DANICA PATRICK – 2017 Atlanta Race Report

Event:               Folds of Honor 500 (Round 2 of 36)
Series:               Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Location:          Atlanta Motor Speedway (1.54-mile oval)
Format:             325 laps, broken into three stages (85 laps/85 laps/155 laps)
Start/Finish:      24th/17th (Running, completed 325 of 325 laps)
Point Standing: 22nd (36 points, 54 out of first)
Race Winner:    Brad Keselowski of Team Penske (Ford)

Stage 1 Recap (Laps 1-85):

  • Danica Patrick started 24th and finished 17th.
  • The No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford Fusion team pitted at lap 35 for tires, fuel and chassis adjustments.
  • Patrick was scored as high as 16th during Stage 1. She radioed to the team that the car was “a little tight in the center,” so crew chief Billy Scott called for wedge and packer adjustments in addition to fuel and tires when the field pitted between stages at lap 89. 

Stage 2 Recap (Laps 86-170):     

  • Patrick started 17th and finished 17th.
  • The team pitted under green-flag conditions at lap 125 for tires, fuel and a wedge adjustment.
  • Patrick went a lap down to the leader during the cycle of green-flag pit stops.
  • At the conclusion of Stage 2, the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford team pitted for tires, fuel and a wedge adjustment to help tighten the car up for Patrick. 

Final Stage Recap (Laps 171-325):          

  • Patrick started 15th and finished 17th.
  • She battled a loose-handling car for the first half of the stage and went a second lap down to the leaders during a long green-flag run.
  • The team pitted twice during the stage for tires, fuel and adjustments to help tighten up the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford for Patrick.
  • In the final segment of the race, Scott had Patrick stay out twice under caution and take the wave-around to get a lap back. This put her on the lead lap for the end of the race. 

Notes:              

  • Patrick earned 20 points in Sunday’s race at Atlanta, which gives her a total of 36 points for the season thus far. She is ranked 22nd in the driver point standings heading into next weekend’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:

 “I have to thank my Aspen Dental Ford team for all of their hard work today. The car was all right there at the end. We got off to a good start and ended well, but the middle got a little rough. The car was just way too loose. Billy (Scott) and the guys made solid changes throughout the day and helped put us in a better position at the end.” 

Next Up:

The next event on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule is the Kobalt 400 on Sunday, March 12 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The race starts at 3:30 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by FOX.

KEVIN HARVICK – 2017 Atlanta Race Advance

Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), will attempt to add a second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win to his impressive resume at Atlanta Motor Speedway Sunday in the Folds of Honor 500.

He won his first NASCAR Cup Series race there in only his third career start on March 11, 2001. The circumstances surrounding the month leading up to Harvick’s first career Cup Series win in 2001 make it all the more remarkable.

Following Dale Earnhardt’s death on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, Harvick was named the driver of the No. 29 car for Richard Childress Racing and made his Cup Series debut the following weekend – Monday, Feb. 26 – at Rockingham (N.C.) Speedway, where he finished 14th. Two days later, Wednesday, Feb. 28, as the series headed west to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Harvick married his wife DeLana. The following Sunday, March 4, Harvick scored his first career Cup Series top-10 finish. Then, on Sunday, March 11, less than one month since his debut in NASCAR’s top series, Harvick won his first Cup Series race at Atlanta.

Harvick’s first win didn’t come easily. He was in third place with five laps remaining and chased down NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Dale Jarrett for second, then overtook Jerry Nadeau for the lead. Once in front, Harvick had to hold off another future Hall of Fame driver, Jeff Gordon, to secure the win. As he and Gordon raced door-to-door to the finish line, Harvick prevailed to secure his first Cup Series win by .006 of a second.

Since that maiden NASCAR Cup Series win, Harvick has reached victory lane at Atlanta on five other occasions, four times in the NASCAR Xfinity Series – including three of his last four Xfinity starts – and once in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

Harvick came close to adding a second Cup Series win at Atlanta in each of his last three starts at the 1.54-mile oval. In September 2014, he won the pole and led 195 of 335 laps before late-race tire strategy by several drivers led to a multicar accident involving his No. 4 car. He started from the outside front row in 2015, led 116 laps and finished runner-up to race-winner Jimmie Johnson by 1.802 seconds. In his most recent Atlanta start, he began sixth, led a race-high 131 laps and finished sixth after being shuffled back on a late-race restart.

If the 2014 NASCAR Cup Series champ plans to achieve success Sunday at Atlanta, he is going to have to do it utilizing NASCAR’s new 2017 lower-downforce aerodynamic package as this is the package’s debut in a race event.

This weekend, Harvick will attempt to add that elusive second Cup Series win at the 1.54-mile oval in Sunday’s Folds of Honor 500. He will also debut Stewart-Haas Racing’s new No. 41 Textron Off Road Ford Mustang on Saturday in search of his fourth Xfinity Series win at Atlanta in five years.

KEVIN HARVICK, Driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:

 

What’s it like to be back at the site of your first NASCAR Cup Series win?

“You can’t ever win the first one twice. To come back here and know everything that was attached to that first win is something you look back on and realize the magnitude of the situation. I guess the second thing is I can’t believe we haven’t won there since. It’s definitely one of my favorite racetracks and we’ve led a ton of laps there. For whatever reason, on Sundays, we haven’t been able to put the finishing touches on it. Fridays and Saturdays in the Truck Series and the Xfinity Series, we’ve won a ton of races but, hopefully, we can end that Cup Series streak this weekend. I’m looking forward to having Folds of Honor there this weekend. They’re a big part of all the sponsors on our car and I would call Major Dan a good friend. He participates a lot in the activities we do. Usually, for whatever reason, when we’re around Major Dan, we’ve had a lot of success over the next weekend’s race so, hopefully, we can go to victory lane and have someone from the Folds of Honor hand us that trophy.”

 

What do you like about the Atlanta Motor Speedway layout?

“I just love the abrasiveness of the racetrack. It still has a lot of speed for the first three or four laps, but then it has a lot of fall-off and a lot of bumps that give it character. As a driver, you just love the challenge that comes with racing at Atlanta. This is always one that I circle on my calendar as a favorite and I look forward to racing in Atlanta this weekend.”

DANICA PATRICK – 2017 Atlanta Race Advance

After getting caught up in a late-race incident Sunday at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, Danica Patrick and the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford Fusion team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) are ready to return to the site of Patrick’s career-best Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points-event finish: Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Patrick earned finishes of fourth and sixth in the Advance Auto Parts Clash and Can-Am Duel, respectively, and she was scored as high as second Sunday before her solid performance in the 59th running of the Daytona 500 ended prematurely due to a multicar accident that sent the No. 10 team to the garage at lap 128. With the conclusion of Daytona Speedweeks, the “regular” NASCAR Cup Series season commences with Sunday’s Folds of Honor 500 at Atlanta.

When Patrick and her No. 10 team visited Atlanta in August 2014, she started 27th in the Oral-B USA 500. She rallied from a lap down twice in the early stages of the race. By the halfway point, Patrick worked her way into the top-15 and would stay there for the rest of the night. Her lap times continued to improve and, by the 300-lap mark, she was solidly in the top-10. Patrick managed to run as high as fourth before taking the checkered flag sixth. The effort beat her previous best finish – a seventh-place run at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City in May 2014 – by one position.

Patrick’s sixth-place run was the best by a female at Atlanta. The previous record was Janet Guthrie’s 10th-place finish on March 19, 1978. Only a fifth-place result by Sara Christian in a NASCAR Cup Series race on Oct. 2, 1949 at Heidelberg (Pa.) Raceway tops Patrick’s 2014 effort at Atlanta. Christian also finished sixth at Langhorn (Pa.) Speedway on Sept. 11, 1949, and Guthrie finished sixth at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway on Aug. 28, 1977.

Last year, newly paired with crew chief Billy Scott, Patrick scored a 20th-place finish at Atlanta. This weekend, the pair returns to the track with a year’s worth of experience working together.

As the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford team returns to Atlanta, it is ready to improve on last year’s results and hopefully make more history with Patrick.

 

DANICA PATRICK, Driver of the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:

 

You recorded one of your best finishes in the NASCAR Cup Series at Atlanta. Talk about heading to Atlanta this weekend.

“I like Atlanta. It’s a place that I’ve done pretty well at. I’ve actually done pretty well at tracks that are a little odd or challenging or different. I think grip is a premium at Atlanta, obviously, as the tires fall off there maybe more than anywhere else we go. I feel like our car will be good and hopefully it will be another fun Atlanta weekend.”

 

How important is it to run well at Atlanta and the other intermediate tracks early in the season?

“Well, you have to do well to have momentum. There’s no promise there. It might not go well at all but, on the other hand, it might be awesome. I think that’s the case for every team – you really don’t know how you’re going to do until you really get out there and actually get running. Despite getting wrecked last weekend, the Aspen Dental Ford team got off to a strong start in Daytona as a whole. Atlanta is a very tough track, but I’ve had success there before and I’m confident my team is ready for this weekend.”

 

Coming out of Daytona we hit a stretch of the season that includes Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Fontana. How important is that slate of races?

“The first five races of the year are super-critical for the points championship but, in particular, they’re a good indicator of how the rest of the year is going to go from a performance standpoint. With those tracks, you’re covering all the bases with a short track, being Phoenix, a mile-and-a-half with Atlanta, a mile-and-a-half with Vegas – with Vegas being high-grip and Atlanta being low-grip – and then you go to Fontana, which is a 2-mile, flat, wide oval, so you’ve got a lot of different challenges. If we can perform well as a team at all of those tracks and have the mechanical handling that we need, and good understanding as to what we need there to balance out the aerodynamics which, hopefully, aero-wise, we’re in good shape, then we’ll have a great start to the year.”

KEVIN HARVICK – 2017 Atlanta XFINITY Race Advance

NASCAR XFINITY Series Overview

 

Event:             NASCAR XFINITY Series 250 at Atlanta
Date:               Saturday, March. 04, 2017
Location:        Atlanta Motor Speedway
Layout:           1.54-mile oval (Quad-oval)

Kevin Harvick Notes of Interest

 

  • The No. 41 Textron Off Road Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) makes its XFINITY Series debut at Atlanta.
  • Harvick is scheduled to make five XFINITY Series starts in the No. 41 Ford Mustang for SHR in 2017.
  • He is making his 16th career NASCAR XFINITY Series start at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
  • Harvick has four XFINITY Series wins at Atlanta, including three consecutive wins from 2013 – 2015.
  • He also has nine top-five finishes and 11 top-10s in 15 XFINITY Series starts at Atlanta.
  • His XFINITY Series history includes 46 wins, 178 top-five finishes, 250 top-10s, 25 poles and 9,322 laps led in 335 starts.
  • Harvick will share the field with SHR teammate Cole Custer in the No. 00 Haas Automation Ford Mustang at Atlanta.

 

Kevin Harvick, Driver No. 41 Textron Off Road Ford Mustang

 

“It’s a great weekend for us to feature the new Textron Off Road name for the XFINITY Series debut of the No. 41 Ford Mustang. Just for the fact that I’ve had a partnership with Textron for a long time and have used their off-road vehicles for many years. I was able to test the new Stampede vehicle a few months back. It was a lot of fun to drive and tough enough to take virtually anywhere. Hopefully we can take them on a ride this weekend in Atlanta and celebrate their new name in victory lane.”

 

Richard Boswell, Crew Chief No. 41 Textron Off Road Ford Mustang

 

How did your opportunity to join Stewart-Haas Racing materialize?

“I worked with Kevin (Harvick) over at JR Motorsports for about two years as an engineer on the XFINITY side. When Stewart-Haas Racing was looking for a crew chief for the next XFINITY Series deal, Matt Goslant reached out to me. He knew that I had worked with Kevin in the past. I thought it’d be a good opportunity for me to try. I’d been looking for an opportunity to move up to the crew chief role and this was too good to pass up.”

What made working on the No. 41 Textron Ford Mustang team at Stewart-Haas Racing’s appealing to you?

“The opportunity to work with Kevin Harvick was big especially since we’d worked together in the past, but this was a chance to take a step up into a higher level role. This is a part-time deal and I’m used to full-time racing, so that’s taking a little bit of getting used to. Being at the racetrack every week helps you learn a lot, but working with one of the best drivers in the garage helps you learn a lot too. That was really the biggest reason is it was a chance to work with Kevin and Stewart-Haas Racing.”

This team is starting from scratch. What has been the biggest adjustment so far?

“The biggest adjustment so far is really just trying to manage all the different areas that a crew chief has to touch. I’m trying to be as hands on in every area so that I can help the guys that are working on the car and still know what we’re bringing to the racetrack when we unload. Managing all of that has been a bit of an adjustment.”

Is this a new Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang?

“It’s a brand new car. It’s the first Ford Mustang that we’ve built from top to bottom in-house at Stewart-Haas Racing for the XFINITY Series.”

COLE CUSTER – 2017 Atlanta Race Advance

 

Event:  Atlanta 250

Date:  Saturday, March 4, 2017

Location:  Atlanta Motor Speedway  

Layout:  1.54-mile oval

 

Cole Custer Notes of Interest

  • The Atlanta 250 will mark Cole Custer’s seventh career NASCAR XFINITY Series start, his first career XFINITY Series start at Atlanta Motor Speedway and his second career XFINITY Series start in a Ford Mustang.
  • Custer will share the field with teammate Kevin Harvick, who has one win, six top-fives and 11 top-10s at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
  • Custer has one start at Atlanta in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starting in the sixth position and finishing 17th.
  • Custer is competing for rookie-of-the-year honors in the XFINITY Series.

 

Cole Custer, Driver Q&A

After watching Kurt Busch kick off the SHR-Ford partnership by winning the Daytona 500, does that motivate you even more to go out and find success with the XFINITY program?

“It was awesome watching Kurt win down in Daytona with Ford’s first race with Stewart-Haas. With all the help and support Ford has given our team, we want to make them proud and put the blue oval out front. This weekend will be a great opportunity for us to do just that and make Ford proud.”

You’ve finally had a taste of racing in your new Haas Automation Ford Mustang. How well do you think you will perform based on the car you had in Daytona?

“I feel like we had a car that could really race well in Daytona and that’s exactly what you will want in Atlanta. With all the tire fall-off at Atlanta, you’re going to want a car that handles well and we accomplished that in Daytona. We tested in Atlanta once and we felt like we put together a great car. Hopefully, we can get Gene (Haas), Tony (Stewart) and everyone at Stewart-Haas Racing their first Xfinity Series win.”

What is unique about racing in Atlanta?

“Atlanta is one of the most unique places we go to because the track is so worn out. The whole weekend, you’re just going to be trying to keep the tires in good shape. It’s extremely fun for the drivers since we get to slip around a ton. One of our biggest goals is to just have a solid race. We’re looking to execute our plan and have a fast car, and hopefully we’ll be up front at the end. The crew has been working hard to ensure we have the best Haas Automation Ford Mustang we can build.”

You’ve made laps around Atlanta in the Truck Series. Do you feel familiar with the track, and how will that translate to racing XFINITY cars?

“Having raced in the Truck Series at Atlanta will definitely help me this weekend. However, there are a lot of differences between a truck and an Xfinity car, so it’s good that I’ve seen the track before and felt the characteristics of it.”

Jeff Meendering, Crew Chief Q&A

Now that Stewart-Haas Racing is the 2017 Daytona 500-winning team, does this motivate you to bring the same success in the XFINITY Series?

“Definitely, especially with Ford’s backing and how good of a start they’re off to winning an XFINITY race and the Daytona 500. It definitely makes us want to continue that success for them and Stewart-Haas Racing.”

What are your expectations for racing in Atlanta?

“We went and tested there and it went really well. I think we’ll have a great shot at placing well. The main goal is to get some points and make some solid stage runs to bring us higher in the points.”

How well are you and Cole communicating, and how will that translate to Atlanta?

“I would say we are communicating really well. Obviously, I’m still learning him and he’s still learning me, but I couldn’t ask for a better way to start than it already has. Having that test in Atlanta helped a lot. Daytona is relatively low-pressure, so it’s kind of an easy place to go out and practice on the first weekend. So, we’ve kind of eased into the tougher tracks like Atlanta. I think things are going really well.”

Can you compare a 19-year-old Cole Custer’s style to veteran drivers you have worked with in the past?

“Cole is his own person, personality-wise. He’s kind of quiet and he’s calm. That’s one thing that’s nice about him. A lot of times, younger drivers are not good at staying patient or calm in the car and he doesn’t seem to have that issue. Nothing really seems to bother him. I’ve been extremely impressed with him and he’s done a good job.”

Year Event/Series Start Finish Status/Laps Laps Led
2016 Great Clips 200 (Truck) 6 17 Running/130 0

 

KURT BUSCH – 2017 Atlanta Race Advance

For the first time in his 17-year Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career, Kurt Busch is undefeated. Having won Sunday’s season-opening Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, his first in the “Great American Race,” Busch is boasting a perfect 1-0 record.

To be fair, there is still a lot of racing to go – 35 points-paying events to be exact – but that hasn’t stopped the 2004 NASCAR Cup Series champ from enjoying the fact that, for now, he is in a league of his own.

As the Daytona 500 champion, Busch has spent the last two days in a whirlwind of celebratory activities that included a breakfast ceremony Monday morning with members of the media and having his winning No. 41 Ford enshrined for display at Daytona. He followed that up with a trip to New York for a series of interviews and television show appearances, with more to come as the week continues.

In the midst of all of the fanfare that goes with winning the Daytona 500, the Las Vegas native has started turning his attention to the next event on the 2017 Cup Series schedule, which just so happens to be at a track where he has enjoyed unabashed success – Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Driving the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), Busch aims to improve his season record to 2-0 by winning Sunday’s Folds of Honor 500 Cup Series race. And given his career statistics at the 1.54-mile Atlanta oval, there is plenty of reason to enter the race weekend with high expectations.

A three-time Atlanta winner, Busch has long lauded the track referred to as “Hotlanta” as his favorite. The term “hot,” however, is not something likely to be tossed around much this time of year, and that suits the 38-year-old Busch just fine, having scored two of his three Atlanta wins during the month of March – in 2009 and 2010. In addition to that pair of wins, Busch also won there in October 2002, a feat he accomplished behind the wheel of a Ford, the manufacturing partner of SHR.

While the wins are what everyone remembers, Busch’s overall record at Atlanta is certainly noteworthy, featuring six top-five finishes and 11 top-10s in 25 starts. Complementing Busch’s results at Atlanta is the fact that he’s led at least one lap in 12 different races for a total of 749 laps led, has failed to finish a race on only three occasions, and has completed all but 629 laps run in his 25 starts for a lap-completion rate of 92.2 percent.

Perhaps more telling is Busch’s most recent work at Atlanta. In his last seven starts there, Busch has not finished worse than 13th. During that stretch, Busch has recorded one pole, having started from the top spot in the 2016 edition of the Folds of Honor 500, and scored one win, four top-five finishes and five top-10s.

Busch would like nothing more than to score another win in the 2017 edition of the Folds of Honor 500 to record his fourth NASCAR Cup Series win at Atlanta and extend his season record to a perfect 2-0.

KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:

 

Has it sunk in yet that you are a Daytona 500 champion?

“I’ll tell you it’s been surreal. To win a Daytona 500 is hard to put into words. It’s beyond belief, really. As a kid, you watch this race on TV and you live the experiences with each of the drivers who win the race or lose the race. After 16 years of having it go 16 different ways, when you win it one time, it erases all of those memories and you now have this permanent memory of being able to drive into victory lane with a winning car, and a winning car that is put together by a great group of guys, a talented group of guys, and a committed group of guys. This year, it’s even that much more special because we switched over to Ford in the offseason and that brought a lot of change to Stewart-Haas Racing. That change brought everybody together with a different comradery that we hadn’t had before. We’re a strong unit together at SHR, but to switch over to Ford and put in all that extra time with the chassis dyno, the wind tunnel, the massaging of this area of the car, or to build this new component. I felt, coming to Speedweeks this year, I had the most puzzle pieces in place and I just kept believing, and here we are as a team as Daytona 500 champions. It’s a great feeling.”

Turning your attention to Atlanta, you won the pole and finished fourth at Atlanta last year. With the new 2017 rule package, what do you think we’ll see there this weekend?

“I expect it will be loose and that we’ll see a lot of slipping and sliding. With the way that the new segments are going to blend in, you don’t want to use up your tires too early in the race because you want to save a set, maybe even two sets, for the final 20 laps. You never know when yellow flags are going to come out and that changes the game. If you don’t have tires ready, then you’re going to be in a defensive position instead of offensive.”

What is the key to being successful at Atlanta?

“The key is not to wear out one tire more than the others. You need all four to wear evenly. You need a nice, balanced racecar to where it’s not stressed on corner entry or corner exit. If you have too much wheel input in one spot, it’s going to chew up those tires.”

Is there anything that you’ve found to be particularly difficult about Atlanta?

“It seems like turns three and four, if you find the bottom and hook the apron perfectly, there are two-tenths (of a second) that you can carry magically all the way through that corner. So if you can hook that apron and hit it just right, then your lap time will really look good. If you miss it, then you’re struggling and trying to find it the next lap. The problem is that the tires wear out so fast and now you’ve got to try and change your strategy each time.”

CLINT BOWYER – 2017 Atlanta Race Advance

Last year, when retiring three-time champion Tony Stewart was asked about Clint Bowyer, his 2017 replacement in the No. 14 Haas Automation Ford Fusion, Stewart offered an interesting description of Bowyer’s personality:

“Bowyer is like taking a thousand rubber balls and throwing them off the top of a building, then watching them bounce,” Stewart said with a laugh after playing a key role in recruiting Bowyer to the Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) team he and Gene Haas formed in 2009 and has since won 37 races, a Daytona 500 and two championships.

Stewart’s sharp wit and Bowyer’s frenetic personality should make for some lively moments over the next several years at SHR and in the garage. But beneath the humor, each holds the other in high esteem. Bowyer says everyone who’s followed the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series knows Tony Stewart the driver, but there aren’t as many who are familiar with Stewart’s role and importance as a leader at SHR.

“He’s a really good owner,” said Bowyer, who is driving for his fourth NASCAR Cup Series team since 2006. “That was the side of Tony that I didn’t know. He obviously is a lot of fun to be around as a racecar driver and as Tony Stewart – as ‘Smoke.’ But as an owner, I’ve really watched him over the offseason, in particular the Christmas party.

“I went over to the company Christmas party and I look over and Santa Claus is there, and then I got to looking a little closer and it’s Tony. Tony is Santa Claus, which, by the way, he fit perfectly into the outfit. I mean, it was like it was tailored to him, but nonetheless, it was jolly old St. Nick, Tony Stewart, who really took the time and walked all around and embraced his employees and thanked his employees and made them feel like they’re family.

Bowyer said Stewart’s treatment of employees, including himself, will pay dividends on the racetrack. Bowyer said Stewart has mentally helped him return to the front of the field. SHR drivers Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick likely have similar tales.

“Tony’s given me a great deal of confidence of putting me in that racecar, as has Gene Haas,” Bowyer said. “People have asked me, ‘How do you have the confidence to get back to where you need to be?’ And that’s it. That’s all the confidence you need. You have a three-time champion of this sport and a big-time owner in motorsports who had the confidence in you to put you in the thing, so that gave me all the confidence I needed to be behind the wheel.”

That confidence showed at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway last week, when Bowyer qualified fourth, then finished second in his qualifying race. A midrace accident ruined Bowyer’s bid for a good finish and left him with a 32nd-place finish, but the No. 14 crew took confidence in the good Daytona performances.

Stewart’s was a frequent voice on Bowyer’s radio during the race.

This weekend, Bowyer and the No. 14 team led by crew chief Mike Bugarewicz travel to the high-speed Atlanta Motor Speedway for the second race of the Cup Series season. Bowyer is still looking for his first top-five at Atlanta, but that isn’t indicative of his performance history at the 1.5-mile oval. He led 52 laps at Atlanta during the March 2008 race before finishing sixth. The most heartbreaking moment there came in September 2013, when he led 48 of the first 192 laps before engine failure.

In total, Bowyer has led 115 laps at Atlanta but only has four sixth-place finishes to show for the effort. With the new combination of SHR, Ford and a strong No. 14 team, Bowyer is a good bet to better those marks Sunday.

CLINT BOWYER, Driver of the No. 14 Haas Automation Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:

How familiar are you with your SHR teammates?

“I’ve worked with Kevin (Harvick) for many years. I’m looking forward to Kurt (Busch). Kurt is the one who I’ve never really known a lot about. Always raced against him, but never worked with him in any way, shape or form. Danica, I’m closer to her than probably some of the others, so I’m just looking forward to it. It’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s going to be a neat atmosphere and something that, 10 years into this thing, one of the best opportunities ever is at your doorstep and fixing to happen. It’s pretty cool.”

 

MIKE BUGAREWICZ, Crew chief of the No. 14 Haas Automation Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:

How has Clint Bowyer been so far?

“This whole team is really excited. You can see a new life with us. We’re excited with the new partnership with Ford and especially having Clint on board. You can see it in his face throughout Daytona. Like he said, ‘I feel rich again.’ He’s always a crack-up and going to bring a lot of liveliness to the group just being around him. He’s going to be entertaining, to say the least, this year.”

What is your strategy for the 2017 season?

“The first thing you have to do is show you are strong and can be competitive. We are going to race for top-10s every week and that’s how we’re going to start. A win might come our way and that would be great; that’s what we want to do, we are out to win. The first thing as a team to proceed toward winning a championship is start running in the top-10, then you start being consistent and you run in the top five. Once you are in the top-five, you look for those opportunities to win, whether its segments or end of the race. That’s the methodical approach we are taking into the 2017 season.”