COLE CUSTER – 2018 Atlanta NXS Race Report

Event: Atlanta 250 (Round 2 of 33)
Series:  NASCAR Xfinity Series
Location: Atlanta Motor Speedway (1.54-mile oval)
Format: 163 laps, broken into three stages (40 laps/40 laps/83 laps)
Start/Finish: 4th/39th (Accident, completed 10 of 163 laps)
Point Standing: 25th with 25 points

Race Winner: Kevin Harvick of Stewart-Haas Racing with Biagi-DenBeste (Ford)
Stage 1 Winner: Kevin Harvick of Stewart-Haas Racing with Biagi-DenBeste (Ford)
Stage 2 Winner: Kevin Harvick of Stewart-Haas Racing with Biagi-DenBeste (Ford)

Stage 1 Recap (Laps 1-40):

  • Cole Custer started fourth, finished 39th.
  • Custer piloted the Haas Automation Ford inside the top-three in the opening laps of the race.
  • On lap 11, the No. 42 car made contact with Custer sending him into the wall, ultimately ending his day.

Notes:              

  • This was Custer’s second NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
  • Four cautions slowed the race for 21 laps.
  • Only seven of the 40 drivers finished on the lead lap.
  • Kevin Harvick won the Atlanta 250 to score his 47th career Xfinity Series victory, first of the season and fifth at Atlanta. His margin of victory over second-place Joey Logano was 4.183 seconds.

 

Cole Custer, driver of the No. 00 Haas Automation Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing With Biagi-DenBeste:      

 

“I was just kind of biding my time there trying to save my tires and I don’t even know exactly what happened. I just got hit going down the straightaway and got wrecked from there. It sucks because I thought we had a great Haas Automation Mustang. We’ll go on to the next one and battle our way back up in the playoff points standings.”

 

KEVIN HARVICK – 2018 Atlanta NXS Race Advance

Event:             NASCAR XFINITY Series 250 at Atlanta
Date:               Feb. 24, 2018
Location:        Atlanta Motor Speedway
Layout:           1.54-mile oval

Kevin Harvick Notes of Interest 

  • The No. 98 Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing with Biagi-DenBeste (SHR) makes its second appearance of 2018.
  • Hunt Brothers Pizza makes its 2018 debut as the primary sponsor of the No. 98 with driver Kevin Harvick.
  • Harvick is scheduled to make five Xfinity Series starts in the No. 98 Ford Mustang for SHR in 2018.
  • He is making his 17th career NASCAR Xfinity Series start at Atlanta.
  • Harvick has four Xfinity Series wins at Atlanta, including three consecutive wins from 2013 to 2015.
  • He also has 10 top-five finishes and 12 top-10s in 16 Xfinity Series starts at Atlanta.
  • In 341 Xfinity Series starts, he has 46 wins, 183 top-five finishes, 256 top-10s, 25 poles and 9,498 laps led.
  • Harvick will be joined in the Atlanta field by SHR teammate Cole Custer in the No. 00 Haas Automation Ford Mustang.

 

Kevin Harvick, Driver No. 98 Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford Mustang

 

“I’m happy to have Hunt Brothers Pizza back with us for four Xfinity races in 2018. They’ve been a partner for not only me, but SHR, as well. This team started off at Atlanta last year with (crew chief Richard) Boswell leading the team and had a solid run in our debut. It was our first race together as a team and we were able to lead 64 laps and come away with a top-five finish. This Hunt Brothers Pizza No. 98 team now has a year under its belt and continues to get stronger each time it has an opportunity to race. It’s been exciting to see the Xfinity teams at SHR develop over the last year and I’m glad we get an opportunity to race again this year. I’m confident that this team will build on the foundation we laid last year and be even better this year.”

COLE CUSTER – 2018 Atlanta Race Advance

Event:               Atlanta 250 (Round 2 of 33)
Date:                 Feb. 24, 2018
Location:          Atlanta Motor Speedway
Layout:             1.54-mile oval

Cole Custer Notes of Interest 

  • The Atlanta 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway is the first of 11 races on 1.5-mile tracks on the 33-race NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule. 
  • Custer has competed in two career races at Atlanta, including one last year in the Xfinity Series and one in the 2016 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Custer finished 10th in the Xfinity Series start and 17th in his Truck Series start. 
  • Custer’s last start at a 1.5-mile track was Homestead-Miami Speedway, which ended in a dominating victory by 15.405 seconds while also sweeping both stage wins to earn a perfect driver rating of 150. It was Custer’s first Xfinity Series win. 
  • Custer earned four top-five finishes in the Xfinity Series last season at 1.5-mile tracks – April 8 and Nov. 4 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth (fifth each time), Sept. 23 at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta (fifth) and Nov. 18 at Homestead (first). He also finished in the top-10 at three other venues – March 4 at Atlanta (10th), May 27 and Oct. 7 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway (seventh and sixth, respectively) and Sept. 16 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois (seventh).
  • In 2017, Custer led the Xfinity Series with 422 points at mile-and-a-half tracks.
  • During last weekend’s season opener at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, Custer started 14th in his Haas Automation Ford Mustang and battled through 12 caution periods to finish 14th. He earned 24 playoff points.

 

Cole Custer, Driver Q&A

 

What makes you so dominant at the 1.5-mile tracks?  

“I’m definitely looking forward to getting back to the 1.5-mile tracks because those were our strong suits last year. I’m fairly confident racing at Atlanta, too. We ran well there last year and I learned a ton from Kevin Harvick so, hopefully, the second time back will be even better. Atlanta was our very first 1.5-mile track we ran in the Xfinity Series, too. I can’t wait to see what speed we will bring our second time around.” 

What are some characteristics of Atlanta that are appealing to your race style? 

“Atlanta is awesome because of how much grip you start out with and how fast you lose it. And once you lose it, it’s fun to slip and slide out there. 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 Haas Automation Mustang to kick off our 2018 intermediate-track program.”

 

Jeff Meendering, Crew Chief Q&A

 

What car is the Haas Automation Ford team bringing to Atlanta? 

“We are running Chassis No. 1045 at Atlanta. We ran this car several times last season – most recently at Texas in November, and Cole finished in fifth place. We are definitely looking forward to getting back to an intermediate track and picking up where we left off last season.”

KEVIN HARVICK – 2018 Atlanta Race Advance

Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), knows how to deliver a dominating performance in the Folds of Honor 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

In 2017, Harvick displayed one of his most commanding performances of his Cup Series career when he led 292 of 325 laps at the 1.54-mile oval. Unfortunately, he came up just short of victory lane after a late-race speeding penalty on pit road led to a ninth-place finish.

Harvick has had this event circled on his calendar since leaving the racetrack last spring. He plans to add a second NASCAR Cup Series victory to his Atlanta resume at the site of his first career win.

That first Cup Series win at Atlanta came in only his third career start on March 11, 2001. The circumstances surrounding the month leading up to it 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 series debut the following weekend – Monday, Feb. 26 – at Rockingham (N.C.) Speedway, where he finished 14th in the rain-delayed event. 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. The following Sunday, less than one month since his debut in NASCAR’s top series, came Harvick’s landmark win at Atlanta.

Harvick’s first Cup Series 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 place, 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 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 four starts. 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 2016 Atlanta start, he began sixth, led a race-high 131 laps and finished sixth after being shuffled back on a late-race restart. The 2017 performance was the most dominant, but the late-race penalty cost him his second trip to victory lane.

To put his recent Atlanta performance in perspective, Harvick has led at least 100 laps in five of the last six Cup Series races at Atlanta. He has accumulated a series-best 835 laps led in those six races. The next closest driver during that span is Joey Logano with 165 laps led.

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 race Saturday, piloting Stewart-Haas Racing with Biagi DenBeste’s new No. 98 Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford Mustang in search of his fourth Xfinity Series win at Atlanta in six years.

 

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

 

You’ve led 100 or more laps in five of your last six races at Atlanta. Talk about that.

“It’s been a really good racetrack to us to be able to lead a lot of laps. We’ve won some Xfinity and Truck races there and we’ve dominated a lot of the Cup races and just haven’t gone to victory lane enough. So, it’s just one of those places where we went to a tire test there in 2008 and figured some things out and nothing’s really changed since then. A lot of the same techniques, cracks and crevices are still there. Last time, we saw some of the racing lanes move up the racetrack, but it’s a great place to race. I love going to Atlanta and I hope the nice warm weather this weekend brings a lot of race fans to Atlanta.”

You dominated last year and came up short in the end. What makes Atlanta such a fun place to race?

“I led 292 laps last year at Atlanta and screwed it up with a speeding penalty at the end of the race. But, I think if you would talk to the garage in general, this is one of the drivers’ favorite tracks. I think the reason it is considered one of the favorite tracks on the circuit is that the tires wear out so fast, cars slide around and you just have to do so much behind the wheel to be able to make your car go around the corner all day. It’s a very fun place to race but, for me, it’s been a very frustrating place to race because we’ve run so well through the years there and only been to victory lane one time – and that was my very first time. It’s a place we want to go to and run well and hopefully they keep putting a lot of patches down – a lot of patches. Anybody from a fan standpoint or a driver standpoint, feel free to find Marcus Smith on Twitter and tell him how great the old asphalt is and do not repave the racetrack. The campaign has begun – do not repave Atlanta.”

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.”

At some point in time, if they have to repave, do you keep the same configuration or change it up a bit?

“I have told Ed Clarke this – he is the president of Atlanta Motor Speedway – I’ve told him face-to-face that if you repave Atlanta Motor Speedway, and you can remember back to the last time they repaved and gave it its current configuration, just how fast it was. Atlanta is just one of those racetracks where the banking is just really smooth getting into the corner and the transitions are really smooth off of the corner, the exits open up really nice – you can just carry a ton of speed. For me, that is not exactly what we need more of. If you’re going to redo the racetrack and you just have to repave it – and the only way I would repave it is if you can’t dry it like we had at Texas a few years back. I would do everything that I could not to repave it because of the fact it’s just a great place to drive and the competitors love it. I would definitely try to reconfigure it in some way, shape or form if you did have to repave it. I told Ed that, if it was me, I would just move the backstretch in a whole bunch and go back to the original tighter corners they used to have. If you’re going to go through the whole repaving process, have an open mind and the ability to have some ownership where they’ve redone their corners and some of their racetracks with the banking. They’re obviously willing to change things and make them different. There is no way I would just repave it in the current configuration because it would be lightning fast.”

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.”

ARIC ALMIROLA – 2018 Atlanta Race Advance

The 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season is off to an event-filled start for Aric Almirola and the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion team. After a busy week and a half in Daytona Beach, Florida, the season kicked off Sunday with the 60th running of the Daytona 500. Almirola found himself in the middle of a thrilling finish in “The Great American Race” and, after an 11th-place finish, he now turns his focus on this Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. 

The Tampa, Florida, native was leading heading into turn three on the final lap of Sunday’s Daytona 500 before contact from behind from the racing-winning car of Austin Dillon sent Almirola into the outside SAFER Barrier. Despite the last-lap accident, Almirola feels he’s already off to one of the best starts in his Cup Series career.  

This weekend at Atlanta marks the start of NASCAR’s bread-and-butter style of tracks – 1.5-mile ovals. The intermediate tracks fulfill the majority of the 36-race-weekend schedule and it will be the first true test for the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) team. In January, Almirola and the team led by crew chief Johnny Klausmeier participated in a Goodyear tire test at Texas Motor Speedway for their first unofficial track time as a unit. With a solid 1.5-mile test under their belt, Almirola and the Smithfield team look to carry that momentum into the second race of the 2018 season.   

Almirola will hit the old Atlanta track surface this weekend looking to improve his current highest finishing position of ninth at the Hampton, Georgia track. The 33-year-old has made seven Cup Series starts from which to glean experience at the 1.54-mile oval and he’s completed 98.2 percent of the possible laps.  

Smithfield, a brand of Smithfield Foods, which is based approximately five hours northeast of SHR headquarters in Smithfield, Virginia, enters its seventh season with Almirola and first with SHR. The company will once again adorn the No. 10 Ford Fusion this weekend at Atlanta. Founded in 1936, Smithfield is a leading provider of high-quality pork products, with a vast product portfolio including smoked meats, hams, bacon, sausage, ribs, and a wide variety of fresh pork cuts. 

In addition to his Cup Series starts, Almirola has three Xfinity Series races under his belt at Atlanta. In his Xfinity Series career, the newest SHR driver completed 550 of 553 possible circuits around the track. Almirola also has made four starts in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at Atlanta with two top-five finishes.  

Although several mile-and-a-half tracks have gone through track surface repaves, Atlanta is one that officials made the decision not to repave. The current rough and aged surface facilitates several racing lines and allows more passing opportunities than freshly repaved tracks, making for a more entertaining race for fans.  

Almirola knows the importance of every race weekend and is looking forward to the second stop of the year on the NASCAR Cup Series circuit with the No. 10 Smithfield team. “It’s incredible to have a team like this that has had so much success and won championships and won races,” he said. “To have all of that at my fingertips is really a dream come true. I’m so excited about getting the season going. I’m a firm believer in talk is cheap and actions speak louder than words, and I just want to get in the racecar and go race.”   

This weekend’s event is the eighth Cup Series race Almirola has participated in at Atlanta and it marks his 246th Cup Series start in his young career.

 

ARIC ALMIROLA, Driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:

 

Atlanta is often seen as one of the first real tests of the season because it’s the first intermediate track on the schedule. What are you looking forward to going into Atlanta? 

“Obviously, we go to a lot of intermediate tracks throughout the season, so it’s important to be very good at them. I was fortunate enough to test with the crew at Texas back in January and that went really well. Being new to the team, Atlanta allows me to really start building a routine with the guys. Daytona is a little bit of a different animal because it’s a restrictor-plate track and the way the schedule is set up. I’m confident in Johnny’s (Klausmeier) ability and feel like we’ve really bonded as a group.”  

Kevin Harvick has said a lot of nice things about you as a teammate and what you bring to the team. How does that make you feel?  

“That’s flattering to hear somebody of Kevin Harvick’s stature say that about me. That makes me feel good. Obviously, we’re teammates so he’s not going to say anything too bad about me, yet. It’s nice of him and makes me feel good. Really, my biggest goal this year is to be able to contribute to Stewart-Haas Racing. I feel like they are an incredible organization in just the 10 years they’ve been in existence with championships, tons of race wins and I want to be able to contribute to that. Whether that means helping my teammates get to victory lane, or being able to help in practice. We might make a change that makes our car better and then they are able to implement that into their car for the race and that helps them get better. Or, whether it’s me winning races or contributing by putting banners up in the shop, I want to do all the above. I think that’s mine and Johnny Klausmeier’s biggest focus this year – making sure that we’re a valuable asset to the team.”

How nice is it to be able to have teammates and ones that you can rely on? 

It’s so refreshing to be able to walk into Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer’s trailer and talk to them about their car, or after practice is over for all of them to come to our hauler. All of the drivers, crew chiefs and engineers sit down and have a debrief meeting. To be able to listen to them describe their cars, talk about what they need to do and where they think they need to be, and just the planning and the preparation is great. That is so nice to be able to have that in my corner. It’s something I haven’t had experience with, so I’m really looking forward to leaning on them and having them make me a better racecar driver.”

 

What makes you think you can be successful at Stewart-Haas Racing? 

“I’ve been asked that question multiple times and just thinking about walking into the shop, driving up to the shop, you look at where I’ve been for the last six years and just the face of the shop. The sheer size and grandness of it is incredible. Then you go in the shop and you see all the Haas CNC machines lined up and they’re all building little trinkets and parts, and trying to figure out how to detail every single piece of the car. That’s really where our sport has evolved to. I think back in the day the races were won on big advantages. I’ve sat and talked to Doug Yates and there was a time when Yates had a 50 to 60-horsepower advantage on the field. Those days are long gone. The advantages now are pennies stacked on pennies. When you look at a team like Stewart-Haas Racing, that’s where their focus is and I think that’s why they’re so successful.”

KURT BUSCH – 2018 Atlanta Race Advance

A year ago, Kurt Busch and his No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) arrived at Atlanta Motor Speedway fresh off the biggest victory of his illustrious Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career.

A year ago, Kurt Busch and his No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) arrived at Atlanta Motor Speedway fresh off the biggest victory of his illustrious Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career.

And the newly anointed 2017 Daytona 500 champion took a rather circuitous route to the outskirts of Atlanta, having crisscrossed the nation on the traditional celebratory media tour for the days leading up to last year’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.

This year, Busch’s thoughts and those of the rest of his Monster Energy/Haas Automation teammates made a beeline to the 1.54-mile Atlanta oval upon stepping out of his wrecked racecar during the closing laps of last weekend’s renewal of the Daytona 500.

Understandably so, a small part of Busch and his teammates arrive for this weekend’s race knowing that, with just a lap and a half to go last Sunday in “The Great American Race,” they were in position to be the first to win back-to-back Daytona 500s in almost a quarter of a century, and for only the third time ever. Busch and his team mounted a solid defense of their 2017 Daytona 500 win, having scored the Stage 1 victory and leading three times for 16 laps to bring Busch’s career total of laps led on the 2.5-mile superspeedway oval to 307. He firmly held his position among the top-three during the closing moments, leading laps 195 and 196 of the scheduled 200-lap event and eyeing a final sprint to the checkered flag. But, coming to turn two on lap 198, Busch was clipped from behind and spun out of contention in the multicar melee that ensued. He was credited with a 26th-place finish.

With Atlanta next on the schedule, this year’s Daytona disappointment quickly turns to confident anticipation for Busch as he long has lauded the track referred to as “Hotlanta” as his favorite. He’s scored two of his three career 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, and his overall record at Atlanta is certainly noteworthy, featuring six top-five finishes and 12 top-10s in 26 starts. 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 26 starts for a lap-completion rate of 92.5 percent.

Most recently, Busch has finished outside the top-10 just twice – 13th in both 2012 and 2014 – in his last eight Atlanta outings, recording one pole in 2016, and scoring one win, four top-five finishes and six top-10s.

So, with an oh-so-promising but ultimately disappointing Speedweeks at Daytona in the rearview mirror, it’ll be a welcome breath of fresh air for Busch and the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford Fusion for SHR on the outskirts of Atlanta this weekend.

 

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

 

How do you switch gears from all that is Speedweeks at Daytona and go about your business on a normal race weekend like you will at Atlanta?

“Atlanta is the first mile-and-a-half track, the regular season kicks off there and you have that feel of, alright, this is the repetition of Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Daytona was different this time around because of the new ride-height rule and how stiff the rear springs are. So this really gets us into the regular season and all of the R&D work that went on during the offseason. It really comes into play at Atlanta.” 

What do you think about the decision by Atlanta Motor Speedway management to continue racing on the old track surface rather than repave it after last year’s event?

“The decision was made and I think it was primarily based on the drivers’ comments. The drivers don’t have a union, so to speak, or a race driver alliance like the teams do so, ultimately, Bruton Smith, Marcus Smith and the staff at Atlanta Motor Speedway had to make a decision and they went off what the drivers had to say. I’m hoping the old surface continues to make it where it’s about tire management and you see the multiple lanes and the grooves widen out, and the race is going to come down to that last pit stop. While it’s about which lane you’re in and how well you’ve done on tire management at the point, it also could be a 30- or 50-lap run at the end where it’ll be obvious who saved their tires. I applaud Atlanta’s effort and we’ll have to make sure the asphalt doesn’t tear up too much and hurt the cars, but we are going to be slip-sliding around and it’s going to be pretty neat.”

 

We saw at Daytona that finishing position at the end of each stage seems to be more important than ever. Do you expect that trend to continue?

“I think this whole season in 2018 we’re going to see each of the stages a bit more aggressive where people are going to try to gain those points and to win those stages because you need those bonus points to help cover you or protect you in the playoffs. If you don’t have them, you’re now working from behind in the playoffs. We’ll see it probably right away – guys will be out to win those first and second stages early in the season and on through the rest of the regular season.”

 

CLINT BOWYER – 2018 Atlanta Race Advance

Racetracks across the Monster Energy NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit have embarked on ambitious capital improvement projects in recent years to make the country’s most popular form of motorsports even more entertaining for fans and competitors.

Tracks committed tens of millions of dollars toward more comfortable stands, track reconfigurations, new fan zones, better cellular and Wi-Fi signals and improved traffic flow to make for the ultimate experience. So it’s funny when No. 14 Haas Automation Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) driver Clint Bowyer said drivers and the 70,000 fans attending Sunday’s 500-mile race at Atlanta Motor Speedway will be the biggest winners from an action the track’s management decided not to do in 2018 – repaving the 21-year-old racing surface.

“I thought it was a great idea to patch the up girl and hold on as long as possible because a lot of us aren’t fans of repaves,” said Bowyer, who speaks for a majority of drivers when it comes to a vote on whether to repave the 1.54-mile track in Hampton, Georgia. “Ever since I have been in the sport, it seems like Atlanta is the most worn-out track but always produced some of the best racing.”

New pavement usually creates much better grip and faster speeds that often result in a one-groove racetrack on which passing is difficult. That typically results in single-file racing, something Bowyer says neither drivers nor fans enjoy for 500 miles. He says the Atlanta track, where the Cup Series will battle Sunday, is just the opposite. Its slick surface is difficult to navigate but offers several grooves and plenty of passing opportunities.

Bowyer said it doesn’t take long to remember he is racing at Atlanta.

“Atlanta is just one of those places where you get on the track and, after the first lap, you are like, ‘Oh my, something is drastically wrong,’ and you almost want to pit,” he said. “Then you look up and you are like third on the board and it felt like 53rd. It’s crazy how worn out the track is, but that is what makes for good racing and it lets us put on such a great show for a long time.”

Bowyer and SHR’s No. 14 team led by crew chief Mike Bugarewicz hope to improve upon their 15th-place finish posted at last weekend’s Daytona 500, where Bowyer suffered engine issues midway through the race. Bowyer showed his No. 14 Ford was one of the fastest on the track and, after avoiding two multicar accidents, appeared ready to race for the lead in the final stages.

“That’s last week and we are on to Atlanta now,” he said. “It’s a very long season but we’re confident. We had a good Speedweeks in Daytona and I think that will continue this weekend in Atlanta and on the West Coast swing in the coming weeks.”

Bowyer is still looking for his first top-five at Atlanta, but that isn’t indicative of his performance history at the track. He led 52 laps at Atlanta during the March 2008 race before finishing sixth. The most heartbreaking moment at the track 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. Last year, he started 25th at Atlanta but quickly showed he had one of the fastest cars on the track by driving to third with just 85 laps remaining. Fender damage led to a cut tire and a brush with the wall with 50 laps remaining. Bowyer dropped to 15th but climbed to 11th by the time the checkered flag fell.

With the combination of SHR, Ford and a strong No. 14 team, Bowyer is a good bet to better that finish Sunday.

“We showed speed last year,” he said. “If we are that fast again, then I think we’ll have something for them.”

 

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

 

What is the mindset of drivers and team after leaving Daytona?

“Once we get the Daytona 500 out of the way, it’s Atlanta and it’s down to business time. I know it’s weird to say that. Yes, the Daytona 500 is the first race of the year and certainly the biggest race of the year, but it’s so unique from any other racetrack. We get to Atlanta and it’s that mile-and-a-half, fast track, but even it is very unique because it is so worn out and we don’t have anything like that anywhere we go, anymore. We just have to get through that, have a good balance on your racecar because it’s so slick you can’t afford to be tight, loose or anything else. We’ll just go and hopefully have another good run there.”

Will stage racing be more important at Atlanta? 

“I think once we get down to business and get over the Daytona 500 – our crown jewel event – we all learn the importance of stage points. We will be full bore on getting as many stage points as possible. We saw how (Martin Truex Jr.) did that last year and we’ll try to do the same this year.”

Are you ready to win? 

“I have always wanted to win. Once you get a taste of that, there is no going back from that. Last year, it was disappointing. My disappointment last year came from a lack of consistency. That has always been my M.O. and how I was always able to make the playoffs if I did, or compete for a championship if we did. It was through consistency and knocking on the door and not having bad runs. We were spraying it all over the place last year. We would have good runs and bad runs and I really look for Stewart-Haas to smooth those things out. That manufacturer change was the best thing, in my opinion, that they have done in a long time. You are going to have growing pains because you have to learn a whole new everything – from your database to the aero platform to all that stuff. To have that behind us, the winter, the offseason, was way easier. It was pretty chaotic last year. I think we have weathered that storm and we are ready.”

 

KURT BUSCH – 2018 Daytona 500 Race Report

Event:               60th Daytona 500 (Round 1 of 36)
Series:               Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Location:          Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway (2.5-mile oval)
Format:             200 laps, broken into three stages (60 laps/60 laps/80 laps)
Start/Finish:      11th/26th (Accident, completed 198 of 207 laps)
Point Standing: 16th (21 points, 27 out of first)

Race Winner:    Austin Dillon of Richard Childress Racing (Chevrolet) in overtime
Stage 1 Winner: Kurt Busch of Stewart-Haas Racing (Ford)
Stage 2 Winner: Ryan Blaney of Team Penske (Ford)

Stage 1 Recap (Laps 1-60):

  • Started 11th, finished first to earn 10 bonus points and one playoff point.
  • Busch pitted on lap 10 under caution for fuel only. He entered the pits in fourth place and came out first.
  • The No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion led laps 12-14 and laps 52-62.
  • The team came to pit road for four tires, fuel and a wedge adjustment at the conclusion of Stage 1, one lap after Busch had overshot his pit box. 

Stage 2 Recap (Laps 61-120):

  • Started 17th, finished 12th.
  • Busch pitted under caution on lap 94 for right-side tires and fuel as he ran in 10th. The crew discovered a small cut in the right-front tire.
  • The team came to pit road for four tires and fuel at the conclusion of Stage 2. 

Final Stage Recap (Laps 121-200):

  • Started 16th, finished 26th.
  • Busch pitted on lap 172 for right-side tires and fuel. He was in ninth place.
  • Busch was in third for much of the last part of the race and moved to the front to lead laps 195 and 196.
  • He was running in the top-three on lap 199 but was involved in a multicar accident in turn two. 

Notes:

  • Busch led three times for 16 laps to bring his laps-led total at Daytona to 307.
  • Busch finished first in Stage 1 to earn 10 bonus points and one playoff point. He finished 12th in Stage 2.
  • There were eight caution periods for a total of 37 laps.
  • Ten of the 40 drivers in the Daytona 500 finished on the lead lap.
  • Austin Dillon won the Daytona 500 to score his second career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory and his first at Daytona. His margin of victory over second-place Darrell (Bubba) Wallace Jr. was .26 of a second. 

Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing: 

“I was feeling the magic. I thought we could do it again back-to-back and win the Daytona 500. We found the right drafting lanes, and I was making good moves. I just got caught in a Bermuda Triangle it seemed like when Hamlin blocked us. I hit him pretty hard, and that killed a lot of my momentum. Maybe I should have just flung the 11, but you have to treat guys with respect and you’ve also got to throw your elbows out and you have to hold the hits when you get hit. We were close to going back-to-back in the Daytona 500, but I don’t have anything to show for it. I have to thank (Aric) Almirola for the help he gave me on the bottom lane.” 

Next Up:                                                                        

The next event on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule is the Folds of Honor 500 on Sunday, Feb. 25 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The race starts at 2 p.m. EST with live coverage provided by FOX TV, PRN Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio channel 90.

KEVIN HARVICK – 2018 Daytona 500 Race Report

Event:               60th Daytona 500 (Round 1 of 36)
Series:               Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Location:          Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway (2.5-mile oval)
Format:             200 laps, broken into three stages (60 laps/60 laps/80 laps)
Start/Finish:      6th/31st (Accident, completed 105 of 207 laps)
Point Standing: 19th (19 points, 39 out of first) 

Race Winner:    Austin Dillon of Richard Childress Racing (Chevrolet) in overtime
Stage 1 Winner: Kurt Busch of Stewart-Haas Racing (Ford)
Stage 2 Winner: Ryan Blaney of Team Penske (Ford)

Stage 1 Recap (Laps 1-60):

  • Started sixth, finished seventh, and collected four bonus points.
  • The Jimmy John’s team surrendered the seventh position to pit road under caution on lap 52 for four tires and fuel.
  • The No. 4 Ford restarted 13th with five laps remaining in the stage.
  • Harvick narrowly avoided an accident at the conclusion of the stage to jump from 15th up to seventh.
  • The team came to pit road for four tires and fuel at the conclusion of Stage 1. 

Stage 2 Recap (Laps 61-120):

  • Started third and finished 31st.
  • Harvick raced in the top-five the majority of the stage.
  • The Jimmy John’s team came to pit road from the fourth position for two tires, air pressure adjustments and fuel on lap 94.
  • Harvick restarted fourth on lap 98 but was collected in a multicar incident on lap 102.
  • The No. 4 car suffered heavy damage during the lap-102 incident, causing the team to make extensive repairs on pit road.
  • The team was unable to complete repairs on pit road and was forced to retire from the event on lap 105. 

Notes:

  • Harvick scored nine bonus points in Duel 2 and four points in Stage 1.
  • There were eight caution periods for a total of 37 laps.
  • Only 10 of the 40 drivers in the Daytona 500 finished on the lead lap.
  • Austin Dillon won the Daytona 500 to score his second career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory and his first at Daytona. His margin of victory over runner-up Darrell (Bubba) Wallace Jr. was .26 of a second. 

Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing: 

Your thoughts on the incident and the team’s effort to get the car back out? “They did a good job fixing the car. The car was fine. Apparently, you have to have the door. I thought it was just the door foam, but you’ve got to have some metal on the outside of the door. All in all, they did a good job fixing our Jimmy John’s/Busch Beer Ford. We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Two guys, I couldn’t tell. It looked to me like there was one too many blocks, and the blocking car wound up spinning out and the 2 car hit the 24 and wound up coming up the racetrack into me. It was like a can opener on the way by.” 

Next Up:                                                                        

The next event on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule is the Folds of Honor 500 on Sunday, Feb. 25 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The race starts at 2 p.m. EST with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its prerace show at 1:30 p.m.

CLINT BOWYER – 2018 Daytona 500 Race Report

Event:               60th Daytona 500 (Round 1 of 36)
Series:               Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Location:          Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway (2.5-mile oval)
Format:             200 laps, broken into three stages (60 laps/60 laps/80 laps)
Start/Finish:      10th/15th (running, completed 206 of 207 laps)
Point Standing: 15th with 22 points, 26 out of first 

Race Winner:      Austin Dillon of Richard Childress Racing (Chevrolet) in overtime
Stage 1 Winner:  Kurt Busch of Stewart-Haas Racing (Ford)
Stage 2 Winner:  Ryan Blaney of Team Penske (Ford)

Stage 1 Recap (Laps 1-60):

  • Started 10th, finished 26th.
  • Bowyer reported his car was loose, so the crew made major handling changes during pit stops.
  • Bowyer told his crew he was biding his time and that “the name of the game today” would be survival.
  • He dodged a multicar accident on lap 60 without damage.

Stage 2 Recap (Laps 61-120):

  • Started ninth, finished 27th.
  • Raced in the top-10 for most of the stage.
  • Told crew if he could stay patient until the end, he’d have a chance to win the race.
  • Bowyer dodged a second multicar accident on lap 101, but seconds later he reported his engine had lost a cylinder.
  • He lost two laps on pitlane as his crew attempted to make engine repairs.
  • Bowyer returned to the track and made up one of the lost laps by using the wave-around during the next caution. 

Final Stage Recap (Laps 121-200):

  • Started 25th, finished 15th.
  • Stayed in the pack turning respectable lap times.
  • Despite late cautions could not regain the lost lap, but persevered for respectable finish. 

Notes:              

  • This was Bowyer’s seventh top-15 finish in the Daytona 500.
  • There were eight caution periods for a total of 37 laps.
  • Only 10 of the 40 drivers in the Daytona 500 finished on the lead lap.
  • Austin Dillon’s win in the Daytona 500 was his second career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory and his first at Daytona. His margin of victory over runner-up Darrell (Bubba) Wallace Jr. was .26 of a second.

Clint Bowyer, driver of the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:         

“Our plan was working. A lot of cars we knew we had to beat were out of the race. We had hung back working on our handling and just waiting to the end of the race. I kept telling my guys to stay patient, there were going to be more wrecks. Sure enough that’s what happened, and we avoided any damage, but when I got on the brakes hard something happened, because we were now down a cylinder. We tried, but there was no way to fix it. We went back out there and were pretty decent, considering. Now we’ll focus on Atlanta.”

 Next Up:          

The next event on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule is the Folds of Honor 500 on Sunday, Feb. 25 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The race starts at 2 p.m. EST with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its prerace show at 1:30 p.m.