Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Mobil 1 Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), heads into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoff-opening South Point Hotel Casino 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with a team operating like a well-oiled machine.
The 2014 NASCAR Cup Series champion finished the 26-race regular season as the series leader with seven points-paying wins, 19 top-five finishes, 22 top-10s, 1,220 laps led and 50 playoff points, but second in total regular-season points. He starts the playoffs as the second seed but is tied with leader Kyle Busch for the most points at 2,050 after the regular-season standings were reset for the 16 drivers who qualified for the playoffs.
One of Harvick’s seven wins through the first 26-races came in the season’s third race at Las Vegas in March. However, this weekend’s race will be a new challenge as it is the first time the Cup Series has visited Las Vegas in the playoffs, and hot temperatures combined with a slick racing surface will make things much different for drivers and teams than they were during the 400-miler in March.
To help combat this weekend’s harsh conditions, Harvick and the No. 4 team expect to benefit from SHR’s technology partnership with Mobil 1, which is a unique combination of experience, expertise and innovative thinking that strives to consistently deliver performance-enhancing results on the track.
Mobil 1 works to reduce engine temperatures and to increase engine efficiency. The products allow the No. 4 Ford to reduce rolling resistance, which contributes to increased acceleration on restarts on the way to reaching top speed. Mobil 1 continues to perform rigorous testing with the SHR teams to improve on-track performance, including the reduction of frictional loss in the engines to maximize fuel mileage, increase horsepower and turn more rpm.
The Mobil 1 products reduce friction in the suspension components, as well, providing maximum tire grip and helping to reduce steering compliance to give precision control and improved handling for Harvick behind the wheel.
More good news for Harvick and the No. 4 team is that they enter the playoffs with 50 playoffs points. Those 50 playoffs points will be a huge benefit as the team attempts to advance out of the Round of 16 and into the Round of 12. In fact, the playoff points could be beneficial through each of the rounds as long as the team advances.
Additional race and stage wins would give Harvick nearly a full-race cushion as the team tries for its second championship in four years. Therefore, the goal remains the same – win races and stages as often as possible to reach the season finale at Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway in 10 weeks.
KEVIN HARVICK, Driver of the No. 4 Mobil 1 Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
You’ve had a great regular season. How do you carry that into the final 10 playoff races?
“We had a good first 26 weeks. Obviously, you want to win all the races that you can and we were fortunate to win seven of them in the first 26, so it’s been a good regular season. But, now it’s crunch time. You have to go out and perform and try to do the exact same thing that we did through the first 26 races of the season in the last 10 races – that’s winning races. That is the focus and the mindset we need to have because there is no guarantee that you get to the next round. The bonus points and playoff points are nice, and you can continue to accumulate those, but there are no guarantees as we saw last year with Kyle Larson. He had a lot of bonus points but still didn’t make it into Homestead. We just have to take it one week at a time – that’s my mentality and we’ll try to keep doing what we’ve been doing.”
Do you try and step up the intensity or add motivation to the crew prior to the start of the playoffs?
“I would rather not because I would hope that we’re prepared. A lot of the guys on our team have been to the playoffs, won a championship; they’ve been there with their backs against the wall having to win races. The more you can make it like just another week – and with the intensity level it’s not just another week, but the more you can make it like every other week that we’ve been racing with a playoff atmosphere – the better off you’re going to be. When you go there and try to do something with more intensity, you start making mistakes pressuring the pit crew guys or crew guys trying to do things that they haven’t been doing. It has to be a part of the process. It has to be a part of how you think and the things you do to prepare going into this race need to be the same as how you went into the last race. I just believe the playoff points structure and how the points are structured – you have to go to the Daytona 500 and start collecting bonus points. Martin Truex Jr. proved that last year with the things he did and the way that they went about their regular season. It just kept building all the way through the year. Those playoff points are important and the race wins are even more important. There is nothing that builds more confidence than race wins.
You won at Las Vegas earlier in the year. How is this race going to be different from that one?
“As we go to Las Vegas this week, we know we went there and won the race at the beginning of the year. Now we want to go back and do the same thing. But, you have to adapt to all the things that have changed over the last 23 weeks and the weather conditions. There are going to be differences because of the track surface temperature, ambient temperature. All of the heat that goes through the racecar affects everything. It affects how big the hole is, how you cool the gear, how you cool the driver and how much tape you have to take off to cool the engine. The brakes are going to get hotter and the tires are going to build pressure faster. Are you going to move up the racetrack earlier because you’re looking for grip? I don’t know. The one thing about this weekend is you have the trucks there, the Xfinity cars there, so the track is going to be pretty rubbered up and different than it is in the spring.”