Cole Custer will make his 39th career NASCAR Cup Series start in his No. 41 HaasTooling.com Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) during Sunday’s Season Finale 500k at Phoenix Raceway. This weekend marks Custer’s final race of his rookie season. Next year, Custer will pilot the No. 41 without the yellow stripe across his back bumper signifying he’s a rookie.
“I think what I’ll remember most about my rookie season are all of the different things we went through, the challenges, from no practice or qualifying and also no testing,” Custer said. “Having a completely different car from the Xfinity Series and having to figure that out was challenging. There were so many challenges during this season that I’ll remember for a while, how unorthodox the season was and how we were able to persevere through that and figure out ways to get through that as a rookie.”
Last weekend at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, Custer started 15th and the No. 41 team adjusted his Mustang throughout the 500-lap event. He ended the day 13th in just his second Cup Series start at the half-mile Virginia track. The result gave the rookie driver his fourth straight top-15 finish – ninth on Oct. 11 at the Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway Roval, 14th on Oct. 18 at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City and 14th in the series’ previous race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.
Custer’s first Cup Series start at Phoenix came in March, when he scored a ninth-place finish after starting 16th at the mile oval. The result was his first top-10 of this season. “The flat, short tracks like Phoenix, New Hampshire and Richmond have been good tracks for us this year,” he said. “We’ve run solid at those places, so I’m really looking forward to going back to Phoenix. It’s a place where we got our first top-10 this year, and it’s a place I circle on my calendar to go back there and have a good run. I’m looking forward to it. We’ve made our cars better since the first race and it’s one of the tracks with the PJ1 (traction compound) that makes the track constantly change. Your line is going to change and how you get into the corner with the PJ1, so it’s nice for a driver to have that much versatility.”
In the NASCAR Xfinity Series at Phoenix, the California native has six starts and, with the exception of the March 2017 race, Custer started and finished in the top-10 each time. In last year’s November start, he finished second to Justin Allgaier. Custer has an average Phoenix Xfinity Series starting position of 3.8 and an average finishing position of 8.3.
In the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series at Phoenix, Custer has three starts with a best finish of third, earned in 2014. In NASCAR’s developmental K&N Pro Series West, Custer has three starts at Phoenix with two pole awards, one of which in spring 2014 ended in victory by a .376-of-a-second margin of victory while driving for Bill McAnally Racing. In total at Phoenix, Custer has an average K&N Series starting position of 2.0 and an average finish of 3.3.
In his last eight Cup Series starts at tracks 1 mile or less, Custer has two top-10s – Phoenix and Dover (Del.) International Speedway – with an average starting position of 17.0 and an average finishing position of 18.0.
Even though Custer is out of contention for this year’s Cup Series championship, he still has one more opportunity to capture his second win of the season. This weekend, a limited number of fans will be allowed to attend the Phoenix event while following social distancing guidelines.
So far this season, Ford has won 18 races, and Custer and his SHR teammate Kevin Harvick have both earned wins for the Blue Oval – one for Custer and nine for Harvick. Ford’s milestone 700th win in the Cup Series came at the hands of Harvick on Aug. 23 at Dover. Ford captured its first victory on June 25, 1950. Ford drivers made up 50 percent of this year’s starting playoff field.
With Custer’s Cup Series win July 12 at Kentucky, he became one of 10 drivers who have won in each of NASCAR’s top three national series, as well as in ARCA and one of NASCAR’s developmental series.
Team co-owner Gene Haas’ newest holding, Haas Tooling, was launched as a way for CNC machinists to purchase high quality cutting tools at great prices. Haas’ cutting tools are sold exclusively online at HaasTooling.com and shipped directly to end users. Beginning July 1, HaasTooling.com products became available nationally. The cutting tools available for purchase at HaasTooling.com are even more important during the current COVID-19 pandemic as CNC machines have become vital to producing personal protective equipment.
SHR has 74 starts at Phoenix with six wins – Ryan Newman in April 2010 and Harvick with five wins in March and November 2014, and March 2015, 2016 and 2018. SHR has two pole awards with 23 top-fives and 37 top-10s at the Arizona track, with an average starting position of 16.2 and an average finishing position of 14.2, along with 1,571 laps led.
Haas Automation, founded by Haas in 1983, is America’s leading builder of CNC machine tools. The company manufactures a complete line of vertical and horizontal machining centers, turning centers and rotary tables and indexers. All Haas products are constructed in the company’s 1.1-million-square-foot manufacturing facility in Oxnard, California, and distributed through a worldwide network of Haas Factory Outlets.
Custer, who had a trio of starts in the Cup Series in 2018, clinched 2020 Rookie of the Year honors. Competing against fellow rookie notables Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick, he was the only rookie to clinch a playoff spot this season.
Once Phoenix wraps up, you will be the Rookie of the Year. What does it mean to you to lock up that title? This was one of the toughest rookie classes in several years.
“To win the Rookie of the Year battle means a ton because of the people you’re racing against for it and they’re people that you respect. Looking down the road, five or 10 years from now, it’s going to be a cool thing to look back on being able to win the rookie of the year battle against people you respect and guys who will probably go on and win a lot of races.”
This weekend is Clint Bowyer’s last race with SHR and Jimmie Johnson is retiring. Do you think there will be a little bit different feeling at Phoenix this weekend, given all of the different scenarios going on this weekend?
“There will definitely be a little bit different feel, I would say. You have Clint (Bowyer) and Jimmie (Johnson), and maybe even Matt (Kenseth) retiring. Seeing guys like that who have meant so much to the sport and that I’ve looked up to since I was a little kid and being able to race against them in what’s probably their final race is pretty surreal. I think a lot of people will cherish those final few laps with them at Phoenix. I think we’ll remember that moment for a long time.”
What do you think made you and (crew chief) Mike Shiplett successful this year? Is there something about his style and/or personality that you really like that gels well with your personality?
“I think for us, it’s a matter of me and Mike just taking it one step at a time. Mike is really good at looking at the big picture and figuring out what is important and what is not. I think we’ve steadily improved this year and worked on things I need to do to be better, and what we need in the car to make me better. It’s a matter of taking it one step at a time. I think we would’ve seen some improvement faster if we would’ve had practice. I think it’s just about us being methodical and how we make changes to the car and the things I need to work on. He’s really good at digging into the root cause of things and what I need to do to get better. I think Mike is really good at figuring those things out and what I need to do to get better, or what we need to do to make the car better.”
Is there anything that you had in your mind when the season started on how you thought it might be, and now at the end of the season you think, “man, I was mistaken on how I thought that would go?”
“I think at the start of the season it was a lot of overthinking, honestly. You don’t know exactly what you’re getting into with the cars because they’re so much different than the Xfinity cars. You start to overthink what you need to be doing and how you need to attack the corners, and how you need to race people. When it comes to when you’re halfway through the season and you have the feel for it, everything really starts to make sense. These guys that you’ve looked up to as a kid, they’re just another person out there, another car out there. When you go into your rookie season, I think you might overthink things a little bit and I think that’s something I experienced. There were so many new things going on and you don’t know how to address them.”
Do you have any plans for the offseason? Or what will you do to prepare for next season?
“For next season, we obviously won’t have practice again, so it will be a lot of going through notes from this year and methodically making a plan for next year. What areas do we need to be better, what tracks we need to be better at, how can I be better with my driving style and things like that we can perfect? I feel like we’re to the point on our team that we can run with the guys up front and compete for race wins when we hit everything right, but we need to be more consistent.”
Do you have any goals in mind for next season, yet?
“For next season, I want to win more races. I want to run in the top-10 more and get more stage points. This year was probably a lot about learning, but I think next year is the year we go into more of a kill mode and make ourselves a force to be reckoned with for the whole season. We’ve been to all of the tracks one or two times, now, so we need to hit it right coming off of the truck, and I need to focus on which driving style is right for that particular track.”
Aric Almirola, driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), has had a career-best season as he heads to the NASCAR Cup Series season finale at Phoenix Raceway this weekend.
His six top-five finishes this year surpass his previous best of four in a season in 2018. In addition, his 298 laps led is a career high for a season, and his 18 top-10 finishes surpasses his season best.
Almirola and the No. 10 Smithfield team recorded five consecutive top-fives start with his fifth-place run at Homestead-Miami Speedway, then continued with a third-place finish at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, third and fifth the doubleheader at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, and third at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He went on to earn four more consecutive top-10 finishes to bring his career-best top-10 streak to nine in a row.
Almirola’s third-place finish June 22 at Talladega marked his eighth straight top-10 there and tied the track record for most consecutive top-10s – a mark set by Dale Earnhardt Jr., from April 2001 to October 2004.
The native of Tampa, Florida also qualified for the Cup Series playoffs for the third time in three years since joining SHR. It was his fourth playoff appearance, and he advanced to the Round of 12 for the second time.
“What a crazy year, but a good year,” Almirola said. “Luckily, NASCAR was able to get us back on track after the pandemic hit and we adapted better than some teams for a while. We started this year with no expectations with our new crew chief Mike Bugarewicz and a new crew. We accomplished our regular-season goals outside of a win and just came up short in the playoffs after leading at Talladega. No one knew what to expect this year and I’ll say our performance on the track was great when we adapted together.”
Almirola has earned six top-10s, two top-fives and has led 26 laps in 19 career starts at Phoenix. He has finished outside of the top-10 just once since joining SHR.
“We have one more shot at a win or a decent finish this weekend at Phoenix,” Almirola said. “We’ve been good there in the past. Kevin (Harvick) is really good there, too. I know there are four cars out there battling for a championship, but if we’ve got the speed, we’re going to give it all we’ve got to put Smithfield and this team in victory lane.”
Smithfield Foods, Inc., which sponsored Almirola’s No. 10 Mustang for a majority of the races this season and will again in 2021, is an American food company with agricultural roots and a global reach. Its 40,000 U.S. employees are dedicated to producing “Good food. Responsibly®” and have made it one of the world’s leading vertically integrated protein companies. It has pioneered sustainability standards for more than two decades, including many industry firsts, such as an ambitious commitment to cut carbon impact by 25 percent by 2025. The company believes in the power of protein to end food insecurity and has donated hundreds of millions of food servings to neighbors in need. For more information, visit www.smithfieldfoods.com, and connect on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.
Almirola is wrapping up season two of his documentary series Beyond the 10, where fans can get VIP, behind-the-scenes access by subscribing to his YouTube channel. Episodes showcase never-before-seen footage of Almirola at the racetrack, on family trips, and “A Day in the Life” during the week, as well as all that goes into a NASCAR Cup Series driver’s season. He plans to continue providing exclusive content in 2021. Click here to subscribe on YouTube and watch the latest episode.
Almirola is currently 15th in the driver standings with 2,211 points.
What do you think about the 2021 schedule?
“I think it’s great. NASCAR has done a great job at making the schedule exciting for the fans. Look how the playoffs turned out. There was always something on the line and I think you’re going to see a really diverse group of winners next year. I think we’re headed in the right direction.”
Who do we have to thank for a successful season amid this COVID-19 pandemic?
“So many people. The frontline heroes who put their lives at risk to make sure our country could keep going, the team for working insanely hard all year to bring competitive cars, their families for staying strong while they’re gone, NASCAR for making the right calls and keeping everyone safe, the thousands of Smithfield employees who have helped keep food on our tables all year, and so many more. We couldn’t do it without them.”
What makes Phoenix so unique?
“Phoenix is just a fast short track. Ever since the repave, it races like a mile-and-a-half, which is different from a Richmond-, Martinsville- or Bristol-type of short track. It’s a fun race and I always look forward to heading out West to Phoenix.”
What’s the most important thing to be successful at Phoenix?
“You have to have everything at Phoenix. You have to have downforce, grip in your car and good brakes. You have to make sure your car turns well through the center of turns one and two, which is a sharp, banked corner. And then you have turns three and four, which are really fast and sweeping and flat. You’ve got to have a car that’s versatile and is a good compromise for both corners.”
Event: Desert Diamond Casino West Valley 200 (Round 33 of 33)
Date: Nov. 7, 2020
Location: Phoenix Raceway
Layout: 1-mile oval
Chase Briscoe Notes of Interest
• Chase Briscoe, a nine-time winner already this season, looks to add two more trophies to his collection before 2020 comes to a close with the NASCAR Xfinity Series finale at Phoenix Raceway. The driver of the No. 98 HighPoint.com Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing has had a career-defining year that culminates on Saturday with his first Championship 4 appearance. Briscoe is looking to win the battle and the war by scoring his 10th race victory and the Xfinity Series title. Three other drivers share the same vision – Austin Cindric, Justin Haley and Justin Allgaier – as they join Briscoe in the winner-take-all title chase.
• While this is Briscoe’s first time in the Championship 4, it’s not his first championship. He already has one title to his name – the 2016 ARCA Racing Series championship where he won six races and the title by a whopping 535 points.
• Despite his nine wins, Briscoe enters Phoenix on equal footing. Each Championship 4 driver starts the finale with 4,000 points and the title contender who finishes in the highest position at the end of the Desert Diamond Casino West Valley 200 will be crowned the 2020 Xfinity Series champion. While a win isn’t the only way a driver can claim the title, another victory to clinch the championship would make Briscoe just the third driver in series history to earn 10 or more wins in a single season.
• In addition to racking up a series-leading nine wins, Briscoe has also led 991 laps, the most of any Xfinity Series driver and 794 more laps than he led all last season. The 25-year-old racer from Mitchell, Indiana, has also scored 16 top-five and 21 top-10 finishes while completing 5,354 of the 5,383 laps available (99.5 percent).
• Phoenix hasn’t been one of Briscoe’s strongest tracks, but track history hasn’t stood in the way of his performance this season. All of Briscoe’s nine wins have come at tracks where he hadn’t won prior to the start of the 2020 season. In fact, Briscoe’s first two wins of the season were at tracks where he hadn’t even scored a top-five. When he won his first race of the year at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in February, his best prior finish was eighth. And when he won at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway in May, his best prior result was sixth.
• Briscoe has three career Xfinity Series starts at Phoenix and each has resulted in top-10 finishes. His best Xfinity Series result at the 1-mile oval is sixth – scored twice (March 2019 and March 2020). And in the series’ visit to Phoenix last November, Briscoe started third and led 14 laps before finishing eighth.
• Briscoe also has a NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series start at Phoenix. In November 2017, Briscoe started eighth and finished fourth in his Ford F-150, securing his 13th career top-10. The result served as a prelude to Briscoe’s talent, as he won his first career Truck Series race the very next week in the Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
• Prior to his only Truck Series start at Phoenix, Briscoe ran a NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race at the track in November 2013.
CHASE BRISCOE, Driver of the No. 98 HighPoint.com Ford Mustang:
You have the most wins in the Xfinity Series this year and your nearest pursuer has only five, but Phoenix is one of the tracks where you have yet to win. Does that give you any concern leading into Saturday’s race?
“Phoenix hasn’t been our worst track, but it certainly hasn’t been our best, and the three drivers we’re competing against are there for a reason. They’ve been some of the toughest guys to compete against all season and we know that we’ve got to be on our game. That doesn’t worry me anymore than it should, though. The No. 98 team has improved so much not just from 2019 to 2020, but from the start of the year until now. We’re bringing our best car – one we’ve won with three times this year – and I have all the faith in the world that this group of guys has given everything they can to make sure our HighPoint.com Ford Mustang is ready.”
What would it mean to cap off the year with a championship?
“This has been an incredible season for many reasons, but it would mean a lot to win the championship. It’s not just a reward for me as a driver. The guys at the track and at the shop have worked harder than anyone for this. HighPoint.com, Ford Performance Racing School and all of our other partners deserve it. It wouldn’t be a disappointment if we didn’t win it because we have accomplished so much this year, but it would add a lot more meaning if we could add the title to that list.”
Kevin Harvick isn’t eligible for the NASCAR Cup Series championship Sunday at Phoenix Raceway. But he can still make history if he wins by becoming just the 11th driver to win 10 races in a season in the modern era.
Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Busch Light Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), has won a career-high nine races in 2020, the wins coming at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, where he won twice, Atlanta Motor Speedway, Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a sweep of the doubleheader at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Dover (Del.) International Speedway and Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
If he wins at Phoenix Sunday, he will join Bobby Allison, Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, Rusty Wallace, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Bill Elliott, Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip as a member of the 10-win club.
And Harvick would not be the first driver to win 10 races and not win the championship. It’s happened several times before.
Bobby Allison 1972
Richard Petty 1974 (won championship)
Cale Yarborough 1974
David Pearson 1976
Cale Yarborough 1978 (won championship)
Rusty Wallace 1993
Jeff Gordon 1996
Jeff Gordon 1997 (won championship)
Jimmie Johnson 2007 (won championship)
David Pearson 1973
Bill Elliott 1985
Dale Earnhardt 1987 (won championship)
Darrell Waltrip 1981 (won championship)
Darrell Waltrip 1982 (won championship)
Richard Petty 1975 (won championship)
Jeff Gordon 1998 (won championship)
The points system was different in prior years, but 10 would be a nice number to achieve and hasn’t been accomplished since 2007, when Jimmie Johnson won 10 races.
It’s been a solid year for Harvick as his nine wins, 20 top-fives, 26 top-10s and 1,531 laps led are all series-bests in 2020. He can also keep climbing the record books. Harvick is 14th all-time in laps completed with 204,792 after Sunday’s race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway and is the leader among active drivers. He could pass 1989 Cup Series champion Wallace, who is 13th with 204,818, at Phoenix by getting to lap 27. If he gets to lap 208, he will surpass 205,000 completed.
Phoenix has always been good to Harvick as he has a series-high nine career Cup Series wins at Phoenix, including five with SHR, topping a list that shows Johnson next-best with four, Kyle Busch with three, and Davey Allison, Jeff Burton, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Gordon, Carl Edwards, Mark Martin, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano with two each.
Harvick has won seven of the last 16 Cup Series races at Phoenix. He is the only driver to win four in a row as he won the November 2013 race, swept the 2014 races and won in March 2015 before ending his streak with a runner-up finish in November 2015. Johnson is the only other driver with a three-race streak at Phoenix, when he won the November 2007 race and swept the 2008 races. Only five drivers have won consecutive Cup Series races at Phoenix and Harvick is the only driver to win consecutive races twice, having also swept both races in 2006.
He’s scored a perfect 150.0 driver rating at Phoenix on three occasions. His first was in November 2006, when he started second, led 252 of 312 laps and reached victory lane. His second was during his November 2014 win, when he started third and led 264 of 312 laps. His third came during his March 2015 win, when he started first and led 224 of 312 laps.
Harvick has finished outside the top-10 only once at Phoenix since March 2013, and has only three finishes of 11th or worse since April 2010.
While a championship is not possible, Harvick would still love to set a couple more records to close out the 2020 season.
Are you still OK with this system? You have nine wins and don’t make it to the Championship 4.
“We had a great year. Like I’ve said, they aren’t won the same way that Earnhardt and Petty did. You have to put together a few weeks and we didn’t put together these last few weeks like we needed to and just came up short.”
Is this up there as one of the worst gut punches you’ve had to take?
“No, I’ve been punched in the gut a lot harder. We won nine races, had a great year, and, like I said, the championship is kind of a bonus. It would be great to win it, obviously, but I’d rather go through the year and win races and do the things that we did and just came up short.”
How do you justify that you won’t be racing for the championship when you are clearly on one of the top four teams this year?
“That’s the system we work in and it’s obviously skewed more toward entertainment than the whole year, so it’s exciting to watch and has that format that goes with it and you take them as they come and we race within the system they give us and do our best. It just didn’t work out for us. The last three weeks didn’t go exactly how we needed them to and you’ve got to be right when you get to the Round of 8.”
Clint Bowyer will climb in a NASCAR Cup Series car for the final time Sunday afternoon at Phoenix Raceway – a venue that hosted some of Bowyer’s most memorable moments in his career, including his Cup Series debut on April 23, 2005.
“It’s funny, the way the schedule has worked out, Phoenix will be the place of my first and last start,” said Bowyer, who drove for Bill McAnally and Richard Childress on that day he started 25th and finished 22nd, one lap behind race-winner Kurt Busch. “It’s come full circle and it’s been an amazing run with everything in between.”
The Emporia, Kansas native grew up racing motorcycles in the Midwest never dreaming he’d make his living in NASCAR. But he’s entered 540 races, earned 10 Cup Series victories, 82 top-five finishes and 226 top-10s. He finished in the top-five in the season standings three times and is one of the few drivers to enjoy trips to victory lane driving Fords, Toyotas and Chevrolets.
“Hell no, I never thought I would have this success,” said Bowyer, who won an Xfinity Series title in 2008. “I honestly was hoping to make a living racing. I can say that, and I think that’s a fair goal, but did I ever in a million years think that it would lead to all this? No way. Here is how I look at it – for the last few years, I have been representing Ford Motor Company, for crying out loud. For most of my career growing up, I couldn’t afford a Ford engine. I have made some incredible friendships along the way that will last my entire lifetime.”
It’s not just his career that has come full circle. Bowyer was single that day in 2005 at Phoenix when he made his debut. Sunday, he’ll have his wife Lorra and young children Cash and Presley, along with his parents and family on hand for the final race. At most of those 540 races over the years, there has always been family at the track.
“You bring your friends and family to the track because that’s who you want to be around,” he said. “My mom and dad and brothers have always been around my racing. Lorra and the kids used to come every weekend before COVID and, if this year has taught me anything, it is how much fun it is to have all those people around. It’s been lonely and boring sitting in the motorhome without all those people.”
Sunday isn’t just about retirement. Bowyer arrives at Phoenix 12th in points, just 30 behind 10th place, and is very much a threat to win the race. Last weekend at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, Bowyer finished eighth and, in the previous race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, he led 89 laps before an extra fuel stop ruined his chance for victory with 25 laps to go.
So why walk away while still competitive? Bowyer said it was all about the opportunity to join FOX television in the booth in 2021. Bowyer served as a commentator during FOX’s coverage of iRacing events during the earlier days of the pandemic while the Cup Series was on hiatus.
“That was a ton of fun for me and it opened my eyes up in a big way and it was just something that nobody expected that opened the door for this opportunity we took,” he said. “So, FOX means more time with your family and still being a big part of this sport. I love being a part of this sport. I mean, that was so important for me. I didn’t want to just retire. If this opportunity with FOX didn’t come to the table, I was going to be in a car somewhere, somehow. I wasn’t going to just quit and run off into the sunset because I like this sport and I wanted to find my way and a future within it, and luckily this happened.”
New FOX colleague Jeff Gordon played a major role in one of Bowyer’s more memorable career moments at – Phoenix, of course. Bowyer and Gordon tangled in the closing laps of the 2012 race while battling for a championship. The clash led to one of the more famous altercations between race teams in NASCAR history that’s sure to air on television every time the Cup Series returns to Phoenix.
Bowyer and Gordon are now fast friends and laugh when the highlights are replayed. Bowyer said that moment is long forgotten but hopes it won’t be his and Gordon’s last disagreements – albeit good-natured. Instead of NASCAR officials, it will be lead announcer Mike Joy’s job to referee.
“Here’s one of the funniest things about our rivalry, or lack thereof,” Bowyer said. “People really think there’s more there than there ever was. We had a couple run-ins in a year where it sucked, but I can tell you that we were always having fun off the racetrack at the year-end events at the playoff banquets and things like that. He and I would always kind of naturally just flock to one another and want to go out and have fun, and Jeff is a fun person.
“It’s a neat situation to overcome everything that we have, and lining up right against one another again in that booth is going to be something that’s pretty special. I think we saw it already. We both got to experience it a little bit. We got our feet wet with the iRacing that we did, and I think that we’re going to enjoy it that much more when we can call these races from our experiences and our perspectives. Jeff does a great job of that. Mike Joy, oh my gosh, he’s going to have his hands full. Can you imagine being up there trying to be a ringleader, trying to keep Jeff and I arguing the whole race because there’s no way in hell he can be right and there’s no way in hell that I can be right all the time, so it’s going to be fun to call these races.”
Bowyer’s No. 14 Mustang will carry the logos of Rush Truck Centers and Haas Automation for the final time this weekend. Rush has been the primary partner for the No. 14 team since Bowyer arrived at SHR in 2017 and has been with the organization since 2010. The Texas-based company has used Bowyer and the team to appeal to NASCAR fans as one way to recruit the technicians it needs to operate the largest network of commercial truck and bus dealerships in the country, with locations in 22 states.
Rush Truck Centers will honor Bowyer with a thank you note on the hood of the No. 14 Sunday that includes: “Thank You, Clint! Always A Man Of The People.”
Haas Automation, owned by SHR co-owner and California native Gene Haas, is America’s leading builder of CNC machine tools. Founded by Haas in 1983, Haas Automation manufactures a complete line of vertical and horizontal machining centers, turning centers and rotary tables and indexers. All Haas products are built in the company’s 1.1-million-square-foot manufacturing facility in Oxnard, California, and distributed through a worldwide network of Haas Factory Outlets.
Bowyer’s retirement is another indication of the changing of the guard in NASCAR. Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson, and Kevin Harvick are the only drivers who were in the field for Bowyer’s debut in 2005 who will race Sunday at Phoenix. Johnson is also making his final start Sunday.
“Things always change and there’s a new bunch of kids who will come in and take up our places,” Bowyer said. “ We’ve had a great run, now it’s time to turn it over to someone else.”
Would you have retired if the FOX opportunity hadn’t presented itself?
“Was I ready? I was getting ready. I was getting close to being ready. Was I ready after this pandemic and this COVID year of no fans and a weird way to go out? No, and I don’t think probably Jimmie Johnson was, either, but was I looking for that what’s next moment or opportunity? And that answer is absolutely yes. When FOX – and let’s go back to the pandemic – there are always opportunities and crazy things and it’s usually those wild and crazy things in life that open that opportunity. This pandemic led to that opportunity to get in the studio with Jeff and Mike and have a ton of fun doing those iRacing races that really kind of kept us on the map with our sport and kept our sponsors propped up, kept the business moving, kept it going around in circles.”
Event: Draft Top 250 (Round 32 of 33)
Date: Oct. 31, 2020
Location: Martinsville (Va.) Speedway
Layout: .526-mile oval
Chase Briscoe Notes of Interest
• Who is the most relaxed driver in the NASCAR Xfinity Series heading into the penultimate race of season? It’s Chase Briscoe, of course. The driver of the No. 98 HighPoint.com Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing has won a series-best nine races in 2020, a tally that includes wins in the opening race in each round of the playoffs, ensuring his advancement into the next round. Briscoe’s win Sept. 26 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway punched his ticket to the Round of 8, and his victory Oct. 17 at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City cemented his place in the Championship 4 Nov. 7 at Phoenix Raceway. The playoffs began with 12 drivers, with each round jettisoning the four drivers lowest in points. The caveat, however, is win and you’re in. As the series enters the final race in the Round of 8 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, Briscoe has no worries as the only driver to have secured a spot in the Championship 4.
• Martinsville is a tight and flat .526-mile oval, and when filled with nearly 40 racecars wheeled by drivers eyeing the same piece of real estate, it can be a scary place. It’s appropriate that Saturday’s Draft Top 250 is on Halloween, as Martinsville is known for delivering plenty of tricks, often by drivers treating their counterparts to a shove from their bumper. Briscoe has proven that he can handle himself on short tracks like Martinsville. The 25-year-old racer from Mitchell, Indiana, has made 14 short-track starts in the Xfinity Series, scoring two wins – Sept. 18 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and last July at Iowa Speedway in Newton – and earning nine top-10 finishes.
• The Draft Top 250 marks the Xfinity Series’ return to Martinsville after a 13-year hiatus. The last Xfinity Series race at Martinsville took place on July 22, 2006. Kevin Harvick defeated Clint Bowyer by .271 seconds. Briscoe was 12 years old. Today, Briscoe races for the same team as Harvick and Bowyer. In 2021, Briscoe will replace Bowyer in the team’s No. 14 Ford Mustang in the NASCAR Cup Series as Bowyer transitions to his new television role with FOX Sports broadcasting NASCAR races.
• Even though the Xfinity Series hasn’t raced at Martinsville in 13 years, Briscoe has competed at the Virginia short track. Briscoe has made two NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series starts at Martinsville. His best finish came April 2017 when he started eighth and finished 11th. He returned in October to start on the pole and lead the first 39 laps of the race before a late-race accident resulted in a 19th-place finish.
• In the Xfinity Series’ most recent race last Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Briscoe started from the pole and led the first 34 laps but finished an uncharacteristic 24th due to a broken shock mount on his No. 98 Ford Mustang. His 24th-place finish was only the second time this season that Briscoe has finished outside the top-20.
• Despite the tough day at Texas, Briscoe still leads the championship standings by 30 points over second-place Austin Cindric, though Briscoe already secured his position in the Championship 4 by virtue of his win at Kansas. This is Briscoe’s second straight playoff appearance, but his first time advancing to the final round and competing for the series title.
• Beyond being the first driver to claim his a shot at the title and having a series-best nine wins, there are other numbers that bolster Briscoe’s championship aspirations:
• Briscoe has already led 991 laps this season, the most of any Xfinity Series driver and 794 more laps than he led all last season.
• Briscoe has already scored 16 top-fives, three more than he earned last year.
• Briscoe’s average starting position this season is 6.5, an improvement over his 8.8 average starting position last year.
CHASE BRISCOE, Driver of the No. 98 HighPoint.com Ford Mustang:
Martinsville is usually a pretty chaotic race, but will it be even more chaotic considering it’s now the cutoff race to determine the Championship 4 field next week at Phoenix?
“I think we’re going to see the craziest race of the year. There is going to be a lot of desperation throughout the field and some tempers are going to show. There’s no telling what’s going to happen. I’m so glad we’re locked in to Phoenix with our HighPoint.com Ford Mustang and don’t have to stress over getting a win or having a good points day.”
What is the toughest part of racing at Martinsville?
“Martinsville is a tough track to find success because there’s just a lot out of your control. We’re racing on a narrow short track with tight corners where you have nowhere to go to avoid a bad situation. It’s so easy to get caught up in someone else’s mess or make someone mad to the point where they retaliate and then your day is ruined.”
It has been a few years since you raced at Martinsville in the Truck Series. Are you happy to see it back on the schedule?
“I can’t wait to get there. It’s always a fun place to go to because you’re up on the wheel so much and always in traffic. You have to have a lot of patience and focus. I’ve had this race circled for a long time and I would love to get our HighPoint.com Ford Mustang out front and pick up another win.”
Martinsville is the only track that has been on the NASCAR schedule since the sport’s inception. What would it mean to add a grandfather clock to your trophy collection?
“It would mean a lot. Martinsville is one of those places where a win holds so much meaning because of its history but also because it’s considered a driver’s track. Not to mention, the grandfather clock is probably one of the coolest and most iconic trophies in the sport.”
In the 1999 film, For Love of the Game, Billy Chapel (played by Kevin Coster) is pitching for the Detroit Tigers and in the midst of a perfect game.
With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, with his arm weary and aching, he looks up to see Ken Strout ready to bat for the New York Yankees. Ken Strout is the son of Joe Strout, who Chapel played with 20 years prior.
Ken Strout is the last chance for the Yankees to break up the perfect game. As Chapel sees him walking up to the plate, he looks up and says, simply, “Why not?”
That’s how Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Mobil 1 Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), might be feeling after this past week at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. Harvick started on the pole and led early, but he brushed the SAFER Barrier on the outside retaining wall early on as the track may or may not have been a little wet during a constant mist. Then the rains came and, after more than 72 hours, the race finally got restarted late Wednesday afternoon.
Or, better than “Why not?” perhaps an overriding thought in Harvick’s mind is, “It’s a journey.”
That’s because 2020 has been a journey for everyone. NASCAR conducted four races, took a nine-week break due to the COVID-19 pandemic, then contested 30 races in six months before getting delayed by rain for more than 72 hours this week at Texas.
Never fear, though, because we (might) be almost done.
Harvick finished 16th at Texas and is still first in points, 42 markers above the cutoff to advance to the Championship 4.
He now moves on to Martinsville (Va.) Speedway for the final race in the Round of 8.
Harvick has one win, five top-fives, 19 top-10s and has led a total of 628 laps in his 38 career NASCAR Cup Series starts at Martinsville. His average start there is 14.1, his average finish is 14.9, and he has a lap completion rate of 98.2 percent – 18,695 of the 19,039 laps available.
Thankfully, Harvick will have the help of Mobil 1 as a sponsor and partner at the tight, half-mile Martinsville paperclip.
Mobil 1 isn’t just the world’s leading synthetic motor oil brand, it also provides the entire SHR team with leading lubricant technology, ensuring that all SHR Mustangs have a competitive edge over the competition on the track. In its 18th consecutive season as the “Official Motor Oil of NASCAR,” Mobil 1 is used by more than 50 percent of teams throughout NASCAR’s top three series.
During the playoffs, Mobil 1 is giving fans the chance to win exclusive prizes, including signed exclusive SHR gear, race gloves, race used parts and die casts, one-of-a-kind stickers and a once in a lifetime opportunity to receive a zoom call from SHR co-owner Tony Stewart or Harvick’s SHR teammate Cole Custer.
To find out more or to enter, fans can head to http://officialmotoroilofnascar.com/.
Thoughts heading into Martinsville?
“For me, it doesn’t really change that much. Most of the preparing comes from videos and things you have done in the past. And I could do all that during the rain delay in Texas.”
Can you talk about the promotion with Mobil 1 that is taking place?
“We are always excited to have Mobil 1 on the car and they are such a great partner of ours as we go week-to-week through the entire season. The best thing I’ve seen that you can win in this promotion is a Zoom call with Tony Stewart. That is a little bit scary (laughs), but they have all sorts of cool racing prizes and things and you can go to http://officialmotoroilofnascar.com/ and find all these prizes. It’s always fun to have a sponsor that supports what we do and hopefully we can go to Martinsville and have a good showing.”
Can you talk about your relationship with Mobil 1?
“Running up front and winning races has been a lot of fun together. It’s great to see a partner like Mobil 1 come in be so involved in our race team. They are very involved day-to-day in our engine program and our lubricants, whether its transmission, rear-end hubs, whatever it is – we are always getting something that is better. It’s kind of a little bit of an unfair advantage, but one that everyone works really hard at to continue to get better.”
Why do your prefer Mobil 1 synthetic?
“I’m a synthetic guy because, in 1993 when we were sitting in the engine shop, we dumped Mobil 1 synthetic in and that’s all we did and gained seven horsepower. From that day on, we would actually save our money and then go to the local auto parts store because, at that time, it was like $5.50 a quart and the conventional and other oils were like $3.50. At the big races, we would put the Mobil 1 in the car and the regular races would put the regular oil in there. You know I’m going to say synthetic.”
Aric Almirola, driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Hometown Original Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), heads to Martinsville (Va.) Speedway in hopes of capping off the season with a visit to victory lane to honor the 20 nominated Hometown Heroes who will be displayed on the decklid of the No. 10 Ford.
Along with SHR and Almirola, Smithfield is honoring those who are putting their own health and safety at risk in their selfless acts to protect and nourish others around them. The Smithfield “Hometown Original Heroes” program provided the opportunity for fans to share the stories of their own “Hometown Hero,” be it a nurse, doctor, food worker, public servant or anyone who is on the frontlines each and every day.
Each day, new sets of heroes are introduced who are helping the nation get through the COVID-19 pandemic. With operations throughout the United States, Smithfield is proud to share hometowns with many of these heroes and to keep them fed with various Smithfield products, including an Almirola household favorite, “Hometown Original” bacon.
“The frontline heroes who help us put food on the table, keep us healthy, and selflessly help others in need are the reasons we’re able to make it through the COVID-19 pandemic,” Almirola said. “To show our gratitude, we’ve decided to honor 20 of the nominated heroes on our Ford Mustang this weekend and I hope we can make them proud.”
The No. 10 Ford driver’s six top-five finishes this year surpass his previous best of four in a season in 2018. In addition, his 297 laps led is a career high for a season, and his 17 top-10 finishes equals his season best.
In last year’s spring Martinsville race, Almirola qualified second and ran inside the top-five for the first two stages until contact with the No. 18 car demoted him to a ninth-place finish. In the fall race on the paperclip-shaped half-mile oval that year, Almirola qualified fourth and ran in and around the top-five until another incident with the No. 18 car ended his day 135 laps early.
In 22 career starts at Martinsville, the 36-year-old Almirola has four top-10 finishes, one top-five and has led 56 laps.
Smithfield Foods, Inc., which sponsors Almirola’s No. 10 Mustang for a majority of the races this season and will again this weekend, is an American food company with agricultural roots and a global reach. Its 40,000 U.S. employees are dedicated to producing “Good food. Responsibly®” and have made it one of the world’s leading vertically integrated protein companies. It has pioneered sustainability standards for more than two decades, including many industry firsts, such as an ambitious commitment to cut carbon impact by 25 percent by 2025. The company believes in the power of protein to end food insecurity and has donated hundreds of millions of food servings to neighbors in need. For more information, visit www.smithfieldfoods.com, and connect on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.
Almirola is back with season two of his documentary series Beyond the 10, where fans can get VIP, behind-the-scenes access by subscribing to his YouTube channel. Episodes showcase never-before-seen footage of Almirola at the racetrack, on family trips, and “A Day in the Life” during the week, as well as all that goes into a NASCAR Cup Series driver’s season. Click here to subscribe on YouTube and watch the latest episode.
While Almirola is no longer in the playoffs, he sits 15th in the standings with 2,181 points and looks to improve his rank this weekend.
What is it like racing at Martinsville?
“Martinsville is a really challenging racetrack. It’s the smallest racetrack we go to on the circuit. One of the most challenging parts about Martinsville is that the tires wear out pretty rapidly and, when that happens, you really struggle to get the power down to the ground.”
What does it take to run well at short tracks?
“No matter what the situation is, we as racers always love going to short tracks. It’s what we grew up doing and it puts the outcome in the driver’s hands more than the superspeedway races. You can’t pass much there, so it’s extremely important that you stay mentally and physically focused throughout the entire run.”