COLE CUSTER – 2017 Bristol I Race Advance

Event:               Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 (Round 7 of 33)
Date:                 April 22, 2017
Location:          Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway
Layout:             .533-mile oval

Cole Custer Notes of Interest:

 

  • The Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 will mark Custer’s 12th career NASCAR XFINITY Series start and his first XFINITY Series start at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
  • While the Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 will be Custer’s first XFINITY Series start at Bristol, it will be his sixth overall start at the .533-mile oval. Custer has three NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts and two NASCAR K&N Pro Series starts at Bristol. Custer’s career-best Bristol finish is sixth in the 2016 Truck Series race.
  • Custer’s best race at Bristol was the 2015 Truck Series race, despite his 16th-place finish. Custer started fifth and led twice for a race-high 111 laps, holding off such veterans as Matt Crafton, Johnny Sauter and Kyle Busch. But when Custer was coming up on Spencer Gallagher to put him a lap down less than 40 laps from the finish, Gallagher spun right in front of Custer. With nowhere to go, Custer crashed into him, all but ending his race.
  • Since 2013 across nine Camping World Truck Series starts and two K&N Pro Series starts, Custer has one pole, one top-five finish, four top-10s and 226 laps led at half-mile tracks currently on the NASCAR circuit.
  • Custer’s best finish in the six XFINITY Series races run this season is fifth, earned in the sixth event April 8 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. It was his fourth top-10 and second top-five finish in 11 career XFINITY Series starts. Custer was the highest-finishing XFINITY Series regular and rookie, earning him his second Rookie of the Race award of 2017.
  • Custer is the second-highest-finishing rookie in the XFINITY Series season and is third in the Rookie of the Year standings, 27 points behind leader William Byron.
  • On April 11, Custer and Bristol Motor Speedway general manager Jerry Caldwell unveiled two new Kid Zone locations on the concourse level of turns two and four.
  • The Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 is the second of four Dash 4 Cash races on the 2017 XFINITY Series schedule. This means drivers will race for a $100,000 cash bonus. Each of the top-two full-time XFINITY Series drivers from Stage 1 and Stage 2 will become Dash 4 Cash-eligible in the final stage.
  • As a Dash 4 Cash race, no full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers with five or more years of experience are entered in the Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300. With the only NASCAR Cup Series drivers competing in the Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 being Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon, Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones, Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson, regular XFINITY Series drivers are expected to have a better chance to win.
  • Bristol Motor Speedway added a chemical compound to the inside portion of its oval surface to enhance the lower racing groove. This will mark the second year Bristol has applied the chemical to improve grip on the bottom of the racetrack.

 

Cole Custer, Driver Q&A 

After being the highest-placing XFINITY Series regular in the series’ last race at Texas, do you feel you and your team have built momentum going into Bristol?

“Absolutely. We had a quick car in Texas and I think our Haas Automation Ford Mustang will be fast in Bristol. We have a smart program with a lot of great people.”

 

Are you a fan of the new bottom groove at Bristol?

“I was sad when they put it down last year because I felt like I figured out the top groove really well the year before, but it’s a new challenge that we’ll have to adapt to. Hopefully, I can learn how to run the car down there. The bottom groove will take Bristol back to what it used to be back in the day, so that’s actually pretty cool.”

 

How will the Dash 4 Cash play into your race strategy?

“Drivers are probably going to put a lot of focus on the stage points and placing in the top-two at the end of the stages. It will definitely affect our strategy going in, but our ultimate goal is to just stay up front at the end of each stage.”

 

What does it take to be successful at Bristol?

“You definitely need some speed, and the main thing is that you just have to stay out of trouble, which is hard to do because you’re going so fast. Having a good car going in is crucial to performing well at Bristol.”

 

Why do you like racing at Bristol?

“It’s something completely different than what we’re used to. There’s so much banking – it’s a concrete track and the grooves usually move around a bit. It’s something that’s unique and hard to figure out but, once you figure it out, it’s really rewarding. It’s one of the coolest places we go. Some of the characteristics from the local short tracks I grew up on apply at Bristol. It’s really quick and you don’t have to deal with as much dirty air, but it’s definitely hard to get used to the high banks and the large amount of rubber buildup. “

 

Jeff Meendering, Crew Chief Q&A

 

What is your plan for a successful race at Bristol?

“Cole’s been great at short tracks his whole career. I like the idea of the bottom groove so the track has more options for passing. I think Cole’s going to excel at Bristol. We’re going to lean on our Cup guys some and see what has worked for them in the past. It’s not a superfast track, so it’s not as aero-dependent. The difference in aero balance between the XFINITY and Cup cars doesn’t really show up on that track, so you can really use their setups more at Bristol than at an intermediate track.”

 

What do you think about Bristol being a Dash 4 Cash race and how will that play into your strategy during the race?

“Our downfall in Phoenix was that we didn’t qualify well and that’s going to be really important for the Dash 4 Cash races. We have to put in a good qualifying effort to have a shot at it. There are not enough laps to get in those positions to run for a win when you’re toward the back.”

DANICA PATRICK – 2017 Bristol I Race Advance

Following the first off weekend of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, Danica Patrick and the No. 10 Mobil 1 Annual Protection Ford Fusion team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) head to Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway for Sunday’s Food City 500.

As Patrick enters the weekend with only one top-20 result to her credit thus far, she and the No. 10 Mobil 1 Annual Protection Ford team will be looking to revisit their past success in the annual spring race at the .533-mile oval.

While Patrick’s overall record at Bristol has proven how challenging it is to race there, her best finishes at the track have been in her first trip to the “Last Great Colosseum” each season. In Patrick’s nine NASCAR Cup Series starts at Bristol, her average finish is 23.7, while her average result in the spring race is 20.5. That average includes one top-10 finish and two top-20s.

In April 2014, Patrick earned an 18th-place finish in the Food City 500, which marked her first top-20 result at the short track.

The following spring, she started 26th and overcame a number of hurdles during the race to score a ninth-place finish. That effort marked the sixth top-10 of her career and set the record for the most top-10 finishes by a female in NASCAR Cup Series competition.

When Patrick gets to Bristol this weekend, her No. 10 Ford will sport the colors of Mobil 1 Annual Protection, which is part of ExxonMobil’s new high-performance, low-environmental-impact product line that provides exceptional performance benefits and convenience. Mobil 1 Annual Protection helps to safely reduce the amount of used oil generated through regular oil changes. More than 2 billion quarts of oil would be saved each year if every driver in the United States switched to Mobil 1 Annual Protection.

With a fresh new Mobil 1 Annual Protection paint scheme, Patrick and the No. 10 team will be ready to “spring” into action at Bristol and try to score another top-20 result.

 

DANICA PATRICK, Driver of the No. 10 Mobil 1 Annual Protection Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:

 

What are your overall thoughts heading into Bristol?

“I’ve liked Bristol since I went there the first time. I remember when I set foot onto that track – it was the day before, it was load-in day and I looked out there and you’re standing on the straightaway, but it sure seems like a corner. It’s a very cool track and a spectacle for the fans. I feel like that is always the one that everyone says, ‘I want to come see a Bristol race.’ It’s always entertaining there for the fans and, hopefully, we can put on another good show for them this weekend.”

 How aggressive do you have to be?

“Every single one of us is going to go as absolutely hard as possible. There’s never a plan to back off or go easy or anything like that, other than if you are saving fuel out there on a strategy at the end of the race. You always go as fast as you can, all the time.”

There’s always a lot of beating and banging on short tracks. What’s acceptable and what isn’t?

“Well, I believe that, on a short track – any track – that you need to get next to them. I mean, I think you have to be able to get runs and get inside. Now, if they cut you off more than once or twice, then you start just putting a bumper to them and taking the air off the spoiler and you just have to make them understand that you know you’ve been patient and that you aren’t going to be patient anymore.”

How grueling is 500 laps at Bristol?

“It’s fine. I think it is a little daunting to say 500 laps, but there are a lot of times we do 500 laps, or 500 miles, and this is just one of them. I feel like, no matter what happens – whether it’s a 400-mile race or a 500-lap race – you find your rhythm. Time goes by fast sometimes, and then sometimes it’s slow. All I hope is the car has a good balance because, when it doesn’t, that’s when the laps seem wrong. If we can just get into a rhythm, find ourselves in a good spot and have a consistent car throughout the race, then the time does go pretty quickly, usually.”

Fans come to Bristol and typically expect a lot of beating and banging. Do you like that kind of racing?

“Yes, I enjoy it. I mean, I don’t mind some beating and banging out there. I don’t mind pushing your way around a little bit. It just happens. It’s just the nature of short tracks when you’re running really close to one another. You put 40 cars out on a track the size of Bristol and you’re filling up a lot of the track. The short tracks are conducive to close racing since aerodynamics don’t come into play quite as much.”

KURT BUSCH – 2017 Bristol I Race Advance

When Kurt Busch takes to the track at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway for Sunday’s Food City 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, his No. 41 Ford Fusion will sport a bit of a different look as Haas Automation, the largest CNC (computer numerically controlled) machine-tool builder in North America, will highlight Demo Day 2017 that will be held May 10 at local Haas Factory Outlets (HFOs) nationwide.

The annual event provides HFOs an opportunity to feature the latest CNC machines, innovations, and technology from Haas Automation. Showcased will be machine-cutting demonstrations and educational seminars to explain how the latest Haas machines and options can help make current Haas users, potential customers, and anyone in the manufacturing industry learn how the latest Haas machines can help a business be more productive, efficient, and profitable.

Fittingly, Busch will begin his promotion of Demo Days at one of the smallest racetracks on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series tour, where races tend to include numerous accidents and have, at times, resembled a different kind of demo day. It’s been one of the best tracks on the circuit for the veteran driver over his career, having won there five times. But it’s also been a place that has seen Busch struggle to reclaim some of his past successes in his return trips.

Busch earned his first career NASCAR Cup Series win at Bristol in March 2002. It came in only his third outing there, making him the driver with the fewest starts at “Thunder Valley” to record his first win at the high-banked, concrete oval.

But his Bristol success didn’t stop there. He went on to win in three of his next four visits by sweeping both the March and August Cup Series races in 2003, and winning again in March 2004.

His incredible three-race win streak made him one of just four drivers to have accomplished the feat at Thunder Valley. Fred Lorenzen was the first, winning the fall race in 1963 and following that with a season sweep in 1964. Cale Yarborough is the second driver to record three straight wins – and he added a fourth for good measure – sweeping both the 1976 and 1977 seasons. Darrell Waltrip became the third to win three or more races in a row when he reeled off seven consecutive wins, sweeping the 1981, 1982 and 1983 seasons, and also winning the spring race in 1984.

Busch’s most recent win at Bristol came in March 2006 and he’s had runs since that could have given him his sixth victory there, but circumstances have prevented him from sealing the deal. In fact, since joining Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014, Busch has found himself on more than one occasion in position to return to his winning ways at Bristol.

In the 2015 running of the Food City 500, Busch led six times for 98 laps. But when the caution flag flew for a five-car incident on lap 482, Busch headed for pit road while most of the others up front at that point in the race did not. Busch restarted sixth but, barely a dozen laps later, was collected in a multicar accident.

In his most-recent Bristol start, Busch lined up second for a lap-372 restart. Coming off turn two, he passed Joey Logano for the lead. However, Busch got loose in front of Logano, and contact between the two set off an 11-car incident that would see the 2004 NASCAR Cup Series champion’s race end early.

Busch heads to Thunder Valley looking to return to the form to which he is so accustomed. Despite a string of bad luck since winning this year’s season-opening Daytona 500, Busch and his No. 41 team have scored three top-10 finishes in the first seven races. Their goals remain the same – scoring another early season victory, accumulating playoff points and returning to victory lane at Bristol.

 

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

 

There’s always beating and banging at a short track. What’s acceptable and what isn’t?  

“It depends on who it is. It depends what’s on the line, what time of the race it is. We’ll see. With these new segments this year, you might throw a door ding in there, a donut on somebody trying to get a stage win. But then, you can’t risk too much and you don’t want damage for the rest of the race that will hurt you long term. So, it’s a balance. But, honestly, it’s good old short-track racing. There should be no problem in it.”

 

If you inadvertently get into someone, do you try to right that wrong so it doesn’t come back and bite you later?  

“Again, it depends upon the circumstances, but, yes. Usually you’re trying to keep your eye on the main prize, which is victory lane at the end of the day. If you have a run-in early in the race, that guy is going to be trying to find you, or you’re looking over your shoulder. If somebody did me wrong, you’re going to be after that guy. But there are still bigger prizes out there.”

 

Talk a little bit about returning to Bristol this weekend driving an SHR-prepared Ford Fusion.

“To me, getting around Bristol is all about low-end torque and being able to jump out of the corner with a lot of speed. Doug Yates (engine builder) seems to have the right package for that at Bristol. Joey Logano has won a couple of races there recently. Brad Keselowski has been strong, as well. The Roush cars seem to run well every time we go there.”

KEVIN HARVICK – 2017 Bristol I Race Advance

As the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to the high-banks of Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway for Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Food City 500, Kevin Harvick will be looking to capture his second straight Cup Series win at Bristol and his second consecutive top-five finish of 2017.

The driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Fusion scored his first NASCAR Cup Series top-five finish of 2017 on April 9 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. He took Jimmy John’s “Freaky Fast” motto and put it to the test early in the weekend when he captured the pole position with a lap of 27.217 seconds at 198.405 mph in the third round of knockout qualifying to score his second pole of 2017. He followed that up by leading 77 laps on Sunday afternoon en route to a fourth-place finish in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500.

It also helps that Harvick is no stranger to victory lane at Bristol. In fact, he has won there in each of NASCAR’s three touring series.

The 2014 NASCAR Cup champion has two wins at Bristol in NASCAR’s top series. In addition to his win at Bristol in August 2016, he scored his first win at the .533-mile oval in April 2005, when he started 13th and led 109 of 500 laps and beat Elliott Sadler to the finish line by 4.652 seconds. He has five NASCAR Xfinity Series wins there with his most recent coming in March 2009, when he started 13th and led 46 laps to beat runner-up Carl Edwards by .798 of a second. He also visited Bristol’s victory lane in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in August 2011, when he started sixth, led 103 of 200 laps and beat Johnny Sauter by .434 of a second.

Harvick would like to add his first NASCAR Cup Series win of the year at Bristol on Sunday afternoon.

The best news for Harvick coming into this weekend may be crew chief Rodney Childers’ record at the .533-mile bullring. He’s led four different NASCAR Cup Series drivers to top-five finishes at Bristol. In addition to Harvick’s NASCAR Cup Series win in August 2016, Childers has led Scott Riggs, David Reutimann and Brian Vickers to top-five finishes at the track affectionately known as “Thunder Valley.” Childers led Riggs to a fourth-place finish in August 2006 while both worked for Evernham Motorsports. While at Michael Waltrip Racing, Childers led Reutimann to a runner-up finish in August 2010 and Brian Vickers to a fifth-place finish in March 2012, as well as fourth-place finishes in August 2012 and 2013.

Seven races into 2017, Harvick is ranked 10th in the championship driver standings with 198 points. While he has continued to show speed, the team has struggled to find the consistent finishes it has to start the previous three seasons. Since joining SHR prior to the start of the 2014 season, Harvick has never gone to Bristol Motor Speedway in April without a win to his credit. The string of tough luck has included a pit-road speeding penalty at Atlanta that cost the No. 4 team a win; a cut tire at Las Vegas resulting in a 38th-place finish; and a damaged nose coming to the green flag at the start of the race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, followed by a cut tire in the same race, which forced Harvick to battle back from two laps down to finish 13th.

Harvick and the No. 4 Jimmy John’s team hope to make it two straight on Sunday afternoon at Bristol – a second straight NASCAR Cup Series win at the “World’s Fastest Half Mile,” and a second straight top-five finish to build momentum for a charge towards the NASCAR playoffs.

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

 

What did you take away from your win last August at Bristol?

“For me, I was excited that you were able to use the bottom of the racetrack, and the lap cars had an option. You just didn’t get pinned up high. Really just want to applaud the racetrack for the effort that they made to really get that bottom groove working so that we had multiple grooves of racing, and I think as a driver you had a lot of options to make your car work and maneuver through traffic and make up positions. We started 24th and pretty much drove through the field because of that.”

What did you think of Bristol Motor Speedway adding VHT resin to the racetrack last year to make the racing groove better?

“Taking a chance like that, it could have been a complete disaster, but everybody was all in on trying to make the racing better. The SMI group has a little bit of an advantage on everybody else when it comes to those types of situations with their drag race side of things and the VHT and how to apply those things. How to rubber it in with all their concrete launch pads, so they had a pretty good insight on what they needed to do to the bottom after the driver council and NASCAR got together and told them what we thought we needed to do to try to make better racing at Bristol. So they were all in. This is just a classic example of collaboration between SMI, NASCAR and the driver council and seeing the outcome of it was pretty exciting, just because of the fact it does open up options. I think it definitely has opened everybody’s eyes to saying, all right, that worked pretty darned good because the last few years we’d been there, you get on the bottom of the racetrack and you are three or four tenths slower. Now you could hold your ground and get past lapped cars. It gave everybody an option to do something different, and as a driver, that’s what you want. You want options.”

Do you consider yourself a short-track specialist?

“I think we’ve had success on short tracks in the past. It’s really just a matter putting a weekend together. It’s really no different than any other racetrack. This business is hard to be successful at and sometimes you go through years where short tracks are good and some years not so good. Some years longer tracks are good and some are not so good. It’s really just about putting together a whole weekend. It all starts with practice on Friday and trying to qualify well. I enjoy the short tracks because we don’t get to go to quite as many as I think we’d all like.”

CLINT BOWYER – 2017 Bristol I Race Advance

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series visits Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway Sunday for the Food City 500 – one of its most popular stops on the circuit.

History has proven that jamming 40 drivers and cars on a .533-mile, high-banked oval with lap speeds at 130 mph leads to an exciting show for race fans and television viewers. It’s the type of short-track racing Stewart-Haas Racing’s (SHR) No. 14 Haas Automation Ford driver Clint Bowyer prefers as a driver and as someone who has long been a NASCAR fan.

“You would have to really sell hard for me not to believe that short-track racing is our best product,” Bowyer said. “It just is, and the reason I say that is because it’s so much fun, so demanding inside the car. The workload is through the roof for the driver and the excitement is there for the fans.”

One of the by-products of short-track racing is the short tempers it often exposes among the competitors. Bowyer admits, during his 404 NASCAR Cup Series starts, he has been on both sides of arguments with fellow drivers when tempers boil over on short tracks. He says each driver is prepared to accept some beating and banging during the race, but the line of what is appropriate racing conduct can be blurry at times.

In fact, that line usually depends on the outcome.

“There’s nothing acceptable on a racetrack if you’re on the losing, short end of that stick,” Bowyer said with a laugh.

Bowyer said when you cross that line with another driver, then it’s up to you to fix it any way you can, even if there isn’t much hope for forgiveness.

“If you wrong somebody on any racetrack, you try your best to right that wrong immediately,” he said. “First thing, you push that push-to-talk button and have your spotter go down there and take the butt-chewing for you and apologize on your behalf. But that doesn’t work. You just hope that if something happens, he’s not going to be able to get it fixed and get back out there and repay you before you have a chance for him to think about it and get over it, maybe, until next week.”

Often more steps are required.

“You try to reach out to him and do all the cheesy stuff you hear us talk about,” he said. “You know that he doesn’t care, doesn’t want to talk to you. The hardest part is calling to apologize to somebody on a Monday morning, knowing damn well he either isn’t going to answer you or could care less what you say. He just really wants to punch you in the face and get it over with.”

Bowyer hopes after 500 laps around Bristol Sunday afternoon, he’ll be holding the winner’s trophy in victory lane instead of worrying about making or taking apology phone calls. He has raced well at Bristol in his career, posting six top-five finishes and 10 top-10s while leading 137 laps in his 22 races.

He and his SHR team arrive in Tennessee on a hot streak. The No. 14 Ford has posted six consecutive top-13 finishes and climbed to ninth in the standings. This season, Bowyer replaced three-time champion Tony Stewart, who retired from NASCAR competition.

Bowyer said he appreciates the early success his new team has enjoyed, but quickly points out there is room for improvement.

“There is nothing in this sport at this level that comes easy,” Bowyer said. “It doesn’t matter the racetrack or circumstances, it is always hard because there is always the next guy working every bit as hard to accomplish the same goal.”

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

 

What do you think about Stewart-Haas Racing after seven races in 2017?

“This is an opportunity that doesn’t come along very often, whether it was my first opportunity in this sport or my last, to drive for this manufacturer, Ford, and the support they are giving us – everyone at Stewart-Haas, the management and sponsors and my teammates. You don’t put enough emphasis on the impact a good teammate can have on you. Drivers capable of winning races and championships. I have two championship-winning drivers (Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch) as teammates. Danica (Patrick), everything she brings for our entire sport, let alone the company. This is the opportunity you are giddy about no matter where you are at in your career.”

Why do you like short-track racing?

“You’re really wheeling that thing, trying to keep the grip under your tires, forward bite. Trying to keep the thing turning. Fighting the balance of the cars. Fighting your crew chief all race long because you’re whining in the car, and he is tired of hearing you whine. But all those things come together to win that race and be successful.”

KEVIN HARVICK – 2017 Texas I XFINITY Race Advance

Event:             My Bariatric Solutions 300
Date:               Saturday, April 8, 2017
Location:        Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth
Layout:           1.5-mile oval

Kevin Harvick Notes of Interest.

  • Hunt Brothers Pizza makes its 2017 debut with Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) as a primary sponsor with driver Kevin Harvick.
  • Harvick is making his second of five scheduled XFINITY Series starts in the No. 41 Ford Mustang for SHR in 2017.
  • He scored a fourth-place finish at Atlanta in his first XFINITY Series start of 2017.
  • Harvick has five XFINITY Series wins, a pole, 10 top-five finishes, 16 top-10s and 779 laps led in 20 career NASCAR XFINITY Series starts at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.
  • His five wins came in March 2001, and November 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2012.
  • His lone XFINITY Series pole at Texas came in April 2014, when he recorded a speed of 184.963 mph.
  • He has scored nine consecutive XFINITY Series top-10 finishes at Texas, including six top-fives.
  • His XFINITY Series career includes 46 wins, 179 top-five finishes, 251 top-10s, 25 poles and 9,386 laps led in 336 starts.
  • Harvick will be joined Saturday by SHR teammate Cole Custer in the No. 00 Haas Automation Ford Mustang at Texas.

 

Kevin Harvick, Driver No. 41 Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford Mustang

 

You have been very successful in the XFINITY Series at Texas. What is the biggest difference between the two series?

“I just don’t think we’ve ever had a whole day come together for whatever reason at Texas on the Cup Series side. We’ve had good runs there in the past but just haven’t gotten to victory lane. When you look at the XFINITY Series and Truck Series as owners and driver, we’ve been to victory lane a lot there. So, that is kind of the running joke with Eddie Gossage (Texas Motor Speedway track president) – victory lane is open after Cup Series races, too? We just have to figure out how to get in there.”

What is your outlook for the XFINITY race this weekend at Texas?

“Texas Motor Speedway is a track I always look forward to racing at just for the fact that I’ve had success there in the XFINITY Series. We were strong on the mile-and-a-half program earlier this season at Atlanta Motor Speedway in our first trip out in the No. 41 Ford Mustang. There are a lot of unknowns with the new track surface at Texas, but I look forward to getting out there and racing the Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford Mustang for a win. I know Richard (Boswell, crew chief) and the guys have been working really hard to get our XFINITY program at SHR up and running, and I look forward to seeing what we’re going to have this weekend in Texas.”

 

Richard Boswell, Crew Chief No. 41 Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford Mustang

 

Atlanta Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway couldn’t be more different in terms of old versus new surface. Are you able to take anything you learned at Atlanta and have it translate to Texas?

“I think the mechanical side of things still works. It’s just a matter of the difference in what the tires are going to be, cycle-wise, and whether or not they need to be run on stickers or scuffs. The biggest difference from Atlanta, I think, is just the way they restructured the track in turns one and two. They took some of the banking out, and widening out the groove will probably be the most challenging part.”

What were you able to take away from your first race with Kevin at Atlanta?

“That he is a pretty incredible racecar driver. (Laughs). I think just knowing he is the type of guy that you can trust without having any concern at all. He knows these cars and knows what he needs to go fast. His feedback is so awesome that it makes our job so much easier.”

How has this team come together over the last couple weeks?

“Everybody has done an awesome job. Everyone has worked hard and worked together from the No. 00 to the No. 41. From our side, it’s just one team. We’ve all worked really well together. Jeff Meendering and all his guys have been great. They keep us up to date on how they are inspecting cars and stuff like that. I feel like we’ve been at every race, even though we haven’t. Obviously, there’ll be some things that we as a team have to catch up on. We are basically four races behind the way I see it versus those guys who have been going to the track, so that makes it a little more difficult. We have some really great guys, so I’m not really that concerned.”

KEVIN HARVICK – 2017 Texas I Race Advance

The most important number for Kevin Harvick heading into Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth is his number of trips to victory lane in the Cup Series at the 1.5-mile oval – zero.

The driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) is still looking for his first NASCAR Cup Series win there even though he has had success there in both the NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

Harvick has five wins and two poles at Texas in the Xfinity Series. He’s also scored 10 top-five finishes, 16 top-10s and led 779 laps. He has an average starting position of 7.0 and finish of 7.5.

In the Truck Series, Harvick has one Texas victory, which came in 2011. He also has two top-fives and led 64 laps in four starts.

In 28 NASCAR Cup Series starts at Texas, Harvick has six top-five finishes and 16 top-10s with an average finish of 12.0.

While he is still chasing that elusive Cup Series win at Texas, Harvick’s recent starts there show he may be close to finally breaking through. He has finished in the top-10 in eight of his last 10 races at Texas, including five straight dating back to November 2014, and he’s led 110 laps in his last five starts.

What should make Texas even more challenging this time around is the new surface on the 1.5-mile tri-oval. Since the series last visited the speedway in Fort Worth, the track laid an entirely new asphalt surface that no drivers or teams have had the opportunity to test. The one constant with most repaved racetracks in recent history is that the racing typically changes significantly.

Six races into 2017, Harvick is ranked 10th in the championship driver standings with 154 points, but has struggled to find the finishes he has over the previous three seasons to start the season. Since joining SHR prior to the start of the 2014 season, Harvick has never gone to Texas Motor Speedway in April without a win to his credit. The string of tough luck has included a pit-road speeding penalty at Atlanta that cost the No. 4 team a win; a cut tire at Las Vegas resulting in a 38th-place finish; and a damaged nose coming to the green flag at the start of the race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, followed by a cut tire in the same race, which forced Harvick to battle back from two laps down to finish 13th.

The No. 4 team also had to work without veteran crew chief Rodney Childers last weekend at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway as he was serving a one-race penalty for an infraction discovered after the race at Phoenix.

Harvick and the No. 4 team are hoping their luck changes Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway and he can win a brand new cowboy hat and, most importantly, add one more racetrack to his list of NASCAR Cup Series victory lane appearances.

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

 Normally you have a test or some helpful information before heading to a newly resurfaced racetrack for the first time. Does it feel like you’re going in blind this weekend at Texas?

“It does feel like we’re going in somewhat blind. I think there might be some rough data, maybe, and some video of people driving pace cars around the racetrack, but it’s going to be a unique weekend just for the fact that the track is different in turns one and two. Eddie Gossage spent a lot of time talking to the drivers and really trying to figure out what they could do to make their racetrack better since they were going to have to repave it. Texas was at a point where they were going to repave it because they basically just had a big sponge. They couldn’t get the water out of the ground in the asphalt and they had to repave their track. Turns one and two are much wider with a little bit less banking. The hope is that we’ll be able to carry a little more speed in there and have to use some brakes to slow the cars down. Turns three and four are virtually the same. They put a lot of thought into making things different. But, we’re just showing up at the racetrack and having two hours of practice basically for the Cup cars and then a couple Xfinity practices before jumping in the car to qualify. It’s going to be very unique because, usually, we have an open day of testing in these situations. I think it’s going to be a great challenge. It’s like going to the roller-coaster park and getting on a roller coaster that scares you to death the first time. There’s nothing like going out there and getting scared to death, sliding around trying to figure out where you’re going. There’s a lot more to think about than normal.”

Does running both the Xfinity and Cup races at Texas work as a benefit for you?

“I think the progression throughout the weekend is definitely going to feed off both cars. This is the second race that I get to drive the No. 41 Xfinity car. It’s the first weekend that we’ve got Hunt Brothers Pizza with their four races on the Xfinity car this year. When we picked Texas, it was just a racetrack I like to race at and a market they wanted to be in. Little did we know it was going to be part of a repave and now it’s part of this weekend. It’s really going to be beneficial for me to see how the racetrack evolves and progresses throughout the weekend. To get a race underneath my belt on Saturday before we have to get in the car on Sunday is something where you can take a lot of information from the same tires and same air pressures. Just from the driver’s standpoint, to see where to drive on the racetrack is going to be very beneficial.”

CLINT BOWYER – 2017 Texas I Race Advance

No. 14 Haas Automation Ford driver for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) Clint Bowyer has enjoyed his fair share of success over 22 races in his career at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. The Emporia, Kansas native has led 85 laps on his way to three top-five finishes and 10 top-10s on the 1.5-mile oval.

Through that experience, it would be expected he knows well the secrets to success in Texas that he’ll apply once again to Sunday’s 500-mile Monster Energy NASCAR Cup race.

But that’s not the case. Just ask Bowyer.

“Whatever has been the key to success is Texas is probably the opposite of what you will want to do this weekend,” Bowyer said with a laugh. “It’s literally a whole new ballgame.”

That’s because a dramatically different racetrack will greet Bowyer and the NASCAR Cup Series drivers when they begin practice Friday.

The track and pit lane underwent a complete repave since the series last visited in November, and turns one and two were re-profiled, altering the configuration of the oval after its second full repave since it opened in 1997. The first time occurred in the summer of 2001 as the speedway had the racing surface repaved with a granite-based asphalt compound from the original limestone-based asphalt.

All racecar drivers dread repaved racetracks. It dramatically increases grip, which usually limits racing to a single groove that makes passing difficult.

“I’m not a fan of repaves,” Bowyer said. “It’s disappointing for everybody, including the tracks, but it was time. Tracks are like a bottle of wine in that they age really well. But, at some point, you pop the cork and drink the wine. After you drink it, the bottle is empty and it’s time for something new.”

One of the reasons for the Texas repaving project was the result of unusually lengthy rain delays that plagued all three NASCAR and IndyCar Series race weekends last year. The aging racing surface made it difficult to dry the track in a timely fashion.

Bowyer applauded Texas track officials.

“I remember being down there last year and thinking we might not get a chance to race on this track,” he said. “They kept pumping, but the water kept seeping up through the cracks and crevices in the racetrack. You can’t have that. You can’t have fans camped out in the infield waiting on something to happen while the sun is out and we can’t get on the track.”

The re-profiling of the speedway reduced the banking in turns one and two by four degrees, decreasing it to 20 degrees. That change added additional racing surface with the width expanding from 60 to 80 feet in that section of the track. The result is a more unique and challenging layout than the previous symmetrical layout of 24 degrees in each turn and racing surface width of 60 feet in those turns.

The changes will prompt a new strategy for Bowyer and his crew chief Mike Bugarewicz-led team that arrives at Texas eighth in the standings as it rides a streak of five consecutive top-13 finishes, including three top-10s.

“In years past, it’s been tire management and finding a groove where you can work, but I really do think that will be all thrown out the window,” Bowyer said. “Now, you will probably need to find the shortest way around the track, which means riding around the bottom will be the fastest way around.”

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

 

What are the new secrets to success on the newly repaved Texas Motor Speedway? 

“For Texas it’s all about having the sheer speed. On those 1.5-mile tracks, you have to have a car that unloads fast. You can be a little bit tight or a little bit loose but, if that car isn’t making grip, making downforce and having the speed on the racetrack, then you are going to struggle. Unloading a fast hot rod right off the truck is going to be so important because you are going to have to qualify well and have that track position to be a contender.”

DANICA PATRICK – 2017 Texas I Race Advance

While Danica Patrick is more closely associated with her performance at tracks like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, the driver of the No. 10 TaxAct Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) has far more experience at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, the site of Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race. However, all of her experience has been marginalized by recent changes at the 1.5-mile oval.

Of all the tracks where the NASCAR Cup Series competes, Patrick has the most starts at Texas, having driven in 21 major-league races – nine in the Cup Series, four in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and eight in the IndyCar Series.

Patrick’s career-best NASCAR Cup Series result at Texas is 16th, a mark she earned at both events there in 2015. In her four Xfinity Series races at Texas, Patrick has three top-15 finishes, including an eighth-place result in April 2012. In Patrick’s eight IndyCar Series starts at the track, she has five top-10s, including a third-place result in June 2007 and a second-place finish in June 2010.

While Patrick enters Sunday’s race with considerable experience at Texas Motor Speedway, it all goes for naught as the Cup Series returns to the track this weekend. In January, track officials announced an extensive capital improvement project that included a complete repave of the 1.5-mile track surface and pit lane, along with a reconfiguration of the banking in turns one and two from 24 to 20 degrees. The project also added additional racing surface in turns one and two with the width expanding from 60 to 80 feet in that section of the track. The effort marked the second full repave since Texas Motor Speedway made its NASCAR debut in 1997, and the first since the summer of 2001.

The resurfacing project was just completed last month, so NASCAR Cup Series teams will first run laps on the new layout when drivers head out for Friday morning’s practice session at Texas. Patrick and the No. 10 TaxAct Ford team will look to capitalize on the extended practice session NASCAR has given teams Friday to get acquainted with the new track configuration and learn as much as they can for Sunday’s race.

As this is the final race weekend before the filing deadline to submit 2016 tax returns on April 18, TaxAct is offering its “Premium Finish” promotion this weekend at Texas. If Patrick or any member of the SHR team secures a top-10 finish in Sunday’s race at Texas, NASCAR fans can file their 2016 federal and state tax returns using the TaxAct Online Premium Bundle for only $10 – it’s currently priced at $85. This gives filers access to the federal and state forms needed to complete their TaxAct Online return no matter how complex their tax situation, all in, for $10, with offer and pricing subject to change.

If an SHR driver does not finish in the top-10, NASCAR fans can take advantage of a $10 discount off of their federal return when they use TaxAct Online Plus or Premium Editions. Filers can lock in their “Premium Finish” price online by visiting TaxAct.com/Ten and the applicable discounted pricing offer is available through April 15. With TaxAct’s Price Lock Guarantee, filers are guaranteed to pay the price offered for its online products at the time they register, no matter when they choose to file.

As NASCAR Cup Series teams head to Texas, Patrick and her No. 10 TaxAct Ford team look to conquer the new track surface and get a “Premium Finish” in Sunday’s race.

DANICA PATRICK, Driver of the No. 10 TaxAct Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:

 

Talk about racing at Texas Motor Speedway.

“I’ve always liked racing at Texas. I first competed there in the IndyCar Series in 2005 and they always put on a great show for the fans. Texas is a really nice facility. The track has been repaved since we were there in the fall, so I’m glad they’re giving us extra practice time Friday to get a handle on the new track surface.”

 

You have a lot of experience at Texas and you seem to really enjoy racing there. Why is that?

“I think, more than anything with Texas, it’s the fact it’s a really high-banked, fast track and those are the kinds of tracks I’ve liked the most. I feel that load in the corner and you’re able to carry so much speed through there because of that banking. I feel like it translates more to a feeling I was familiar with from Indy cars, so I like going to Texas.”

KURT BUSCH – 2017 Texas I Race Advance

Typically when a racetrack undergoes a repave or reconfiguration, officials from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will schedule an organizational test to give race teams the opportunity to gather information that will be used for the upcoming race.

Typically.

Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth underwent a complete repave and reconfiguration of its 1.5-mile oval that annually plays host to a pair of NASCAR Cup Series races, a process that began in January. The project featured a four-degree reduction of the banking in turns one and two to 20 degrees, and a 20-foot widening of the racing surface to 80 feet in those turns in an effort to create more passing opportunities.

It’s the second full repave since Texas Motor Speedway made its NASCAR debut in 1997, and the first since the summer of 2001. But the timing of this repave, which came during the winter between NASCAR’s November race and Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500, meant that the project schedule was so tight that it didn’t leave time to hold a test session.

When an organizational test session is held, teams are permitted to run data-capturing equipment on their racecars that is not allowed during race weekends. Engineers are able to dissect aerodynamic data, engine data, miscellaneous mechanical data, tire data and more. That data is shared amongst the teams in-house, but is also implemented in simulators.

Simulation programs are used to help determine which setups to bring to the racetrack each week. Ford Performance, Stewart-Haas Racing’s (SHR) manufacturer partner, took that idea and ramped it up when it opened its Technical Support Center in Concord, North Carolina three years ago. Ford Racing teams are able to access a full-motion platform simulator that allows them to optimize their setups for individual track configurations, and for drivers to practice driving a track ahead of an upcoming race weekend. But, in order to gather the data needed for the simulator, track mapping and accurate tire data needs to be accessible.

So, this weekend, Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford Fusion for SHR, and the rest of the NASCAR Cup Series drivers will head into the weekend facing a great unknown. Their first laps on the track will be just that.

Fortunately for Busch, the last time he faced a situation like this was at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta just last year. The racetrack was repaved, underwent banking changes in turns one and two and a reduction in the racing surface in those turns. While there was enough time to hold a two-day organizational test, he was not among the drivers who participated. However, Busch was able to score a top-five finish in that race, his first at the 1.5 mile speedway, and in doing so earned top-five finishes at each of the active racetracks on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule.

Since opening 2017 by winning the Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, Busch and his No. 41 team have struggled. They’ve been challenged by mechanical and handling issues alike. So as they head to Texas this weekend not knowing what they’ll face, they’ll hope to experience a similar result to the last time they were in this situation. And they’ll do it at a track where Busch knows how to get the job done.

Busch is a former winner at Texas, having visited victory lane during the track’s November race in 2009. He started that race third and led 89 laps en route to the win. In 28 career starts at Texas, Busch has finished in the top-10 a total of 15 times, including a ninth-place finish in this race last year. Busch hopes this is the weekend he’ll be able to bring home his second Texas win in NASCAR’s top series and get his 2017 season back on track. 

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

 

Talk about heading to Texas Motor Speedway this weekend with the unknowns that you will face. 

“I think the trend in NASCAR is to keep all of us on our toes as much as possible, it seems like. Practice sessions here and there, moving things to the next day as a result of weather. To head into Texas with no formal tire test, no official track mapping, let ’er rip. This is new territory for our sport. I think it shows how much we’re having to adapt on the fly. Is it a good thing? A bad thing? It doesn’t matter. It’s what it is, and it’s unique the way we’re headed in there to go 215 mph with no track time.”