KURT BUSCH – 2017 Martinsville II Race Advance

While the weather is cooling down as the fall season is in full swing, Kurt Busch is getting hot on track as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Martinsville (Va.) Speedway this weekend.

Last week at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Busch finished just 2.248 seconds behind race-winner Martin Truex Jr., to finish an impressive second. It was Busch’s sixth top-five of 2017 and his best finish since he won the Daytona 500 to start the year.

Busch now looks to Martinsville, were he will drive the No. 41 State Water Heaters Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR). It’s a different look for the No. 41 Ford this week, but State has long been associated with NASCAR and SHR.

In 1946, State Water Heaters was founded by Herbert Lindahl, Sr., as a small entrepreneurial company in a garage in Nashville, Tennessee producing coal- and wood-burning stoves. By 1948, one year before Red Byron won the very first NASCAR race at Martinsville, the company produced its first water heater.

In the years that followed, State expanded and became a leader in the water heating industry through steadfast commitments to seeking new materials, new technology and innovative engineering techniques.

Busch has had success at Martinsville in the past, winning the fall race in 2002 and the spring race in 2014 for SHR.

He also won the pole positon for the fall race in 2006.

Busch is feeling hot coming off that runner-up finish at Kansas and is hoping he can keep the energy flowing with a solid run at Martinsville Speedway this Sunday.

 

KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 State Water Heaters Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:

 

You had a solid run at Kansas. Talk about your day there.

“For us, we had a really adventurous day. Actually, I brushed the wall early on, got a lap down, had to dig out of that hole all day. The early calls to stay out and then to put on scuffed tires to limp it home through one of the stages, those were gutsy decisions by Tony Gibson. I have to say hats off to Gibson for that because that put us back on the same sequence with the leaders and the tires. That gave us the same amount of (tire) sets of stickers that we could use toward the end of the race.” 

What is the toughest part about racing at Martinsville?

“To me, the toughest part about Martinsville is you just never have a moment to breathe. You have to be on your game nonstop for 500 laps because somebody’s on you, or you are on top of somebody the whole time, and there’s just no room for error.” 

How much does pit strategy become a factor at Martinsville? 

“It’s definitely something that comes into play. You may gamble early to pick up some positions on the track, especially if you’ve had trouble in qualifying. It’s just one of those things, though, where you always hope you’re on the right one (strategy) and, if you get caught on the wrong one, then you’re kicking yourself the whole time.” 

How much more important is track position at a place like Martinsville? 

“Track position is everything, everywhere, but at Martinsville it is just so easy to lose it. It doesn’t take much to find yourself going backward, whether it’s a situation with someone bumping you out of the way or you get too high on the track and up in the marbles. Then, deal with what that does to the tires and, boom, next thing you know, you may have had a 10th-place car and now you are 18th. It’s a goal all day to work your way forward and then just to have smooth pit stops to carry you through those midpoints of the race. Then, at the end, when everything is on the line, you have to be aggressive and you can’t be afraid to use the fenders on people to get that solid finish.”

DANICA PATRICK – 2017 Martinsville II Race Advance

As the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series returns to Martinsville (Va.) Speedway for Sunday’s First Data 500, Danica Patrick and the No. 10 Ford Warriors in Pink Ford Fusion team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) will be looking to rekindle their performance at the .526-mile oval.

In March 2015, Patrick etched her name in the record books at Martinsville by earning a seventh-place finish in the STP 500. The effort ended with her first top-10 finishes of the season and the fifth top-10 of her NASCAR Cup Series career. It also tied Patrick with Janet Guthrie for the most top-10 NASCAR Cup Series finishes by a female driver, a record that Patrick now holds outright with seven top-10s in Cup Series competition.

For Patrick, that spring race wasn’t the first time she’d made history at Martinsville. In April 2013, she became the first female driver to compete in a NASCAR Cup Series race at the track, which first opened in 1949.

Her first Martinsville start surprised many NASCAR observers as she earned a solid 12th-place result – made more impressive by the fact she started 43rd after an engine change before the race. Patrick looked like a veteran on the shortest track on the circuit. All-told, in nine NASCAR Cup Series starts at Martinsville, she’s earned one top-10 finish and four top-20s.

As Patrick and the No. 10 team enter Sunday’s race, they look forward to reviving their performance after having their day cut short by accidents the past three weekends. Three weeks ago at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, Patrick’s race was cut short with less than 75 laps to go when her No. 10 Ford Warriors In Pink Ford was collected by another car as it spun down the track. Her car sustained significant damage and she was relegated to a 38th-place finish when the team was unable to make repairs. Two weeks ago at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, Patrick ran inside the top-10 but was scored just outside the top-20 when a multicar accident on lap 172 caused significant damage to both the right front and the right rear of the No. 10 Ford. The team pitted multiple times for repairs but was unable to properly address the issues within the NASCAR-mandated five-minute time limit, thus ending Patrick’s day and relegating the team to a 21st-place finish. Last week at Kanas Speedway in Kansas City, Patrick was collected in a late-race, 14-car accident that left the team unable to continue. She had to settle for a 38th-place finish.

Once again this weekend, Patrick’s No. 10 Ford will feature the Warriors in Pink livery in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The special paint scheme marks Ford’s decades-long commitment to raising awareness and funds in the fight against the disease. The Ford Warriors in Pink program has worked for 23 years to help breast cancer patients and their families. To date, Ford has dedicated more than $133 million to research, education and patient resources.

Patrick’s No. 10 racecar displays the warrior symbol to honor the powerful, courageous women and men engaged in the fight against breast cancer. Symbols are a key part of the inspirational message Ford Warriors in Pink represents – serving to uplift those who exhibit strength and courage in the face of their greatest battle.

After three-straight DNFs, Patrick and the No. 10 Ford Warriors in Pink Ford team are ready to channel that warrior spirit as they look to rekindle their success at the iconic Martinsville short track and bring home another top-10 finish and greater awareness for the Warriors in Pink initiative.

 

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

 

What do you like about racing at Martinsville?

“At Martinsville, I enjoy that if you have a good car, you can pass. I always say that Martinsville is one of those tracks that you’re either looking out your windshield or you’re looking in your rearview mirror. It doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of in-between there, at least for me. Luckily, I’ve had more weekends where I was looking out the windshield.”

Short track racing is where NASCAR started and it’s where NASCAR drivers typically get their start. How intense is it to race when you have an entire field crammed onto a half-mile oval?

“I think short-track racing, where we apex the bottom of the track, like Martinsville, can be fun because you can use your bumper and get them a little bit out of the way and out of shape.”

What’s the toughest thing to figure out about Martinsville?

“At Martinsville, like any short track, you want to make sure you turn the center, but you have to have drive on exit. They go hand-in-hand, too. If you can’t turn the center, it doesn’t matter what kind of power-down you have. If you have all that wheel in it when you’re trying to get off the corner and put the power down, it puts a lot of load on those back tires to try and get you off the corner because you’re using the power to try and turn. It’s about achieving a good balance with the car and I feel like our team has really always done a pretty good job with that. I’ve only had one Martinsville that was bad and the rest of them were all pretty decent.”

What is the key to success at Martinsville?

“I came from a road-course-racing background and, at Martinsville, I feel like you have to set up passes a little bit like that. I think it’s also a track where you have to exercise a lot of discipline. It’s easy to make mistakes. It’s easy to overdrive and try and get a little bit more when you’re passing somebody and make mistakes. Those are the two things I keep in mind when I’m there. I also think you really need a good car there, and Stewart-Haas Racing has always had good cars there.”

CLINT BOWYER – 2017 Martinsville II Race Advance

Throughout his career, Clint Bowyer, driver of the No. 14 Haas Automation Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), admits to having a love-hate relationship with Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, where the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races on Sunday. The flat, concrete, half-mile track was far from one of the Emporia, Kansas driver’s favorites when he started his Cup career.

“When I first went there the first couple of seasons in the sport, that was the one racetrack that I couldn’t wait to leave – I was terrible, I hated it, every aspect of it,” Bowyer said. “Everything in your natural tendencies as a racecar driver doesn’t hold true there. Alright, I have to pass this guy in front of me. Well, I have to get in the corner deeper than him, I have to pick up the gas sooner than him, and both of those things took me about 27 times there before I ever figured it out.”

But he did.

“Believe it or not, Martinsville has become a place I look forward to,” Bowyer said. “We’ve focused hard on Martinsville, studied it, tested a lot of tracks in preparation for Martinsville, and worked on really getting a good setup underneath us. We’ve taken that and have been solid ever since.”

He’s even come close to bringing home a grandfather clock Martinsville presents the race winner, but he’s yet to add one to his trophy case. He led 154 laps during the fall 2012 race amid a string of five consecutive top-10s at Martinsville. He owns four top-five finishes and 13 top-10s and has led 356 laps at the southern Virginia track.

“I’ve run really well at Martinsville and there have been several times when I thought we were the fastest car, especially in 2012 and 2013,” Bowyer said. “I look forward to it every year and it’s one track I feel like I can win at, especially if the equipment is underneath me and we make good calls and I make good decisions and take care of the car on the racetrack. I want to bring one of those clocks home.”

Sunday’s race marks the second time Bowyer visits Martinsville driving a Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. In April, Bowyer started eighth and climbed as high as fourth in the closing laps before finishing seventh. Martinsville is a historically good track for the Kannapolis, North Carolina-based team. SHR owns three victories – Ryan Newman in April 2012, Tony Stewart in October 2011 and Kurt Busch in March 2014 – six top-five finishes and 18 top-10s in 50 starts at Martinsville, and SHR cars have led 504 laps there.

Bowyer could use a little luck after the last three weeks. Accidents by other drivers collected Bowyer at Charlotte, Talladega and Kansas, ruining his chances for a good finish. Last week in his return to his home state, Bowyer raced in the top-five late in the race before a multicar accident wounded the No. 14 and left him with a 19th-place finish.

It hasn’t been all bad luck in 2017 for Bowyer, who is in his first season with SHR after replacing three-time champion Tony Stewart in the No. 14, led by crew chief Mike Bugarewicz. The team has posted three second-place finishes and two third-place finishes but narrowly missed earning one of 16 berths in NASCAR’s playoffs. Bowyer’s average finish of 15.4 is 10th best of the fulltime drivers this season.

Despite the success, Bowyer says the goal this year is a return trip to victory lane. With only four races remaining in the 2017 season, Bowyer is running out of chances to visit victory lane with his new team. 

“We’re hungry and we’re trying,” Bowyer said. “That’s the frustrating thing about looking back on the year. We’re getting close to the end and it’s just been that way all season long. When you look back and I look back at my history, consistency has always been what got me and kept me in the running. And this year has been a really solid run. A second (place) or something followed up by two steps back. It seems like you get on a roll – I think the biggest roll we got on was like three or four races. Back in the day, we could click off maybe as many as 10 and really march up through the points and gain that confidence and everything that goes with it.”

Nothing would increase that confidence more than bringing home a grandfather clock from Martinsville after Sunday’s race.

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

 

What are your thoughts on Martinsville?

“I love going to Martinsville. It’s a great racetrack with a lot of history. Martinsville has been hosting races for half a century and all the greats have raced there over the years. It really is a throwback in a lot of ways. It’s a flat short track like most of us grew up racing on. It’s tight, flat and fenders definitely get used. It always puts on an exciting show for the fans and there isn’t a bad seat in the house. As a fan of the sport, I don’t know how you can’t like Martinsville. And, in a lot of ways, it’s almost turned into the new go-to track for action and excitement. It doesn’t have the high banks like Bristol, but the racing, bumping, banging and all the fun stuff the fans look for has been every bit as good as anywhere we’ve gone the past few years.”   

Martinsville seems to be the most difficult track for drivers to figure out. Why is that?

“It’s a short track, but it’s not like any other short track you’ve ever been to. It goes against everything your tendencies tell you to do. You have to back the corner up and let the car roll way around the corner before you get back on the gas. Your tendencies are to get in the corner as deep as you can and get back on the throttle as fast as possible. Those are two things that are catastrophic there, so you’ve got to discipline yourself and stay disciplined throughout the race.”

COLE CUSTER – 2017 Kansas II Race Advance

Event:               Kansas Lottery 300 (Round 30 of 33)
Date:                 Oct. 21, 2017
Location:          Kansas Speedway in Kansas City
Layout:             1.5-mile oval

Cole Custer Notes of Interest 

  • The Kansas Lottery 300 is the fourth of seven races in the NASCAR XFINITY Series Playoffs and the first race in the second playoff round. Four drivers will be eliminated at the conclusion of the three-race round, narrowing the field to four drivers who will compete for a winner-take-all championship battle in the season finale Nov. 18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. 
  • Cole Custer is fifth in the XFINITY Series Playoffs with 3,007 points, 19 points behind series leader William Byron. Custer starts the second round of the playoffs with two bonus points, earned by his two stage wins in the Sept. 23 race at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta.
  • Kansas Speedway is the ninth of 11 1.5-mile tracks on the 2017 XFINITY Series schedule. Custer leads the 2017 XFINITY Series regular season drivers in points at 1.5-mile tracks with 303, he leads the series with a 7.8 average finish at 1.5-mile tracks, and he has led the most laps at 1.5-mile tracks this season with 90.
  • Custer is competing for his fifth consecutive top-10 finish. He has earned 10 top-10s in the last 13 races and three top-10s in the first three playoff races. 
  • In 12 XFINITY Series starts and nine NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts at 1.5-mile ovals, Custer has four top-five finishes and 12 top-10s. Custer has earned two top-fives this season at 1.5-mile tracks – Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth on April 8 (fifth) and Kentucky Speedway in Sparta on Sept. 23 (fifth) – and finished in the top-10 at three other venues – Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 4 (10th), Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway on May 27 (seventh) and Oct. 7 (sixth), and Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois on Sept. 16 (seventh).
  • Custer’s best finish in the 29 XFINITY Series races run this season is fourth, earned in the 11th race of the year June 3 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. The result equaled Custer’s best career XFINITY Series finish, which he earned in his series debut at Charlotte in May 2016.
  • Custer has six top-fives and 18 top-10s in 34 career XFINITY Series starts.
  • At 19 years and 8 months old, Custer is the youngest driver in the playoffs.
  • Custer’s best qualifying effort in the 29 XFINITY Series races run this season is third, earned three times – April 22 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, June 10 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway and Sept. 23 at Kentucky. Custer has 21 top-10 starts and nine top-five starts this season.
  • Custer is third in the XFINITY Series Rookie of the Year standings, 51 points behind leader William Byron and 15 points behind second-place Daniel Hemric. Custer has earned eight Rookie of the Race awards this season, three having come at 1.5-mile tracks (fifth at Texas, 11th Las Vegas Motor Speedway and sixth at Charlotte). Rookie of the Race awards are given to the highest-finishing rookie.
  • The Kansas Lottery 300 will mark Custer’s 35th career XFINITY Series start and his third XFINITY Series start at Kansas.

 

Cole Custer, Driver Q&A

 

You lead the XFINITY Series at 1.5-mile tracks and there are still three more of them to visit in the playoffs. Are you confident that you will perform well at the remainder of the intermediate tracks, and does this give you an advantage on the others?

“Mile-and-a-half tracks are what our Haas Automation/Code 3 Associates team looks forward to the most, and there’s no reason why we can’t go out and compete for wins at all of them. It’s going to be a tough round, so having some mile-and-a-half tracks will help us a lot.”

Not only are you in the playoffs for the first time, but you have advanced to the second round. How does a 19-year-old rookie feel after starting the season at Stewart-Haas Racing?

“It’s been pretty crazy to see how hard everyone has worked throughout the season to get us to where we are now. It would mean the world to our whole team to get to the final round in Homestead.”

Is it tough being a single-car team with minimal help in the majority of the races this season?

“Being a single-car team makes it a little bit harder on us. You don’t have a lot of teammates to rely on. Kevin (Harvick) runs the XFINITY car from time to time, so that helps a lot and we’ve learned a ton from it. I rely on Kevin the most. I ask him for advice going into pretty much every weekend about the track and what to expect going into it, especially these playoff races. I’ve never been in the playoffs before, so I asked him about what to expect. These guys have definitely helped me a ton and I don’t know if we would be as good without them.”

 

Jeff Meendering, Crew Chief Q&A

 

What are your expectations heading to another intermediate track where the team has run so well?

“We are bringing the car we ran really well with at Chicago, Chassis No. 1044. We feel that we have a good shot at winning this race. Cole has a lot of confidence in himself and that particular racecar. This round of the playoffs is tough. We know that we have to run up front in the next three races if we want to have a shot at a championship.”

KEVIN HARVICK – 2017 Kansas II Race Advance

Plus 22 Heading To Kansas

 

Kevin Harvick is heading to Kansas Speedway in Kansas City for the Hollywood Casino 400, the third and final race in the Round of 12 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, with a 22-point cushion over the ninth-place driver.

The driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) scored two stage wins and a third-place finish to open the Round of 12 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway and a 20th-place finish last weekend at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway to open up his points advantage.

Martin Truex Jr. of Furniture Row Racing won two weeks ago at Charlotte and Brad Keselowski of Team Penske followed suit last weekend at Talladega to secure their spots in the Round of 8. Now, 10 drivers are in contention for the final six positions with the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway as the stage for the final showdown. Kyle Larson of Chip Ganassi Racing holds a 29-point advantage over ninth place as the only non-secured driver ahead of Harvick. Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Rickey Stenhouse Jr. and Jamie McMurray all sit below the cutoff line heading into the weekend.

Harvick has reason for optimism heading into Kansas.

The 2014 NASCAR Cup Series champion won at Kansas Speedway in October 2016, when he started 11th, led 74 laps and beat runner-up Carl Edwards to the finish line by 1.183 seconds and it came in a must-win situation during that year’s NASCAR playoffs. After Harvick suffered a mechanical failure the week before in the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte that resulted in a 38th-place finish, he was 12th in the standings. He trailed Denny Hamlin by eight points for the final transfer position into the Round of 8 with Talladega looming the following week.

It was the second Cup Series win for Harvick. He also won the NASCAR Cup Series race at Kansas in October 2013, when he started from the pole position, led 138 of 267 laps and beat current SHR teammate Kurt Busch to the finish line by 1.140 seconds to score his first Cup Series victory at the 1.5-mile oval.

The Bakersfield, California native also owns the Cup Series qualifying record at Kansas, which he set May 9, 2014 with a lap of 27.799 seconds at 194.658 in the second round of qualifying. It was Harvick’s second of three consecutive Cup Series poles at Kansas from October 2013 through October 2014.

He also has three runner-up finishes in six Cup Series starts at Kansas since joining SHR in February 2014.

Harvick knows that the best way to finish up front is to start up front, which he has done four times so far in 2017. He has scored four Cup Series pole awards – three coming on 1.5-mile racetracks. He scored his first of the season at Atlanta Motor Speedway with a lap of 29.118 seconds at 190.398 mph. His second of the season came at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, when he made a lap at 27.217 seconds at 198.405 mph. His third came at Charlotte for the Coca-Cola 600 with a lap of 27.918 seconds at 193.424 mph. The most recent came at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, where he posted a lap of 27.669 seconds at 177.730 mph.

Harvick also has four poles at Kansas, which are tied with Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne for most all-time at the 1.5-mile track. Harvick and Johnson are the only two drivers to win consecutive poles at Kansas Speedway. Johnson completed the task in 2007 and 2008, while Harvick scored three in a row starting in the fall of 2013 followed by a sweep of 2014.

While Harvick has raced up front and scored five stage wins this year, he is still in search of his first Cup Series race win at a 1.5-mile track this season. However, he has scored the second-most points of any driver over the last 10 races on a 1.5-mile track by knocking down five top-five finishes, nine top-10s and four poles.

This weekend, Harvick and the No. 4 Jimmy John’s team hope to repeat their performance from last October and return to victory lane in pursuit of a second NASCAR Cup Series championship.

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

 

You’ve performed much stronger at Kansas the last couple of years. Is that because of the repave, or did you find something you were missing previously?

“The repave is definitely what changed and turned things around for us at Kansas. Really, I liked the racetrack the way it was before with the asphalt really worn out and cars sliding all over. But, once the repave happened, we were able to really hit on some things and, for whatever reason, it kind of fits my driving style and we have gotten some good results out of it. It has been a really good-performing racetrack for us and one that we look forward to going to and hopefully continue to get good results out of it because it’s been so good for us in the past.”

Take us on a lap around Kansas.

“It’s definitely a little bit different just for the fact the (corner) entries are a little different than at most places. Turns three and four remind me of turns three and four at Chicagoland Speedway, but there’s a lot more grip and fresher asphalt than what Chicagoland has nowadays. It’s a very high-speed racetrack. You run the middle to the bottom of the racetrack. But I’m sure, as time goes on, that the groove will move back up. But, for right now, it’s very fast and very sensitive to your line and, with all the speed and how tricky the entrance is into turn one, you can miss your line easily. So, you have to be very specific about where you put your car and pay attention to what you’re doing.”

KURT BUSCH – 2017 Kansas II Race Advance

Hank Stram always liked Kansas City. The Gary Lew Wallace High School and Purdue University graduate was head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs from 1963 to 1974.

Stram led the Chiefs to two Super Bowls, winning Super Bowl IV 23-7 over the Minnesota Vikings. He was made famous by wearing a microphone for NFL Films during the winning Super Bowl and telling the offense, “Just keep matriculating the ball down the field, boys.”

And, with the Chiefs on the goal line, calling for his favorite play, “65 toss power trap.”

So what does all this have to do with Kurt Busch? Nothing.

But Busch would like to matriculate his No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) all the way to victory lane Sunday at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City. It’s one of only eight tracks on the schedule where he has not seen victory lane in his great career.

He’s won 29 career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races and his first came at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. Driving the No. 97 Ford, he found his way to the winner’s circle in just his third start at the .533-mile oval. It took 32 attempts at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway to find his way to victory lane, but he was finally able to do so in the 2017 season-opening Daytona 500.

At the eight mile-and-a-half venues where the NASCAR Cup Series competes, Busch has earned a total of six victories. They’ve come at four tracks – three at Atlanta Motor Speedway and one apiece at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth and Homestead-Miami Speedway. Busch is still searching for victory lane at four – Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois, Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and Kansas.

Busch has been running at the end of all but two of the races in which he’s competed at the 1.5-mile oval, the first non-finish coming prematurely with an engine failure in 2003, the other due to an accident in October 2014. And in addition to a pair of top-five finishes and seven top-10s in 23 starts there, Busch owns one pole at Kansas, having scored the top starting spot in June 2011. The Kansas pole was the first of three consecutive poles Busch scored that month.

So while “65 toss power trap” won’t do much for Busch at Kansas, he’s hoping he can formulate a big play to find victory lane.

 

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

 

Kansas hasn’t always been a strong racetrack for you but, as of late, that seems to be changing. Do you agree? 

“Kansas has been a good track and a tough track. It’s fun to go race there and, with the way the tires change and the downforce has changed, I haven’t quite found that perfect combination to win. But, as of late, we consider it one of our strong tracks.”

What has been the key to your three top-10 finishes in three of your five most recent starts at Kansas? 

“I think it’s a matter of being on the right pit strategy and understanding when to pit for the final time. Track position becomes so important at these fast mile-and-a-half tracks that, if you are stuck around 10th or 12th, there is no way to crack that top-five. You’ve got to be there before the final sequences start. But, honestly, a big part of it has been having this great car setup by Tony Gibson and everyone on the Haas Automation/Monster Energy team.” 

What is one part of the racetrack or your driving style that you’ve had to work on at Kansas over the years?  

“It always seems like turn four is the toughest part about Kansas, whether it’s the wind angle or the sharper corner exit with the SAFER Barrier jumping out at the cars. You either lose a lot of time or gain a lot of time in turn four at Kansas.”

 

DANICA PATRICK – 2017 Kansas II Race Advance

Danica Patrick and the No. 10 Code 3 Associates Ford Fusion team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) return to Kansas Speedway in Kansas City for Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race ready to rebound after back-to-back DNFs at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway and Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.

Two weeks ago, Patrick’s race was cut short with less than 75 laps to go as her No. 10 Ford was collected by another car as it spun down the track. Her car sustained significant damage and she was relegated to a 38th-place finish when the team was unable to make repairs. Last week at Talladega, Patrick ran inside the top-10 and was scored just outside the top-20 when a multicar accident on lap 172 caused significant damage to both the right front and the right rear of the No. 10 Ford. The team pitted multiple times for repairs but was unable to properly address the issues within the five-minute time limit imposed by NASCAR officials, thus ending Patrick’s day and relegating the team to a 21st-place finish.

After two weeks of disappointment, returning to Kansas couldn’t have come at a better time for Patrick and the No. 10 Code 3 Associates Ford team. Kansas Speedway is the site of Patrick’s first NASCAR Cup Series top-10 finish on a 1.5-mile track. She earned that result in May 2014, when she took the checkered flag seventh. It was one of seven top-10 finishes Patrick has scored thus far in her NASCAR Cup Series career.

All told, Patrick has competed in 10 NASCAR Cup Series races at Kansas. In that time, she has scored one top-10 and four top-20 finishes. In addition, in two NASCAR Xfinity Series starts at the track, she finished a career-best 10th in October 2012 and took home a 15th-place result in October 2011.

Patrick has also made six IndyCar Series starts at Kansas. In 2005, she qualified on the pole for the IndyCar race at the track. Her best finish was a fifth-place effort in 2009 and she scored a total of three top-10 finishes at the track in that series. Aside from a 19th-place finish due to a mechanical failure in 2008, Patrick didn’t finish outside the top-11 in IndyCar Series competition at Kansas.

After the races at Charlotte and Talladega, the No. 10 Code 3 Associates Ford team hopes a return to Kansas Speedway, where Patrick has run well in three major professional racing series, will result in on-track success in the form of a solid run in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400.

DANICA PATRICK, Driver of the No. 10 Code 3 Associates Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:

 

What is the most difficult part of the track to figure out at Kansas?

“It’s a fast track. I think it’s the same problem we face at most tracks we go to – you have to get through the center well enough to be comfortable enough to be very aggressive with the throttle at the same time. I think, for sheer speed, you can’t be too loose but, in the race, you can’t be too tight or you’ll fall back. These cars are finicky. It’s about focusing on the small things and getting the most out of the car itself instead of trying to throw the kitchen sink at it if you’re a little off. It’s all in the little details. I think that’s the most important thing.”

On Saturday, you’re going to speak to a large contingent of Girl Scouts from the Kansas City area. What would be your advice to them?

“I would say: ‘Stay true to yourself and what you believe in.’ I think that’s how I’ve gotten to this point in my career and my life in general. I decided when I was 10 years old that I wanted to be a racecar driver. I dreamed big, believed in myself, worked really hard, took chances and made the most of every opportunity I was given.”

CLINT BOWYER – 2017 Kansas II Race Advance

Ask Clint Bowyer about the impact his hometown of Emporia, Kansas has had on his racing career and you’ll get a rare moment of silence from the 38-year-old Monster Energy NASCAR Cup driver.

Then he’ll look you in the eye and respond with a short and powerful answer.

“People are what make you,” said Bowyer who, returns to race in Kansas Sunday in the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City. “As you grow up in a community, it’s the people within that community who you learn from and everything else.”

The lessons taught by the 25,000 citizens of Emporia haven’t faded.

“When I first started car racing, it was in a ’78 Camaro, it was junkyard parts so you had to go to Junkyard John and, if you blew something up or needed a brake caliper or an A-frame or just anything – a spindle – you had to go to see Junkyard John. My dad owned his own towing service in Emporia, so they always did business together and stuff. Impounded cars always went to the junkyard, and he always let me go over and rummage through the stuff and work on my stuff.”

If it wasn’t Junkyard John, then it was Muffler Don, who welded the roll cage with muffler tubing for Bowyer’s pony stock he rolled over about 12 times. Those two, along with a host of others, were responsible for helping Bowyer go from the Kansas dirt tracks to race in places like Daytona, Darlington and Indianapolis and build a NASCAR career that includes a 2008 Xfinity Series title, and eight Cup Series victories among his 429 starts in the sport’s highest division.

“Life’s all about timing, it’s all about chances that you get in life, and opportunities, and then you’ve got to be able to, I guess, have enough experience to prepare yourself for that opportunity and be able to capitalize on that opportunity,” Bowyer said. “It seems like my career within a five- or six-year span went very fast, but we always kept moving. We never stayed in one class or anything, always kept moving up and forward progression, and that always enabled me to get in the next ride, the next opportunity, and capitalize on it really well.”

Bowyer hasn’t turned his back on Kansas, especially Emporia. He returns often to deer hunt, visit friends or just be part of the community. In March 2013, he bought the Clint Bowyer Autoplex car dealership on U.S. Highway 50, where he once worked as a lot attendant, dent specialist and detailer.

Across the street sits the Clint Bowyer Community Building, constructed in 2012 thanks to a $1.5 million donation from his foundation. Inside are 25 new computers at the public library. There is a scoreboard at the aquatic center, a video camera at the auditorium, shoes for the Big Brothers-Big Sisters program, backpacks for kids, Christmas trees for needy families. And, in nearby towns, playground equipment and the reconstruction of a tornado-ravaged community center – all of it and more paid for by Bowyer’s foundation, or out of the driver’s own pocket.

Emporia appreciates its native son, having renamed the street on which the family towing business resides as “Hon. Clint Bowyer Boulevard.” But, the days of Junkyard John and Muffler Don are long gone and replaced by Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), Ford Performance and Roush-Yates Racing who have combined to field Bowyer’s No. 14 Haas Automation Ford Fusion this season. But the desire that began in Emporia will be the same Sunday in Kansas City.

Bowyer’s list of racing accomplishments includes a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory at Kansas in 2011, but it’s a Cup Series trophy from the track that he hopes will take center stage in his trophy case. Over the years, Bowyer has enjoyed some success at Kansas Speedway, posting two top-five finishes and six top-10s with 48 laps led in 18 starts, including a ninth-place finish in May.

“Kansas is obviously at the top of the list, right up there with a Daytona 500, of places I’d really like to get a victory,” he said. “I won’t complain no matter where we win our next race, but winning at Kansas would be extra special for a lot of people in the Bowyer family.”

Bowyer enters the weekend after an accident left him with a 35th-place finish Sunday at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. The incident ruined a race that saw Bowyer finish sixth in Stage 1 and third in Stage 2.

While he’s racing for 17th in the driver point standings after falling just short of making NASCAR’s 16-driver playoffs, Bowyer’s first year replacing three-time champion Tony Stewart in the No. 14 has been a success. The Mike Bugarewicz-led team has posted three second- and two third-place finishes. The No. 14 team’s average finish of 15.3 is the 12th best of the full-time teams in 2017.

After Talladega’s disappointment, Bowyer could use some good luck, and there’s no better place than Kansas.

Just ask him.

 

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

 

What is it like to go back and race in Kansas?

“It’s difficult to go home because of getting pulled in all the different directions – all the while trying to focus on getting a good run, because that’s really what’s important to you the most there. It’s important to me to run well in front of all my fans, friends and family.”

 

DANICA PATRICK – 2017 Talladega II Race Advance

“Crazy, fast and risky.” That’s how Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing, describes restrictor-plate racing at tracks like Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, where the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will compete in Sunday’s Alabama 500.

Talladega has long been considered somewhat of a wild-card event, where a driver’s fate is not entirely in his or her own hands. It is one of only two racetracks on the NASCAR Cup Series circuit where restrictor plates are used. A restrictor plate is a device installed at the air intake of an engine to limit its power in an effort to reduce speeds, increase safety and help provide an equal level of competition. The horsepower-restricted engines require drivers to draft together, side-by-side, at speeds approaching 200 mph.

As a result, superspeedway events often produce crazy, fast and unpredictable racing.

“It’s super easy to drive around the track flat-out by yourself – it’s not difficult at all,” Patrick said. “When you put all of the other cars around you, it’s not necessarily about how the car feels on the track, although that can be an issue, for sure, at times. It’s more about what everyone else is doing around you. You’re constantly looking at what’s happening in front of you. You’re also looking at what’s behind you. Probably more important than what’s happening in front of you is what’s happening behind you – who’s coming, who’s following you, who’s helping you move forward.”

All of that jostling and jockeying around for position at speeds near 200 mph can lead to the seemingly inevitable “big one” – a multicar accident that typically eliminates multitudes of drivers from the event. This type of racing leaves teams wondering what it will take to survive the “big one” and make it to victory lane at the end of the day.

Patrick has set records at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway – the other restrictor-plate superspeedway on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule – but she’s yet to find the same level of success at Talladega. With 10 prior NASCAR Cup Series starts at the track, her career-best finish is a 19th-place result she earned in October 2014.

In May, after running as high as seventh, a late-race, 18-car accident relegated Patrick to a 38th-place finish. Last year, another late-race accident left her with a 24th-place result in May and, when the series returned to the track in October, she finished 20th.

As the NASCAR Cup Series returns to Talladega this weekend, Patrick and the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford team will be prepared for a crazy race as they look to survive the “big one” and go for the win on Sunday.

 

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

 

What are three words that describe restrictor-plate races?

“Three words that describe plate racing would be: crazy, fast and risky.”

Describe the intensity of restrictor-plate racing.

“It’s super easy to drive around the track flat-out by yourself – it’s not difficult at all. When you put all of the other cars around you, it’s not necessarily about how the car feels on the track, although that can be an issue, for sure, at times. It’s more about what everyone else is doing around you. You’re constantly looking at what’s happening in front of you. You’re also looking at what’s behind you. Probably more important than what’s happening in front of you is what’s happening behind you – who’s coming, who’s following you, who’s helping you move forward. There have been plenty of times that I’ve gone to the bottom and complained, ‘Where’s my help?’ It seems like I’ll slot in on the bottom line and then everyone behind me disappears. You really have to have people behind you, pushing you. The race is constantly evolving and you and your spotter have to be on it. It’s a big race for spotters, so having a really good one that you trust is very important.”

You’ve always liked going to Talladega. Why is that?

“The fans really make that place. The campgrounds, all that stuff, make it one, big party. You see how much fun the fans are having and that makes it fun for us as drivers. It’s just a unique place. The sheer size of the facility is amazing. I liked it from the first time I went there and, hopefully, we can have a good run and a good finish. The cool thing about superspeedways is that anybody can win. It’s a toss-up, what’s going to happen. On top of that, SHR’s superspeedway cars are really good.”

What is your favorite part of going into the Talladega infield?

“My favorite part about going into the infield at Talladega is seeing things you’re not supposed to see. I mean, it’s a crazy party and I feel like those are the kinds of things that keep people coming back. It’s the atmosphere and the whole package of the weekend – not just the racing – but the parties, having fun and making memories.”

KEVIN HARVICK – 2017 Talladega II Race Advance

As the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to the high banks of Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway for the Alabama 500, the second race in the Round of 12 in the 2017 playoffs, Kevin Harvick will be in the great outdoors hunting for a win to secure his second win of the season and lock in his position for the Round of 8.

Harvick’s No. 4 Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) will feature a special-edition Busch Light outdoors paint scheme with iconic Realtree camouflage, blaze orange accents and a Busch Light trophy can giving a nod to the beer brand’s seasonal Great Outdoors packaging.

Busch Beer and Realtree come together to form a natural collaboration, as both brands have deep roots in outdoor pursuits. Given the overlaps between Busch Beer and Realtree, including established relationships with Harvick and SHR, it makes sense for the brands to team up at Talladega.

Busch’s Great Outdoors campaign runs through Nov. 20, with specially marked packs of Busch Beer and Busch Light featuring the new Great Outdoors look, introducing bold colors, wildlife and the brand’s iconic stream. The promotion features 30,000 golden trophy cans to be placed randomly nationwide, allowing lucky consumers to enter the Great Outdoors sweepstakes for a chance to win weekly prizes or the grand prize – a trip to Big Cedar Lodge with professional angler Kevin VanDam.

Busch Beer fans can also check out the collaboration on BuschBucks.com, where consumers can redeem points for Busch Beer and Realtree co-branded gear. The program is simple – register at BuschBucks.com, purchase eligible products and collect points by snapping a picture of the receipt and uploading it to BuschBucks.com. Redeem points for Busch-themed prizes ranging in point values, from apparel, coolers and tents, to scrap metal from Harvick’s No. 4 Ford Fusion. Race fans can head to BuschBucks.com for more details.

While consumers can win by enjoying a cold, crisp and refreshing Busch Light, Harvick will be trying to score his own prize Sunday afternoon at Talladega. A win would automatically secure his position in the Round of 8 in his pursuit of the ultimate NASCAR prize – the 2017 Monster Energy Cup Series trophy.

The Bakersfield, California native had a fast start in the Round of 12, securing two stage wins and a third-place race finish last weekend at Charlotte to provide a 26-point advantage over the ninth-place driver with two races remaining in the round.

Harvick has shown speed at the superspeedway races in 2017 – especially on qualifying day, where he has started sixth or better in the three restrictor-plate events on the season. While speed has been on his side, luck, on the other hand, has eluded the No. 4 team on race day, with a top restrictor-plate finish on the year of 22nd in the season-opening Daytona 500.

The 2014 NASCAR Cup Series champion’s lone Cup Series win at Talladega Superspeedway came in April 2010, when he started fourth and beat runner-up Jamie McMurray by .011 of a second – the 15th-closest finish in NASCAR Cup Series history.

Hopefully, with the help of Busch Beer and Realtree, Harvick can stalk his competitors in the closing laps and secure what may be one of the season’s most difficult trophies to capture.

 

KEVIN HARVICK, Driver of the No. 4 Busch Light Outdoors Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:

 

Describe the intensity of restrictor-plate racing?

“Plate racing is something you have to be aggressive at just for the fact that, if you’re not aggressive, it always seems like you are not going to be where you need to be. Nine times out of 10, I believe, the aggressor is going to be the guy who comes out on the good side of things just for the fact that you’re making things happen and you’re not waiting for something else to happen. When you wait for something else to happen, that’s usually when you get in trouble because it’s usually someone else’s mess. You can still get in trouble if you’re aggressive, but it seems like, with this rules package and the way that things are, it’s best to stay aggressive and try to stay up front.”

Do you approach Talladega differently this year than in years past?

“I think, with the current points system, it’s better to stay up front and try to get as many points in each stage as you can throughout the day. Obviously, if you don’t qualify well, that makes it much more difficult but, with the new points system, I think you’re going to see a much different race. Guys aren’t going to be able to leave 20 potential points and playoff points on the table. They’re going to be racing for every point – that’s a good thing for the fans and should make it an exciting race.”