For the first time since the July race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, Kevin Harvick will get behind the wheel of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway for “America’s Night Race” this weekend.
Harvick heads to Bristol with his head held high as he leads the series with seven points-paying wins and 40 playoff points. The Bakersfield, California native remains second in the NASCAR Cup Series point standings with 924 points, trailing leader Kyle Busch by 62 points with three races remaining in the 26-race regular season.
At the conclusion of regular-season-ending Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the points leader collects 15 playoff points while the driver who finishes second collects 10. That five-point differential between first and second in the regular-season championship could play a vital role in whether a driver makes the winner-take-all Championship 4 playoff finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
In addition, with his 44th career Cup Series win Sunday at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Harvick became the first driver since Busch in 2008 to win seven of the first 23 races in a season. It also moved him into a tie with Bill Elliott for 17th on the all-time NASCAR Cup Series win list.
With the end of the regular season in sight, each race is an opportunity to kick it up a notch. Harvick and the No. 4 Jimmy John’s team have been the freaks of the Cup Series field in 2018. They are putting up freaky numbers with a series-best 1,190 laps led, 17 top-five finishes and 19 top-10s.
Harvick has some impressive statistics on Bristol’s high banks, having led 876 laps at the short track while earning two wins, 12 top-five finishes and 18 top-10s in 35 starts. In his nine starts at Bristol for SHR, he has accumulated six top-10 finishes, including one victory.
While the No. 4 team’s stats are impressive, it’s only looking for one thing this weekend – to get its Freaky Fast Ford back to victory lane at Bristol.
KEVIN HARVICK, Driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
How is the intensity at Bristol different in the fall with only a three races remaining in the regular season?
“There are a lot of different agendas as we go back to Bristol this weekend because there are only three races left before we get to the playoffs. Obviously Bristol, being a short track, has that atmosphere where you can be aggressive and make more happen than you can at Indy or Darlington. But, Darlington is one of those places where you aren’t likely to see someone win who is too far outside of the box because of how the tires wear and you have extreme falloff. The good-handling cars are going to migrate toward the front and be up front, competing for the win. At Bristol, you tend to see Ricky Stenhouse Jr. running in the top-five and you saw Bubba Wallace leading laps there in the spring race. You’ll have a guy like (Ryan) Blaney, who thought he had the best car and had a chance to win that race and wound up not winning. In the end, you’re going to have to beat Kyle Busch. He’s had the car to beat there for the last several years. If the high line gets going, a guy like Kyle Larson is going to be tough to beat and is looking for his first trip to victory lane. There are a lot of variables in terms of how the bottom groove holds and if the groove widens out. If you see Ricky Stenhouse up there with a few laps to go, he is probably going to take some risks because that is his way into the playoffs. This is the place where all those agendas collide and people take chances they wouldn’t normally take.”
What makes Bristol a place that people love for the drama and the racing under the lights?
“Before they reconfigured the racetrack, the only way to pass was to hit the guy in front of you. You knew that if he wasn’t giving you some room, or wasn’t coming down on the straightaway, that that person was there to defend his position and was basically giving you the middle finger, saying, ‘Alright, if you’ve got the balls to knock me out of the way, go ahead and knock me out of the way.’ Sure enough, every time it happened, the person who got knocked out of the way was mad and it built rivalries. That is what it was and the fans loved it. Now that they’ve brought the bottom groove back at Bristol – and it moves around throughout the night, but for the first half of that race you are on the bottom of the racetrack and it’s kind of like Bristol used to be – when you’re losing so much time to the guys who are just out of sight, you have to move someone out of the way. That’s what that bottom lane at Bristol promotes.”