual event more than once. Harvick would join some of the biggest names in the sport – Davey Allison, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Terry Labonte and Mark Martin – as drivers with multiple All-Star wins.
Drama is always at a premium when the race’s competitors have a million reasons to go to victory lane. And Harvick’s 2007 win was no exception. He started fourth in the final segment but Jeff Gordon, who started first, got a bad start and Harvick capitalized by taking the lead. Perennial All-Star Race-winning contender Jimmie Johnson stalked Harvick over the closing laps, lying in wait should Harvick slip up. When it was evident Harvick was laser-focused on bringing home the win, Johnson made a last-turn, last-lap attempt to claim the victory but came up short in his efforts to deny Harvick the victory.
This year’s All-Star format will include four 20-lap segments followed by a 10-lap, winner-take-all dash to the finish. After each of the first three 20-lap segments, teams have the option to make a pit stop before the next segment begins. The fourth 20-lap segment will be followed by a mandatory four-tire pit stop. The lineup for the final 10-lap segment will be based on how they leave pit road after the stop.
It’s a simple format, really – checkers or wreckers, bring back the trophy or bring back the steering wheel.
With his ticket into the postseason already punched thanks to his two Sprint Cup victories in 2014, Harvick has headed to the racetrack each week feeling less pressure and relishing the opportunity to race aggressively for additional wins. Most of the rest of the drivers in Saturday night’s race will have to temporarily give up their points-paying, play-it-safe mentality, which means Harvick may find himself with a bit of an advantage as he’s been able to embrace the All-Star Race-winning mentality for several weeks, now.
KEVIN HARVICK, Driver of the No. 4 Hunt Brothers Pizza Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
There are no points on the line in the All-Star Race, just money. Do you race differently because of that? Are you worried about saving your racecar, or are you willing to lay it all on the line to chase the check?
“I think a lot of it depends on how you’re running that particular night. Obviously, you go in with intentions of racing for the win, and you’ll do whatever it takes if you’re in position to win the race. If you’re not in a position to win, you usually gamble, from a strategy standpoint, to try and put yourself in position to win.”
You won the All-Star Race back in 2007. Talk a little bit about winning that race. Another win in the All-Star Race puts you up there with some elite company.
“Charlotte had never been a track that we’d run very well at up until 2006. So, to go and win the race in 2007 gave us a lot of confidence, for sure. Obviously, a win in the All-Star Race makes you a million dollars richer and puts you on a unique list of winners who have won that race before. So, it definitely makes you want to experience all of that again as we go back every year.”
Your sponsor, Hunt Brothers Pizza, was involved with Haas CNC Racing back in the days before SHR came to be. You hooked up with them several years ago with your own team, Kevin Harvick Inc. Talk about that relationship, and Hunt Brothers coming back “home” to the shop in Kannapolis.
“Hunt Brothers Pizza has been a great partner through the years, and to continue that relationship forward and having them on the car at the All-Star Race is something that makes me feel good, to know that they believe in what we’re doing at Stewart-Haas Racing. So, to see the white-and-green colors of Hunt Brothers Pizza on the racetrack in the Sprint Cup Series is something I’m really looking forward to.”
This is the one race of the year where pit crews play a part in your starting position. Your No. 4 team has been stout on pit road all year. Talk a little bit about that unique qualifying format, and about your team’s performance this year. Do you think you’ve got a bit of an advantage based on that?
“I think, as you go into the All-Star Race, you kind of throw everything out the window as far as what you’ve done all year for the fact that you’re coming off pit road really fast. And not having a pit-road speed limit usually has the drivers screwing up more than anybody, just for the fact that you overshoot the pit box or something of that nature. So, it makes it really fun. It’s unique compared to what we normally do from a qualifying standpoint, involving the pit guys into the pit stop.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine