KEVIN HARVICK – 2017 Talladega I Race Advance

Kevin Harvick is heading to Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway this weekend for the GEICO 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race hoping to score his first victory of the 2017 campaign and also share in his partner Jimmy John’s appreciation for all things “Freaky Fast!”

The driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing is looking to help his partner celebrate its once-a-year Dollar Sub Day by capping off the week with a win. Jimmy John’s is offering $1 sandwiches from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. today at all participating locations. The Dollar Sub Day is limited to in-store purchases only. All sandwiches – Nos. 1 through 6 on the menu, as well as BLT, Unwich lettuce wraps and slims – are part of the deal. Jimmy John’s first started Dollar Sub Day with “Customer Appreciation Day” in April 2016.

While race fans have a chance to enjoy their favorite Jimmy John’s sandwich for only a dollar, Harvick will be looking to secure his best finish of the season at the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway this weekend. He has reason to be optimistic that he can finish the race at the front of the field.

In his last 10 restrictor-plate races, Harvick ranks second in points with 320 and top-10s with six. But his last points-paying NASCAR Cup Series win on a restrictor-plate track came at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway in 2010. He will be looking to add his fourth points-paying NASCAR Cup Series win on a restrictor-plate track this weekend at Talladega.

The 2014 NASCAR Cup Series champion has one career win at Talladega in NASCAR’s premier series. In April 2010, Harvick started fourth and led just two laps but, in the closing laps, he pushed Jamie McMurray’s No. 1 car and the two pulled away from the pack. As they navigated the tri-oval one final time, Harvick jumped out of line to beat McMurray to the finish line by .011 of a second, which still ranks 15th among the closest finishes in NASCAR Cup Series history.

Harvick would like to grab the NASCAR Cup Series trophy in victory lane Sunday like so many people who grab their dollar sandwiches will today. While he has run up front and scored three stage wins this year, Harvick is still in search of his first race win of the season. Since joining SHR at the beginning of 2014, Harvick has never gone to Talladega in May still in search of his first win of the season. He hopes to change that luck with a dominant performance Sunday at Talladega.

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

 

Describe the intensity of restrictor-plate racing?

“Plate racing is something you have to be aggressive at just for the fact that, if you’re not aggressive, it always seems like you are not going to be where you need to be. Nine times out of 10, I believe, the aggressor is going to be the guy who comes out on the good side of things just for the fact that you’re making things happen and you’re not waiting for something else to happen. When you wait for something else to happen, that’s usually when you get in trouble because it’s usually someone else’s mess. You can still get in trouble if you’re aggressive, but it seems like, with this rules package and the way that things are, it’s best to stay aggressive and try to stay up front.”

You’ve won at both superspeedways on the circuit – Daytona and Talladega. Do you approach these races with a strategy in mind?

“I think, with the current points system, it’s better to stay up front and try to get as many points in each stage as you can throughout the day. Obviously, if you don’t qualify well, that makes it much more difficult but, with the new points system, I think you’re going to see a much different race. Guys aren’t going to be able to leave 20 potential points and playoff points on the table. They’re going to be racing for every point – that’s a good thing for the fans and should make it an exciting race.”

CLINT BOWYER – 2017 Talladega I Race Advance

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series tackles the high banks of Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway Sunday for what is normally one of the sport’s most exciting races of the season. By now, everyone knows Talladega racing often leads to nearly 40 cars racing four-abreast, 10 rows deep at 200 mph for more than three hours.

Talladega is about crashes and near crashes with short tempers among stressed-out drivers. Tune in to the radio or television broadcast of the race and the commentators are sure to call the action a “high-speed game of chess.”

But Clint Bowyer, driver of the No. 14 Haas Automation Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), isn’t buying that cliché.

“Chess is sitting there, bored out of your mind, thinking of all the other things that you would rather be doing,” Bowyer said. “There’s a guy across from you, you’re trying to figure out if he’s actually into it or doing the same thing, bored out of his mind, thinking about all the things he would rather be doing.”

Bowyer said NASCAR restrictor-plate racing is so much more than any cerebral pursuit.

“You’re literally freaking out, making knee-jerk-reaction decisions the whole race,” he said. “You’re reacting to things that you don’t even remember. You’ll get out of the car at the end of the race, and somebody’ll be like, ‘Man, that was an awesome move that won you the race!’ And you’re like, ‘What the hell are you talking about?’ There were at least 4,000 instances of what won that race or didn’t win that race.”

Don’t let Bowyer kid you; he knows what he is doing on restrictor-plate tracks, especially at Talladega, where he’s won twice and posted six top-five finishes in his 22 career starts at the 2.66-mile track. Bowyer has scored the most points of any driver in the last 10 Talladega races but, even after successful days like he has enjoyed there, he says he’s mentally and physically weary after each race from all the exertion.

“There’s so much going on inside the car, whether you’re listening to the spotter, or you’re looking at – as you’re listening to him, you’re following along to – that story in the mirror, right?” he said. “You’re living it through the windshield. I mean, there are so many things that are going on, you just – you flat out – don’t take it all in. I mean, your brain is registering so many things that, at the end of the race, you don’t even remember half of it.”

Bowyer rides a wave of success to Talladega with top-15 finishes in all nine of the 2017 races except for the season-opening Daytona 500, where a midrace accident ended his day. He’s earned two top-five finishes and four top-10s this season. The No. 14 team led by crew chief Mike Bugarewicz has climbed to ninth in the standings.

“Everybody is working really hard and we are just having fun,” Bowyer said. “SHR is a fun organization and Ford is a fun manufacturer to work with. We still haven’t put everything together and been the best we can be, but Sunday will be our 10th race working together and we expect things will continue to improve.”

Bowyer’s racing fortunes have improved since arriving at SHR this season to replace three-time champion Tony Stewart, who retired from NASCAR competition. Bowyer would like to go down in the history books as the first driver to bring SHR a Talladega victory. The organization’s 37 victories in 864 Cup Series races since its 2009 inception have come at every track except Talladega and Kentucky Speedway in Sparta.

Whether or not Bowyer makes history for SHR Sunday afternoon in the normally unpredictable Talladega race, it will be more entertaining than, say, a game of chess.

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

 

How important are teammates during restrictor-plate races?

“Well, I think that’s where the problem lies, right? You have teammates out there, and you need ’em, to get right down to the end. And, by the way, now you need to beat ’em, so it’s an interesting problem when you have teammates like mine who you need all the way through. And then, hopefully, we line up one-two-three-four there at the end. You’re like, ‘Well, which one can I use right there to the end, who I know I can trust the most?’ Nobody’s trustworthy during these things. You can’t be.”

 

What are your thoughts on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s retirement?

“His retirement is going to be a huge void. We are all going to miss Dale Jr. We all enjoy him being around. He was making fun of me on Twitter Sunday morning in Richmond. That’s what I’m going to miss as a friend and person, forget the racetrack. We are all cooped up in the motorhome lot most weekends like a bunch of animals, so that time we get to enjoy with one another is what you will miss the most.”

KURT BUSCH – 2017 Talladega I Race Advance

For years, when Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) driver Kurt Busch would head to Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway or Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, he’d wonder if the race at hand would be the one – the one in which he’d finally be able to pull into victory lane and complete the checklist of having won at every type of track on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series circuit.

From the shortest racetrack – Martinsville (Va.) Speedway – to a road-course victory at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, the driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion had won at almost every type of track. He’d won on racetracks ranging in length from .526 of a mile, .533 of a mile, .75 of a mile, 1 mile, 1.5 miles, 1.99 miles and 2 miles. He’d celebrated in victory lane at the high-banked ovals and flat tracks. He’s even had a seat at the head table at the year-end banquet.

But one trophy eluded Busch. He’d won 28 NASCAR Cup Series races, but never a points-paying one at either of the two restrictor-plate tracks – Daytona or Talladega. That all changed in February. After 17 years of trying, Busch was finally able to check that box. And he did it in a big way, by winning for the 29th time in his career, at the 2017 season-opening Daytona 500.

The win was significant on many levels. Not only was it his first win in what is arguably NASCAR’s most renowned race, it was SHR’s, as well. It was Busch’s first race behind the wheel of a Ford, the manufacturer with whom he won the 2004 Cup Series championship, since November 2005. It was the first outing for SHR with the Dearborn, Michigan-headquartered manufacturer. And, for Daytona Beach native Tony Gibson, it was his first trip to victory lane at the famed speedway as a crew chief.

So, while Busch is now one of just a handful of drivers who own victories at each type of racetrack, his focus can shift to winning at each active racetrack on the NASCAR Cup circuit. He’s found his way to victory lane at 15 of 23 active racetracks on the circuit and can now shift his focus to checking those boxes. He’ll head to Talladega this weekend looking to return to his winning ways by putting a check in the win column there.

In his first start at Talladega in April 2001, Busch recorded a third-place finish, which happens to be his best at the 2.66-mile superspeedway. He’s finished third there three times since – in April 2002 and 2007, and October 2006. But this time Busch has the confidence he can improve on those results despite not having the same race-winning Ford Fusion he had at Daytona in February. The Daytona 500-winning racecar traditionally goes on display for a year at the Daytona 500 Experience Museum.

This weekend, Busch would like nothing more than to add another win to his already impressive resume. Not only would a victory cross Talladega off his win list, it would also give Busch and his No. 41 team a second victory in 2017 and another five valuable bonus points for the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. With his postseason eligibility already in place, they can head to Talladega and welcome the opportunity to race aggressively for the win.

 

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

 

Talk a little bit about racing at Talladega. 

“It’s so difficult to predict Talladega. You can ride around in the back, or charge up front all day and, either way, your day can end with your car on the hook. You just hope to have Lady Luck guide you to a good finish. Restrictor-plate races have turned into this pattern that it is hard to have any type of advantage over any other team. It just comes down to being in the right place at the right time.”

Restrictor-plate racing has been described as a 200 mph chess match. How would you describe it?  

“That’s pretty much it. You’ve got to be able to know the draft, understand the draft, use the draft, block other guys, find holes, make holes. It’s definitely a chess game because you’re always thinking three or four steps ahead. It’s tough to get caught up when you make a mistake. You’ve got to quickly get rid of that and put together a new plan. At the end of the race, everybody is saving their best for the end. Cars are just going everywhere. The plan you thought you had, you’ve got to make a new one. You’ve got to go on the fly.”

In order to be successful in a restrictor-plate race, you need some assistance from other drivers. How do you get that assistance when every driver out there is trying to beat one another?

“Cash? I don’t know. There are certain guys you know to draft with. There are certain guys you know they’re going to be tough. There are certain guys you might see work their way up, like the Fords always come in strong with Front Row Motorsports. The Roush cars are always there. The Penske cars have been tough the last five, six years at the restrictor-plate races. So, you just get a gauge as the race goes on who’s been up front all day. But you’ve got to keep track of the guys who have been hanging out in the back and they’re going to show up at the end.”