View From the Virtual Pit Box

SHR Crew Chiefs Offer Their Take on iRacing

“When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills.” This is an ancient Chinese proverb, and it’s particularly apt when it comes to NASCAR and its embrace of iRacing.

With the entire sports world shuttered to combat the spread of the coronavirus, NASCAR – the 72-year-old purveyor of ground-pounding speed – has found its windmill in iRacing, specifically, the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series.

The eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series is an exhibition esports series featuring a collection of actual racecar drivers from the NASCAR Cup Series, NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series. It kicked off last Sunday at the virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway and it is a multi-week series emulating the original 2020 NASCAR Cup Series schedule.

It has been an unabashed success, with the series’ second race taking place this Sunday at 1 p.m. EDT at the virtual Texas Motor Speedway with live coverage on FOX.

Last Sunday’s eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series race at Homestead was the single most-watched esports event in U.S. history. The race drew 903,000 viewers on FS1, besting the previous high of 770,000 viewers when Mortal Kombat aired on The CW in 2016. The race was the highest-rated broadcast on FS1 since mass postponements of sporting events began on March 15. During the race, the #ProInvitationalSeries was the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter in the U.S.

But while the drivers have been hands-on in this endeavor, what do their crew chiefs think? In the real world, they’re always hands-on, with an assortment of tools occupying their hands regularly. But in the sim world, they’re bystanders.

“The iRacing event that took place at Homestead last weekend was quite revolutionary, not only for our sport, but for all sports in general,” said Mike Bugarewicz, crew chief for NASCAR Cup Series driver Aric Almirola and the No. 10 Smithfield team of Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR). “It gave us something to do and something to watch on Sunday, and it gave the drivers some seat time. While it’s not perfect to what the real world is, it still forces them to make a call from a crew chief’s perspective. Not every call is so easy.”

SHR’s Johnny Klausmeier, crew chief for Clint Bowyer and the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 team, provided an example.

“The most interesting thing to me was the tire strategy with the guys taking none, two or four tires. It seemed very realistic, especially at Homestead-Miami Speedway where you have a lot of tire fall off. Guys could get their track position, but after 10 laps, the tires were wearing out and they were shuffling around, moving and jockeying.

“As a crew chief, I wanted to put my hands on things and work on the car. So, it was different for the drivers to be able to just instantly change things and make the car different on the computer. It was neat and a great show for the fans.”

While the racecar is obviously important, the track is the other key element. Rodney Childers, crew chief for Kevin Harvick and SHR’s No. 4 Busch Light team, was impressed with how real a track’s idiosyncrasies were detailed in iRacing.

“The racetracks are really accurate, with the bumps and the features and all of that stuff,” Childers said. “From a visual side of things, it’s probably very beneficial for the drivers.”

One of those drivers is Chase Briscoe, pilot of the No. 98 HighPoint.com/Ford Performance Racing School Ford Mustang for SHR in the Xfinity Series. Briscoe’s crew chief, Richard Boswell, believes the time his driver spends on iRacing makes him better in general.

“Laps are laps, regardless of what car it is or what type of simulator it’s on,” Boswell said. “The repetition of seeing the markers at certain tracks and feeling the bumps is a great way to stay sharp. Of course, there’s the added advantage of Chase having a motion rig where he can get a more realistic feel for each track, not just in the steering wheel but in his seat.

“I sure am glad my driver is spending this time wisely. I know when we finally get back to racing, he will be as ready as anyone. So will his team!”

Boswell, like everyone in NASCAR, is eagerly awaiting the resumption of real racing, but he has embraced the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series and the newfound time at home.

“This is a great way to keep fans connected to our sport considering the difficult times our country is facing. I applaud FOX, NASCAR, iRacing, the sponsors and all of the folks who have participated in bringing this event to our homes. Even my little girls were excited to see some sort of racing on TV. The only difference was they could root for their favorite driver, Chase Briscoe, with daddy instead of without him.”

 

About Stewart-Haas Racing:

Stewart-Haas Racing is the title-winning NASCAR team co-owned by three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Tony Stewart and Gene Haas, founder of Haas Automation – the largest CNC machine tool builder in North America. The Kannapolis, North Carolina-based organization has won two NASCAR Cup Series titles, one NASCAR Xfinity Series championship and more than 70 NASCAR races, including such crown-jewel events as the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and Southern 500. For more information, please visit us online at www.StewartHaasRacing.com, on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/StewartHaasRacing, on Twitter at @StewartHaasRcng, on Instagram at @StewartHaasRacing and on YouTube at www.YouTube.com/StewartHaasRacing.

Brave New Schedule

Necessity Brings Opportunity When NASCAR Racing Returns

Words matter. For example, there’s a big difference between “postponed” and “canceled”. Postponed means to defer, or to put off until a later time. Canceled, meanwhile, means to make void, revoke or annul.

NASCAR has been on hiatus since the coronavirus outbreak suspended the entire sports industry, but its races have only been postponed, which means all will eventually happen. But for an entity that lays claim to the longest season in all of professional sports – one that spans 36 point-paying races across 10 months from early February to November – rescheduling those postponed races will require some creative thinking.

Midweek shows? Why not? Doubleheaders? Sure. In fact, NASCAR has performed the former numerous times with the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. Since its inception in 2013, the Truck Series race at Eldora has owned a midweek date in July. This year’s race is slated for Thursday, July 30. A doubleheader, meanwhile, is already slated for June 27-28 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway with the flagship NASCAR Cup Series.

Certainly more midweek races and doubleheader weekends can satisfy the appetite of NASCAR fans hungry for real racing action, while also serving as the solution for rescheduling postponed events.

“If you’ve followed me, you know I’ve been pretty vocal about changing things up when it comes to the schedule,” said Kevin Harvick, the 2014 NASCAR Cup Series champion who drives the No. 4 Busch Light Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR). “When it comes to the 2021 schedule, NASCAR was already looking outside the box of things we can do differently. Out of necessity, how we configure race weekends and when we race will have to be figured out for when we get back to racing this year. It’s actually not a bad thing. Change is different, but it can be good, and we’ll have to think differently and be open-minded to what the rest of this year’s schedule ends up looking like.”

Aric Almirola, driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang for SHR, is of the same mindset as Harvick.

“NASCAR has been pretty straightforward in saying that all options are on the table, including midweek races and more doubleheaders. I’m even more intrigued to see what the TV viewership would look like. I think a midweek race would resonate really well. Fans who worked all day can come home, eat dinner and then relax on the couch while we put on a show. I think it would be pretty cool for them.”

While the Atlanta race weekend originally scheduled for March 13-15 ended up getting postponed, a revised schedule saw a Saturday-only timeline where the NASCAR Cup Series qualified at 11 a.m. and raced at 2 p.m. Practice was scuttled entirely in an effort to get everything completed in a single day.

“I think as soon as everyone got to Atlanta and saw the schedule change, it raised an eyebrow,” said Clint Bowyer, driver of the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Ford Mustang for SHR. “We said, ‘Hey, we can do these races in a day.’ I was fine with it. You know we need to do whatever we can do to put on a show for all these fans across the country. If all we have time for is a one-day show, then so be it. I think we can provide enough bang for their buck.”

But what if a condensed schedule meant little to no practice?

“Teams have a lot of data simulation to predict how their car is going drive and handle at a particular track, but it’s not always perfect,” Almirola said. “Oftentimes, we show up to the racetrack, make changes, and make the car better from the time we unload until we get ready for the race. And it helps the driver to just pick up some reference points and kind of adapt to what you have for the balance in your car that weekend.

“Practice is always helpful, even if it’s just a little bit. It would present a challenge to not practice, but it would at least be the same for everybody.” 

Almirola, like his SHR teammates Harvick and Bowyer, are NASCAR Cup Series veterans. But for a rookie seeing some of these venues for the first time, track time is even more cherished.

“Being a rookie, I would rather have the practice session to get a feel for the car and the track going into the race,” said Cole Custer, the first-year driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Ford Mustang for SHR. “It would be a little harder just getting one or two qualifying laps in and then going racing. Any time on the racetrack as a rookie is huge – the more, the better. If all we did was qualify, like we were set to do at Atlanta, it would put a lot of emphasis on our preparation going into the weekend. For me, practice is just really important so we can work on the car and get used to the track.”

No matter what the revised calendar ends up being, drivers will adapt.

“In every crisis situation, there are things to be learned and positives to bring out of it,” Bowyer said. “There’s certainly the opportunity to do a midweek race or a one-day show or a doubleheader. All those options are on the table.”

And after a hiatus that will last almost as long as the traditional offseason, how will drivers pick up where they left off when the series departed Phoenix Raceway back on March 8?

“During the offseason, I’m very relaxed, but this is so different,” Almirola said. “My mind is still so focused on racing. I’m continuing to work out and I go through the week with a schedule and stay in shape because, quite honestly, I think it’s going to be even more important to be in tip-top shape when we’re ready to go and the season does start back up because we’re going to be racing a lot.

“We’re talking about running races on the weekend, then midweek, then another the following weekend. If we do that, running three races in a week is going to be a lot. Recovering after the race and getting your body and mind prepped for the next race in a short period of time will be important. I’m focused on eating right, getting plenty of protein, and staying in shape to be as ready as possible for whatever this season has in store for us.”

 

About Stewart-Haas Racing:

Stewart-Haas Racing is the title-winning NASCAR team co-owned by three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Tony Stewart and Gene Haas, founder of Haas Automation – the largest CNC machine tool builder in North America. The Kannapolis, North Carolina-based organization has won two NASCAR Cup Series titles, one NASCAR Xfinity Series championship and more than 70 NASCAR races, including such crown-jewel events as the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and Southern 500. For more information, please visit us online at www.StewartHaasRacing.com, on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/StewartHaasRacing, on Twitter at @StewartHaasRcng, on Instagram at @StewartHaasRacing and on YouTube at www.YouTube.com/StewartHaasRacing.

 

CLINT BOWYER – 2020 Atlanta Race Advance

Compared to last year, Clint Bowyer hopes for a little less drama Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but he wouldn’t mind the same result.

Five days after the 2019 season-opening Daytona 500, the NASCAR Cup Series took to the track for Friday qualifying at Atlanta. Instead of flying Thursday night, Bowyer, hoping to spend a few more hours with the family, decided to fly down from his Charlotte, North Carolina-area residence Friday morning in time for the first practice session at 11:35 a.m.

Only problem was the plane he planned to use had a problem and couldn’t fly.

That sent Bowyer into a flurry of travel arrangements that would make actors John Candy and Dan Ackroyd of the movie “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” proud. Bowyer happened to catch a ride with a pilot who was flying to Atlanta for business and the drama ended with Bowyer landing at a downtown Atlanta airport, then driving nearly an hour to the Hampton, Georgia racetrack and arriving just minutes before practice was to begin.

“That was way closer than I ever want to cut it,” Bowyer said with a laugh. “We were all pretty nervous.”

The episode didn’t serve as a distraction.

Hours later, Bowyer put the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Ford Mustang third on the grid by qualifying less than two-tenths of a second behind SHR teammate Aric Almirola, who won the pole. Bowyer went on to finish fifth in Sunday’s 500-mile race. It was his second consecutive top-five and seventh top-10 in 19 career Cup Series starts at Atlanta.

“Our run wasn’t pretty last year but we got a good finish,” Bowyer said. “I knew our car had great speed, obviously, from practice and qualifying. Racing is a different beast, especially at Atlanta. You have to take care of those Goodyear tires. The way I had it, it felt like I was on top of the track skating around too much. We made good air-pressure adjustments and got the grip level back in my racecar to where I could compete. It is just weird. You see cars that are kind of up, cars that are down, cars that are dragging, cars that aren’t. There is no track that we go to anymore that is as slick as this and as hard on tires.”

Bowyer said the rules and tire compound changes over the years at the 1.54-mile oval have changed the way drivers try to preserve their tires.

“Your tire management used to come from your throttle pedal,” Bowyer said. “Now, your speed and everything else are all wide open, so your tire management comes through the way you and your team get the balance on your racecar instead of you and your car doing the managing with the throttle pedal. You don’t lean on the wheel unless you have to and, if you have to, you better not have to for very long. The game has changed. When they took the horsepower away, the tire management and Goodyear changing the tire has drastically changed that aspect.”

This weekend’s race marks the first in the eastern half of the country since the rain-delayed, season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 17, where Bowyer finished sixth. Since then, the Cup Series held events in Las Vegas, Southern California and Phoenix. Bowyer arrives at Atlanta 13th in points. Last weekend at Phoenix Raceway, he qualified 18th, then charged to the front on race day, running as high as second in the closing stages before finishing a season-best fifth.

Bowyer goes to battle at Atlanta carrying the black-and-red paint scheme of Haas Automation, Inc. Haas Automation is America’s leading builder of CNC machine tools. Founded by Gene 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.

 

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

Are drivers taking precautions with the coronavirus in terms of autographs and things like that? 

“I think everybody sees the headlines and reads the news just like anybody else. From what I can tell, there are a lot of unknowns and mixed feelings. Some people say it is bad and the next person says it is nothing but a cold. I treat my fans no differently than the next guy. I am going to shake his hand and appreciate him being here.”

What are your thoughts on Atlanta?

“I love Atlanta. I think everybody likes Atlanta. If you are a racecar driver, you get up on the wheel and are slipping and sliding around. You work your ass off there. That is what you look for in a racetrack. Vegas, I really struggled there. The hardest thing to do was to not overdrive it. Coming from a dirt background, the harder you drive her, the faster she goes. The harder you work, the faster it goes. With that thing and the speed you are going and the aero platform you have, it is very easy to overdrive the car and blow through the grip in the tires.”

This year, it seems if a car is fast in qualifying, it won’t be fast in the race. Are you experiencing that? 

Really, your aero platform and all that stuff has to jive. Your aero has to communicate and work well with your chassis balance, and vice versa. It’s the total package. It’s not just that you missed it with 100 pounds too much right-rear spring, or 50 too much of left-rear wedge, or a track bar adjustment. It’s all tied together from the aero side of things and the chassis side of things. They really have to work well together. If not, you are spinning your wheels.”

CLINT BOWYER – 2020 Phoenix I Race Report

Series:              NASCAR Cup Series
Location:          Phoenix Raceway (1.022-mile oval)
Format:             312 laps, broken into three stages (75 laps/115 laps/122 laps)
Note:                 Race extended four laps past its scheduled 312-lap distance due to a green-white-checkered finish.
Start/Finish:       18th/5th (Running, completed 316 of 316 laps)
Point Standing:  13th with 105 points, 59 out of first

Race Winner:    Joey Logano of Team Penske (Ford)
Stage 1 Winner: Kevin Harvick of Stewart-Haas Racing (Ford)
Stage 2 Winner: Brad Keselowski of Team Penske (Ford)

Stage 1 Recap (Laps 1-75):

  • Clint Bowyer started 18th and finished 11th.
  • The No. 14 Mobil 1/Haas Automation Ford Mustang moved to 14th by lap 15, but Bowyer told the team his car was a little loose.
  • By lap 52 the problem grew worse. As he raced in 20th Bowyer told the crew his car was loose in and off the corner and tight in the middle.
  • Bowyer made his first pit stop of the race on lap 60, where the crew made several adjustments.
  • Bowyer moved to 14th by lap 69.
  • He and Erik Jones raced side-by-side for 10th, but Bowyer fell inches short of bonus points, finishing 11th.
  • Bowyer pitted during the stage break for fuel and new tires.
  • “That was a lot better, and I think the track will come to us,” Bowyer told the crew.

Stage 2 Recap (Laps 76-190):

  • Started 15th, finished eighth to earn three bonus points.
  • The No. 14 Mobil 1/Haas Automation Ford Mustang moved into the top-10 on lap 115 and was eighth by lap 122.
  • Bowyer climbed as high as fifth midway through the stage.
  • He held his position until the final laps, when he said the car was beginning to be very loose.
  • Bowyer finished eighth to earn his first bonus points of the 2020 season.
  • The No. 14 crew made minor handling changes during the stage break. 

Final Stage Recap (Laps 191-316):

  • Started eighth, finished fifth.
  • The No. 14 Mobil 1/Haas Automation Ford Mustang battled with the No. 10 of Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Aric Almirola for sixth in the opening laps of the stage.
  • Bowyer pitted with 92 laps remaining, taking four tires and restarting the race in 14th.
  • Bowyer moved to 11th with 75 laps remaining.
  • Another round of stops under caution saw Bowyer restart the race in 13th with 55 laps remaining.
  • He jumped to seventh on the restart before another caution with 47 laps remaining.
  • Bowyer pitted and restarted 13th with 42 to go, and he quickly moved to sixth place.
  • “We really needed that thing to go green,” Bowyer told No. 14 Mobil 1/Haas Automation crew. Bowyer had been making gains on the bottom lane late in the race.
  • He stayed on the track during the caution and moved to second when the race restarted with 31 to go.
  • Bowyer held his position the best he could through several cautions and an overtime before finishing fifth. 

Notes: 

  • Joey Logano won the FanShield 500k to score his milestone 25th career NASCAR Cup Series victory, his second of the season and his second at Phoenix. His margin of victory over second-place Kevin Harvick was .276 of a second.
  • This was Ford’s 17th NASCAR Cup Series victory at Phoenix.
  • There were 12 caution periods for a total of 73 laps.
  • Twenty-seven of the 38 drivers in the FanShield 500k finished on the lead lap.
  • Harvick leaves Phoenix as the championship leader with a one-point advantage over second-place Logano.
  • Bowyer’s fifth-place result was his best so far this year. His previous best was sixth in the Daytona 500.
  • Bowyer earned his first top-five and second top-10 of the season, and his third top-five and ninth top-10 in 30 career NASCAR Cup Series starts at Phoenix.
  • This is Bowyer’s second straight top-10 at Phoenix. He finished eighth in the series’ last visit to the track in November.
  • Bowyer has only finished outside the top-15 at Phoenix once since joining SHR in 2017. 

Clint Bowyer, driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Haas Automation Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing: 

“As you go through this West Coast swing, you are lying in the bed you made. We saw that all the time, and it really is true. You come out here, and these cars are prepared before we get out here. Certainly we are looking forward to getting back home and re-evaluating some things. I can’t seem to figure out how to get the front end to turn. There is a new mentality with (crew chief) John (Klausmeier) and all his engineers. All in all, to grind it out on Sunday when the money is on the line, it was a good effort and some momentum going into Atlanta, a fun racetrack for me that I really enjoy. The Mobil 1 Ford is beat up a little bit as I look over your shoulder there. Hell, that is what this track is all about.”

Next Up: 

The next event on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule is the Folds of Honor 500 on Sunday, March 15, at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The race starts at 2 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by FOX and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

KEVIN HARVICK – 2020 Phoenix I Race Report

Event:               FanShield 500k
Series:              NASCAR Cup Series
Location:          Phoenix Raceway (1.022-mile oval)
Format:             312 laps, broken into three stages (75 laps/115 laps/122 laps)
Start/Finish:      2nd/2nd (Running, completed 316 of 316 laps)
Point Standing:  1st (164 points)
Note:                Race extended four laps past its scheduled 312-lap distance due to a green-white-checkered finish.

Race Winner:    Joey Logano of Team Penske (Ford)
Stage 1 Winner: Kevin Harvick of Stewart-Haas Racing (Ford)
Stage 2 Winner: Brad Keselowski of Team Penske (Ford)

Stage 1 Recap (Laps 1-75): 

  • Kevin Harvick started second and finished first, earning 10 bonus point and a playoff point.
  • The No. 4 Jimmy John’s Freaky Fast Rewards Ford Mustang was a bit loose early on.
  • Harvick was second when he pitted under caution on lap 60 for four tires and fuel.
  • The No. 4 car left pit road in first place and led the last 15 laps of Stage 1. 

Stage 2 Recap (Laps 76-190): 

  • Harvick started first and finished second, earning nine bonus points.
  • On lap 134 the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Freaky Fast Rewards Ford Mustang pitted from the lead for four tires and fuel. He came out of the pits in sixth place.

Final Stage Recap (Laps 191-316): 

  • Harvick started second and finished second.
  • The No. 4 Jimmy John’s Freaky Fast Rewards Ford Mustang pitted on lap 194 for four tires and fuel and a chassis adjustment, then came out in fifth place.
  • On lap 216, Harvick pitted for four tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment. He had to restart sixth, as several cars took only two tires.
  • Harvick passed Joey Logano for the lead on lap 251.
  • The No. 4 Jimmy John’s Freaky Fast Rewards Ford Mustang pitted on lap 255 for four tires and fuel and remained in first place.
  • His final pit stop was on lap 268 for four tires and fuel, but he remained in the top-10.
  • There were four late-race cautions, which put Harvick in position to battle Logano for the win, but the No. 4 car fell just .276 of a second behind and had to settle for second place.

Notes:

  • Harvick’s second-place result was his best thus far in 2020. His previous best was fifth in the season-opening Daytona 500.
  • This is Harvick’s fourth straight top-10. He finished ninth in the series’ last race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.
  • Harvick earned his second top-five and fourth top-10 of the season, and his 18th top-five and 24th top-10 in 35 career NASCAR Cup Series starts at Phoenix.
  • Harvick’s 18 top-fives and 24 top-10s are the most among active drivers at Phoenix.
  • This was Harvick’s 12th top-two at Phoenix. Nine of those top-twos are victories, the most among active drivers at Phoenix.
  • This is Harvick’s second straight top-five and his 14th straight top-10 at Phoenix. He finished fifth in the series’ most recent visit to the track last November.
  • Harvick has never finished outside the top-10 at Phoenix since joining SHR in 2014. He has scored five wins during this time.
  • Harvick led four times for 67 laps to increase his laps-led total at Phoenix to 1,662, the most among active drivers.
  • Logano won the FanShield 500k to score his milestone 25th career NASCAR Cup Series victory, his second of the season and his second at Phoenix. His margin of victory over second-place Harvick was .276 of a second.
  • This was Ford’s 17th NASCAR Cup Series victory at Phoenix.
  • There were 12 caution periods for a total of 73 laps.
  • Twenty-seven of the 38 drivers in the FanShield 500k finished on the lead lap.
  • Harvick leaves Phoenix as the championship leader with a one-point advantage over second-place Logano. 

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

“He (Logano) just had control of the race. After we pitted there, I got stuck behind a couple of cars there, lost five or six spots. He got by and got control of the race. He got to restart where he wanted to. Our Jimmy John’s Ford was better, especially when we could put it in front of his. We just didn’t get the control of the race back there, and he was able to get by us on that restart where I got hung up.” 

Next Up: 

The next event on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule is the Folds of Honor 500 on Sunday, March 15, at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The race starts at 2 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by FOX and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

COLE CUSTER – 2020 Phoenix I Race Report

Event:               FanShield 500k
Series:              NASCAR Cup Series
Location:          Phoenix Raceway (1.022-mile oval)
Format:             312 laps, broken into three stages (75 laps/115 laps/122 laps)
Start/Finish:      16th/9th (Running, completed 316 of 316 laps)
Point Standing:  22th with 73 points, 91 out of first
Note:                Race extended four laps past its scheduled 312-lap distance due to a green-white-checkered finish.

Race Winner:    Joey Logano of Team Penske (Ford)
Stage 1 Winner: Kevin Harvick of Stewart-Haas Racing (Ford)
Stage 2 Winner: Brad Keselowski of Team Penske (Ford)

Stage 1 Recap (Laps 1-75):

  • Cole Custer started 16th and ended the stage 12th.
  • On lap 10, as he ran 15th, Custer reported his Haas Automation Mustang was tight.
  • During the first caution on lap 59, the California native reported his Mustang remained tight. He pitted for fuel, four tires and adjustments, then restarted 16th.
  • After a brief green flag, the caution was displayed again on lap 65. The 22-year-old stayed out on the track in the 12th position, where he ended the stage.
  • He pitted during the Stage 1 break for fuel, four tires and more adjustments to help with his Ford’s handling and returned to the track 20th after varying pit strategies.

Stage 2 Recap (Laps 76-190):

  • Custer started 20th in Stage 2 and completed it in 10th to earn one stage point.
  • On lap 92 Custer, running 18th, reported once again that his Mustang was too tight.
  • The Haas Automation driver was back in the top-15 on lap 126.
  • Under caution on lap 132, Custer pitted from 14th for fuel and four tires, then restarted 15th. Crew chief Mike Shiplett relayed to Custer that his Mustang was really good on the long run.
  • The No. 41 driver reached the top-10 on lap 158.
  • Custer came down pit road during the Stage 2 break for fuel, four tires and adjustments to help his Mustang turn in the center better.

Final Stage Recap (Laps 191-316):

  • Custer began the final stage from 13th and ended the race ninth.
  • Under caution on lap 215 the Ford driver pitted from 17th for fuel and four tires. He restarted 16th.
  • With 60 laps to go and under another caution, Custer pitted from 15th and restarted 18th.
  • With 47 laps to go, the caution was once again displayed. Shiplett made the call for Custer to stay out and restart sixth.
  • With another quick caution on lap 277, Custer pitted from 13th for four fresh tires and an adjustment.
  • He restarted 17th with 30 laps to go, and the caution came back out just after the green flag with Custer in the 14th spot.
  • The rookie driver was in the 12th spot on lap 291.
  • On the lap-304 caution, Custer was in the 13th spot and didn’t pit, which allowed him to restart ninth.
  • On the green-white-checkered attempt, the SHR driver was in the 10th position and ultimately finished ninth.

Notes:

  • Custer’s ninth-place finish was his best in seven career NASCAR Cup Series starts.
  • This was Custer’s first top-10 of the season, and it came in his first career NASCAR Cup Series start at Phoenix.
  • This is Custer’s third straight top-20. He finished 18th in the series’ last race at Auto Club Speedway.
  • Custer was the highest-finishing NASCAR Cup Series rookie in the FanShield 500k.
  • Joey Logano won the FanShield 500k to score his milestone 25th career NASCAR Cup Series victory, his second of the season and his second at Phoenix. His margin of victory over second-place Kevin Harvick was .276 of a second.
  • This was Ford’s 17th NASCAR Cup Series victory at Phoenix.
  • There were 12 caution periods for a total of 73 laps.
  • Twenty-seven of the 38 drivers in the FanShield 500k finished on the lead lap.
  • Harvick leaves Phoenix as the championship leader with a one-point advantage over second-place Logano. 

Cole Custer, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing: 

“This was a huge finish for us. It is a huge boost to have a really solid day and a fast Mustang. We overcame obstacles all weekend, and hopefully we can continue to carry that all through the year. I think we get better every single race, so it is just a matter of continuing that.” 

Next Up:

The next event on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule is the Folds of Honor 500 on Sunday, March 15, at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The race starts at 2 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by FOX and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

ARIC ALMIROLA – 2020 Phoenix I Race Report

Event: FanShield 500k
Series: NASCAR Cup Series
Location: Phoenix Raceway (1.022-mile oval)
Format: 312 laps, broken into three stages (75 laps/115 laps/122 laps)
Start/Finish: 6th/8th (Running, completed 316 of 316 laps)
Point Standing: 8th (121 points, 43 out of first)

Race Winner: Joey Logano of Team Penske (Ford)
Stage 1 Winner: Kevin Harvick of Stewart-Haas Racing (Ford)
Stage 2 Winner: Brad Keselowski of Team Penske (Ford)

Stage 1 Recap (Laps 1-75):

● Aric Almirola started sixth and finished eighth, earning three bonus points.
● The No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang joined the top-five on lap 10.
● Almirola said his Smithfield Ford was tight to the middle of the turns.
● On lap 66, he pitted for four tires, fuel and adjustments under caution.
● He restarted seventh and ran inside the top-10 before the end of the stage.
● Almirola pitted for four tires and fuel. He came off pit road 13th and was the second car on four tires.

Stage 2 Recap (Laps 75-190):

● Almirola started 13th and finished sixth, earning five bonus points.
● Almirola was caught in the middle on the restart and lost several positions.
● The No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang pitted for four fresh tires, fuel and chassis adjustments during a caution on lap 133.
● On the restart, Almirola powered the No. 10 Smithfield Ford to the low line and passed five cars to run ninth.
● He consistently gained positions and passed teammate Clint Bowyer for sixth on lap 159.
● Almirola pitted at the end of the stage for four tires, fuel and adjustments and came off pit road in seventh.

Final Stage Recap (Laps 191-316):

● Almirola started seventh and finished eighth.
● He raced the No. 10 Ford into the top-five on the restart.
● The No. 10 pitted on lap 215 for four tires and fuel and left pit road 10th after multiple drivers took two tires and gained position.
● Almirola made the pass for seventh on lap 233 and passed for sixth on lap 240.
● The caution was called on lap 252 with Almirola in sixth. He pitted under the caution period for four tires and fuel and restarted sixth.
● During a caution on lap 304, Almirola opted not to pit and restarted in eighth.
● He gained a spot before another caution was called a lap later.
● Almirola restarted in seventh for the final time and held the No. 10 Smithfield Ford inside the top-10 before crossing the finish line.

Notes:

● Almirola earned his second top-10 of the season and his sixth top-10 in 19 career NASCAR Cup Series starts at Phoenix.
● This is Almirola’s second straight top-10. He finished eighth in the series’ last race at Auto Club Speedway.
● Since joining SHR in 2018, Almirola has only finished outside the top-10 once at Phoenix.
● Joey Logano won the FanShield 500k to score his milestone 25th career NASCAR Cup Series victory, his second of the season and his second at Phoenix. His margin of victory over second-place Kevin Harvick was .276 of a second.
● This was Ford’s 17th NASCAR Cup Series victory at Phoenix.
● There were 12 caution periods for a total of 73 laps.
● Twenty-seven of the 38 drivers in the FanShield 500k finished on the lead lap.
● Harvick leaves Phoenix as the championship leader with a one-point advantage over second-place Logano.

Aric Almirola, driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:

“That was a decent day for us. We scored stage points in both stages and ran competitively. I thought after practice we were a fourth- to eighth-place car, and quite honestly that is about where we ran all day. The pit crew did a good job there the second half of the race keeping us in the game. I am proud of that. We just continue to build. We just keep knocking off these top-10s in a row after last weekend and this weekend. Then you slowly progress to trying to run in the top-five, and that is where you find yourself in position to win races. We need to continue to build on this. I am really proud of Buga (crew chief Mike Bugarewicz) and all the guys on this Smithfield team. They have been bringing some nice Ford Mustangs for me to drive the last couple of weeks.”

Next Up: 

The next event on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule is the Folds of Honor 500 on Sunday, March 15, at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The race starts at 2 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by FOX and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

COLE CUSTER – 2020 Phoenix I Race Advance

Cole Custer and the No. 41 Haas Automation Ford Mustang team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) head to Phoenix Raceway for Sunday’s FanShield 500k. Sunday’s main event marks the third and final race on the NASCAR Cup Series 2020 West Coast Swing with the previous two races being Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

This weekend’s race is of special significance because, when the Cup Series returns to the Arizona venue in November, it will be for the season finale. This is the first year Phoenix will have hosted Championship Weekend. Everything learned this weekend will become crucial for having a successful final race of the season.

SHR has fared well at the mile oval at Phoenix. Its six wins there are more than SHR has garnered at any other track. Custer’s teammate Kevin Harvick has five of those Phoenix wins while driving under the SHR banner. The young Custer leans on his veteran teammate Harvick for advice as he ventures through his Cup career. “I talk with Kevin every week prior to practice to try and get an idea of the things I need to look for around the track, things he’s found, and what he’s fought in the past,” Custer said. “He’s been a huge help, and Clint and Aric have been helpful, too.”

The 22-year-old Custer started 18th last weekend at his home track in Fontana. He battled a tight-handling Mustang before finishing 18th at the 2-mile oval.

Custer has six starts at Phoenix in the NASCAR Xfinity Series with an average starting position of 3.8 and an average finishing position of 8.3. In total, the Ford driver has two top-fives, which includes a runner-up finish last November, and five top-10s, along with six laps led in six starts. Additionally, Custer has three starts in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series at Phoenix with a best finish of fourth earned in November 2014.

“The biggest transition from the Xfinity Series to the Cup Series for me has been the feel of the cars,” Custer said. “We don’t a get a lot of time to practice, anymore. We get about two hours of practice during the weekend and that’s pretty much it. There isn’t any testing, anymore, so it’s just me trying to get acclimated the best that I can.”

En route to his career in NASCAR’s premiere series, the SHR driver made three starts at Phoenix in the NASCAR K&N West Series for Bill McAnally Racing, which resulted in two pole awards and one win during the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Custer won the February 2014 race with a .376-of-a-second margin of victory.

Haas Automation, founded in 1983 by SHR co-owner Gene Haas, 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 Oxnard manufacturing facility and distributed through a worldwide network of Haas Factory Outlets.

Even though Custer had a trio of starts in the Cup Series in 2018, 2020 officially marks his Rookie of the Year campaign in NASCAR’s most prestigious series. He’s competing with notables Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick. The three have battled against each other in the Xfinity Series and are making the full-time transition to the Cup Series together. Custer was the second-highest-finishing rookie at Fontana last weekend with his 18th-place result.

In the Cup Series at Phoenix, Ford currently has 16 victories. The season is off to a strong start for the Blue Oval with Ford holding the top two spots in all three of NASCAR’s top series.

 

Cole Custer, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:

Why do you walk pit road before the race?  

“I walk it so I don’t miss the pit box. There are so many boxes and it’s sometimes hard to see where your sign is. I do it to give me reference points and get acclimated. 

What will you do when you win your first race?

“I don’t know what I will do. It would be huge, I’m not going to lie. It would mean the world to me win but, right now, I have to take it one step at a time.”

Who were some of your favorite drivers growing up?

“They aren’t huge names, but I always liked Jason Leffler and Johnny Sauter growing up. I got to race against Johnny when I was in the Truck Series, which was pretty cool. Those guys are both hard racers.”

What are your favorite types of tracks to race on?

“I like all of the bigger, worn-out tracks. Tracks like Homestead-Miami and Chicago are pretty good to me.”

KEVIN HARVICK – 2020 Phoenix I Race Advance

The FanShield 500 will take place Sunday at Phoenix Raceway. It’s only the fourth race of the year and every driver wants to win to secure his spot in the NASCAR playoffs, which begin in September.

But let’s be honest, every driver sees this Phoenix race as preparation for the Nov. 8 championship race which, for the first time ever, will have the final four drivers competing for the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series title on the mile oval in the Arizona desert.

And no driver has been more successful at Phoenix than Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Freaky Fast Rewards Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR).

He has a series-high nine career Cup Series wins at Phoenix, including five with SHR, topping a list that shows Jimmie Johnson next-best with four, Kyle Busch with three, and Davey Allison, Jeff Burton, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Mark Martin, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin with two each.

Harvick has won seven of the last 15 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 since March 2013 and has only three finishes of 11th or worse since April 2010.

And in 2020, his season has started out strong as he has qualified and finished in the top-10 in all three races thus far. He is third in the driver points, just 12 behind leader Ryan Blaney.

Harvick is hoping to get his 10th victory at Phoenix, clinch his playoff spot and, most importantly, be good at the mile oval as he goes for the biggest prize in all of NASCAR in eight months.

 

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

The NASCAR Cup Series season finale is now Phoenix. What are your thoughts on holding that event at that venue?

“Well, I think Phoenix will do a great job. I think that’s a championship city. They’ve held national championships, they’ve held Super Bowls, they’ve held the World Series. You name it, that city has hosted it. And really, moving that championship race around is the right thing to do, in my opinion. To me, it’s more about the event than it is the race. It’s more about exposing new fans, new sponsors and just exposing new people to it and teaching them about our sport and exposing them to our sport because of the fact that we’re holding the championship race. And sometimes that’s what it takes to get people who’ve never seen a NASCAR race to the racetrack just because it’s an intriguing event that you attached a championship to. And in the end, hopefully the race is good. But I don’t really think that should matter. I think it should be all about the anticipation and hype and the build-up to the race and the things that happen in that city that will carry over for that particular market for years to come.”

How would you rate yourself at the new Phoenix? Your history there is exceptional, but it crosses over two different versions of the track. How do you feel you are with where that track is right now?

“I felt like last year, with that particular rules package, we definitely weren’t as good as we had been in the past. I think with the 2018 package, I think we were in the game. It’s been a great racetrack for us as we’ve gone through the years and a place that we go to expect a win. And I don’t see that any different, no matter what the rules package is, the expectations from our side are the same and that’s to go there and have a chance to win. And we didn’t do that last year, but the expectations didn’t change.”

What’s the most difficult thing about racing at Phoenix?

“The hardest thing about racing at Phoenix is if you get behind. It’s really easy to do there because you don’t have a lot of time to make pit stops and you have very few chances to adjust on your car to make it race better. The strategy is always tough because track position is so important. If you get behind making a four-tire call and the rest of the field takes two tires, it takes you a long time to get back to where you need to be. No matter what position you are in, it’s going to take away points or a chance to win if you get behind.”