DANICA PATRICK – 2017 Martinsville I Race Advance

As the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Martinsville (Va.) Speedway for Sunday’s Martinsville 500, Danica Patrick and the No. 10 TaxAct Ford Fusion team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) will be looking to rekindle their past success at the .526-mile oval.

In March 2015, Patrick etched her name in the record books there by earning a seventh-place finish in the STP 500. The effort marked 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 few weeks later, Patrick earned another top-10 result at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and was able to take sole ownership of that record.

For Patrick, it 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.

In her first start at the short track, Patrick surprised many NASCAR observers with a solid 12th-place result – made more impressive by the fact she started 43rd after an engine change before the race. She looked like a veteran on the shortest track on the circuit which, when viewed from the air, looks like a paperclip as its long straightaways lead into tight, flat turns.

Her impressive rookie performance bested those of other name drivers in their Martinsville debuts, most notably her team owner Tony Stewart, who finished 20th in his first Martinsville start in 1999. Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson finished 35th in his Martinsville debut in 2002. NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace finished 15th in 1984. Dale Jarrett finished 14th in 1984. Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 26th in 2000. Kyle Busch finished 39th in 2005. Matt Kenseth finished 21st in 2000. And her SHR teammate Kurt Busch finished 37th in 2000.

All-told, in eight NASCAR Cup Series starts at Martinsville, Patrick has earned one top-10 finish and four top-20s. Last year, she started 28th, ran as high as seventh and finished 16th after battling handling issues in the Martinsville 500.

As we enter the final weeks of the tax filing season, TaxAct, the leading provider of clear, transparent and affordably priced tax preparation software for DIY filers, will serve as primary sponsor of Patrick’s No. 10 Ford Fusion in Sunday’s race. The event marks the third of four events in which TaxAct, the official tax preparation software partner of SHR and Patrick, will serve as the primary sponsor of the No. 10 Ford Fusion this year.

TaxAct is once again offering its “Premium Finish” promotion this tax season. If Patrick or any member of the SHR team secures a top-10 finish in Sunday’s race at Martinsville, NASCAR fans can file their 2016 federal and state tax returns using the TaxAct Online Premium Bundle for only $10 – 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 – 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 8. 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. TaxAct will offer additional opportunities for NASCAR fans to file returns with “Premium Finish” pricing for the NASCAR Cup Series races up to the tax filing deadline on April 18, 2017.

Patrick and the No. 10 TaxAct Ford team enter Martinsville after three weeks of finishing outside the top-20. Returning to a track where she’s experienced a number of solid performances puts them in prime position to earn a “Premium Finish” this weekend.

As the NASCAR Cup Series returns to Martinsville for Sunday’s race, Patrick and her No. 10 TaxAct Ford team look to revitalize their season at the iconic short track and bring home their first top-10 result of the year.

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

 

What are your thoughts about racing at the upcoming short tracks like Martinsville?

 “While I have spent a lot of time going over 200 mph in an Indy car, it’s the more traditional passing on short tracks that falls back on my road-course-racing background of setting the pass up, timing it right, getting inside of them and completing the move. That’s especially true on the tracks where you run the bottom like Martinsville.”

 

TaxAct is back as the primary sponsor on your No. 10 Ford this weekend at Martinsville and the company is running the “Premium Finish” program again. Talk about that.

“Choosing to file your taxes with TaxAct is a no-brainer. The company has always been the best deal in tax and their new ‘Premium Finish’ simply sweetens the deal. I’m glad we can help the NASCAR community discover how easy and affordable filing your own taxes can be with TaxAct.”

 

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.”

 

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.”

 

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

“Well, I believe that on a short track – or, honestly, any track – I think you need to get next to them. I mean, 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 you’re not going to be patient anymore.”

CLINT BOWYER – 2017 Martinsville I Race Advance

Clint Bowyer couldn’t wait to race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California last weekend. It had long been one of his favorite tracks and, even with a 17th-place qualifying effort Friday, he remained confident throughout the weekend.

“I think we can win this race tomorrow,” Bowyer told a gathering of somewhat skeptical media minutes after a frustrating practice Saturday morning. But, after some late-night phone calls and meetings, Bowyer and crew chief Mike “Buga” Bugarewicz came up with a race setup that saw the No. 14 Ford run in the top-five throughout the 400-mile race.

Bowyer scored sixth- and fourth-place finishes in the first two stages of Sunday’s Auto Club 400, then rallied from sixth to third in overtime to record his best finish at his new Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) team and a personal best since a third-place finish at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway in 2015. Sunday’s performance moved Bowyer to eighth in the standings – the highest he has been since leaving the 2015 Daytona 500.

“We never showed the speed in practice, but I wasn’t worried about it because I knew the car was really comfortable on the long run and things like that,” he said.

Since taking over the No. 14 from three-time champion Tony Stewart, the normally ebullient Bowyer has ratcheted up his excitement, and performances like last weekend will only add to his enthusiasm. He credits Ford Performance, Roush-Yates Engines and his new team with the turnaround.

“I appreciate everybody’s hard work at Stewart-Haas Racing,” Bowyer said. “Having these teammates and having this group behind you, the organization and the teamwork, it’s just amazing to be a part of it at this point in my career. Thanks to Gene Haas and Tony Stewart for giving me this opportunity. It means a lot to me to be in this 14. I have a lot of fun with these guys. Buga and all these guys mean business. It’s a confidence thing right now, a momentum-builder, and we’re getting closer.”

This week, Bowyer turns his attention to another of his favorite tracks – Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. Not only does he like the flat, half-mile track, it’s sort of a home race for the Emporia, Kansas native but current resident of Clemmons, North Carolina.

“It’s 40 minutes from the house,” he said. “You know, finally get home to see my family and everything else. To bring everybody up there, drive to the racetrack every day, sleep in your own bed, I mean, it’s just a fun, fun weekend. Fun racetrack. It’s old-school racing at its finest. I’ve been close so many times there. It’s one that I want to win more than anything. With this momentum and the confidence we take from here, maybe we can.”

Bowyer has come close to bringing home a grandfather clock Martinsville presents the race winner, but he’s yet to add the clock 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 12 top-10s and has led 356 laps at the southern Virginia track.

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 17 top-10s in 46 starts at Martinsville, and SHR cars have led 504 laps there.

“I’ve run really well at Martinsville several times where I thought we were the fastest car a few times, and especially like in 2012 and 2013, and I really enjoy that racetrack,” Bowyer said. “I look forward to it every year and it’s one track I feel like I can win at and win at 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 feel like that’s a track we can win and bring one of those clocks home.”

Could last week’s impressive run lead to bigger and better results as the 2017 progresses for the No. 14 driver and crew?

“Hell yeah. It better be coming,” Bowyer said with a laugh. “When you’ve got a team like this that’s organized and as good as it is, it better be.”

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

 

How weird is it to have Tony Stewart on your radio during a race? 

“It is weird, still. Look at him. He’s ready. You could put him in a firesuit. You know he’d go out there and get the job done in that 14 car. To give me the opportunity is super-cool. To have him on the box is really cool. It’s neat to see a smile on his face. I really believe he just looks happy. He looks comfortable, you know, at ease. I mean, the guy, that’s a long time – that’s a long career to be in any kind of sport. He put his time in. He’s an owner now, still a part of it. That’s the coolest thing about his gig right now. He’s still a part of this sport. Maybe in the biggest way he’s ever been.”

KURT BUSCH – 2017 Martinsville I Race Advance

It’s among the most unique and coveted trophies in NASCAR – the Ridgeway Furniture Company’s grandfather clock that’s given to the winner at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway in victory lane.

The tradition of giving the famous grandfather clock to the winner of every Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville got its start in 1964. Henry Clay Earles, who founded the .526-mile paperclip-shaped track, was inspired to use the grandfather clock as his trophy when Curtis Turner told him he had to start finding storage room for his trophies, and give some away, as well. It was then that NASCAR’s most iconic trophy was born.

Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), won his first race at Martinsville in October 2002. It was his second NASCAR Cup Series victory and a record-breaking one, at that, as he took the green flag from the 36th starting position – the deepest in the field a Martinsville winner had ever started. For Busch, the fact he had won the race really didn’t set in until he stood beside the grandfather clock in victory lane.

Winning the clock that weekend had a profound meaning. Earlier that week, Busch received news that his grandfather had passed away. He headed to Martinsville with the goal of trying to make the weekend as normal as he could, focusing on his racecar while dealing with the emotions of the family’s loss. As the race progressed, Busch was able to take advantage of a strong racecar and worked his way to the front of the field, leading 111 laps en route to the win.

When he climbed from his racecar, he saw the clock and the significance of it hit him then and there – in the week he’d lost his grandfather, he won a prestigious grandfather clock. When it was delivered to his home the following week, he placed it in his living room and immediately named it Al, as a tribute to his late grandfather Al Keller.

Fast-forward to March 2014, when the 2004 NASCAR Cup Series champion was able to end an 83-race winless streak by claiming his second grandfather clock. The win was special for Busch, but was even more so for Haas Automation founder Gene Haas, who co-owns SHR with three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Tony Stewart. When Haas hired Busch, his directive was clear: win. Be the guy to finally place the Haas Automation-sponsored racecar in victory lane. Victory had eluded the largest CNC machine tool builder in the Western World for 114 races and 11 different drivers since 2002.

When Haas’s grandfather clock was delivered, like Busch’s, it was placed in the living room of his home. It remains a welcome reminder of the significance of the day that he finally saw his car roll into victory lane.

While Busch opened 2017 by winning the season-opening Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, he and his No. 41 team have struggled. They’ve been challenged by mechanical and handling issues that see them headed to Martinsville ranked 14th in the NASCAR Cup Series point standings. They are looking to return to form in the first short-track race of the year, knowing it’s time to right the ship and return to their winning ways.

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

 

What is the toughest part about racing at Martinsville? 

“To me, the toughest part of 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.”

CLINT BOWYER – 2017 Fontana Race Advance

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series makes the third and final stop on its three-race West Coast swing Sunday when the green flag drops on the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Stewart-Haas Racing’s Clint Bowyer has made the most of the opening four races of the 2017 season, climbing to a 13th-place tie in the standings.

Sunday marks Bowyer’s first appearance driving his No. 14 Ford carrying the decals of Rush Truck Centers. The Texas-based company is using its partnership with SHR and Bowyer to reach out to NASCAR fans as one way to recruit the technicians it needs to operate the largest network of commercial truck and bus dealerships in the country, with locations in 21 states.

Bowyer, who grew up working for his father Chris “Pops” Bowyer’s tow-truck business in Emporia, Kansas, appreciates the trucking industry as much as any driver in the sport.

“Rush Truck Centers keeps SHR’s trucks and transporters in great condition and you could argue those are the most important parts of our race team, and their technology allows us to keep up to date on maintenance with just a click of the computer,” he said. “Without them, our cars never get to the racetrack. The employees of Rush Truck Centers are as detail-oriented as we are, and their technicians are the heartbeat of their dealerships. They play a critical role in the success of our race team.”

According to Rush Truck Centers, experienced truck technicians have never been more vital. The American Trucking Association estimates the need for an additional 200,000 technical professionals to be developed over the next 10 years to meet service maintenance demands industry-wide. Concurrently, it is expected that 40 to 50 percent of truck technicians will retire before 2030.

Rush Truck Centers wants to make NASCAR fans aware of these opportunities. Bowyer plans to help by continuing his string of good performances that have kicked off his first year at SHR as three-time champion Tony Stewart’s replacement in the No. 14 Ford.

Sunday is Bowyer’s 402nd career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start and 17th career Cup Series start at Fontana. He owns two top-five finishes and seven top-10s and has led 47 laps. His SHR team owns two victories at the track, scored by Stewart in March 2012 and October 2010. Last weekend at Phoenix, Bowyer raced from 17th to 13th in overtime, marking his third consecutive top-13 finish in 2017.

Bowyer said he expects the No. 14’s performances to improve as the 2017 season continues.

“I don’t think you have seen our best, yet, but we are tied for 13th in points,” Bowyer said. “We are still getting to know each other and these cars. I’ve been very impressed with the SHR guys. We’ve had some moments this year when we weren’t very good, but we keep working on the car and, at the end of the day, we end up with a pretty good finish.”

Bowyer said the end of the West Coast swing provides a significant milestone for the Cup Series teams. He said they are starting to understand their strengths and weaknesses after races on the Daytona restrictor-plate track, 1.5-mile ovals at Atlanta and Las Vegas, the flat mile at Phoenix, and now Fontana’s 2-mile track.

The trip has also been a lot of fun. Bowyer returned to North Carolina for a few days after Las Vegas but plans to go snowmobiling in Montana this week before flying to California Thursday.

“I love the West Coast. I think it’s beautiful out there,” he said. “Some of the prettiest land that we have is out West. I think Vegas does not suck. Phoenix is fun. California is fun. I’ve got a lot of friends in California. The hardest part about all those races is that, logistically, I can’t be gone for three or four weeks. I’ve got to come home and make sure my wife isn’t gonna leave me (laughs). You can’t stay out here having fun and racing like that, and keep a family around.”

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

 

What will it mean to you when you win again?

“Let’s face it, you’re not given anything in this series. This is extremely competitive and a very challenging, very difficult situation to win these races. You’re only as good as the people around you and everybody at Stewart-Haas – Tony and Gene – have surrounded me with great people starting with Buga (Mike Bugarewicz) my crew chief, to my teammates to the sponsors. Everything at Stewart-Haas is lined up to win races, and we’re all in to do so after switching to Fords this year. No other manufacturer has pushed harder to have success in motorsports this year than Ford has. It’s not only a push in NASCAR, it’s a push all over motorsports, so you’ve got to associate yourself with those good people who are all-in for winning races and that gives you confidence that you can go out and win races.”

 

Will it be special?

“You’re damn right it will be and I’ll embrace it, but it’s just like the last time I won a race – you head to the next race wanting to win that one. Success only makes you hungrier for more success and it’s been a while but, more importantly, I want to get established as a consistent frontrunner, not a sporadic ‘show-up and run good here and be bad the next week.’ We’ve got to get consistent week-in and week-out and perfect that and keep perfecting it, and then you’ll win races. My son is two and a half years old now and I want to be able for him to see me in victory lane and for him to be in victory lane and, when it’s all said and done, you look over when you’re 50-some years old that there’s a picture of your whole family in victory lane. That’s what I race for.”

COLE CUSTER – 2017 Fontana Race Advance

Event:               NXS 300 (Round 5 of 33)
Date:                 March 25, 2017
Location:          Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California
Layout:             2-mile oval

Cole Custer Notes of Interest

 

  • The NXS 300 will mark Cole Custer’s 10th career NASCAR XFINITY Series start and his first XFINITY Series start at his hometown track, Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.
  • Custer was born and raised in Ladera Ranch, California, where he began his racing career turning laps at local short tracks including Orange Show Speedway in San Bernardino and I-10 Speedway in Blythe.
  • Custer is no stranger to winning at California tracks where he has never competed. In 2012, Custer won his first start at I-10 Speedway in the Late Model Stock Car division.
  • In 2005, Custer won six races in the Jr. Novice Series at Pomona Valley on his way to winning the Quarter Midget championship in the Jr. Novice Series. Custer would go on to win Quarter Midget championships in the Sr. Honda and Sr. Stock Divisions four years later.
  • In 2011, Custer became the United States Auto Club (USAC) National Young Gun Champion, winning 15 of 22 races.
  • Custer is currently 12th in the XFINITY Series championship standings, 66 points behind series leader Elliot Sadler.
  • Custer’s best finish in the four XFINITY Series races run thus far is 10th, earned in the second race of the season March 4 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. It was his third top-10 finish in nine career XFINITY Series starts.
  • Haas Automation, the largest CNC machine tool manufacturer in North America and sponsor of Custer’s No. 00 Ford Mustang, is headquartered just two hours from Auto Club Speedway in Oxnard, California. Gene Haas, founder of Haas Automation Inc., first opened for business in Sun Valley, California, in 1983 machining parts for the electronics and aerospace industries.

During this time, Haas developed a fully-programmable 5C collet indexer to boost productivity in his own shop. The Haas 5C was the industry’s first device to automatically re-position parts accurately for machining by simply pressing a button, as opposed to having to reposition the material by hand – a cumbersome and time-consuming process. The machine-tool industry received the economical and reliable Haas 5C Indexer with enthusiasm, and in 1983, Haas Automation, Inc., was born. The company started with three employees in a 5,000-square-foot facility. During the next four years, Haas expanded his product line to include a wide selection of fully-programmable rotary tables, indexers and machine-tool accessories. Haas Automation quickly became the leader in fourth- and fifth-axis parts positioning.

In 1987, Haas took what he learned from the 5C Indexer and designed and developed his first vertical machining center (VMC) – the VF-1. The prototype was introduced to the manufacturing world in 1988 at the International Machine Tool Show (IMTS) in Chicago. Haas listed the machine at the unheard of price of $49,900. Industry experts were skeptical that an American company could manufacture and sell a machine tool for less than $50,000. Haas Automation silenced the skeptics. The new product was a success. Today, virtually every manufacturer of vertical machining centers worldwide produces a similar machine in the $50,000 price range.

Over the next five years, Haas Automation began to grow. In 1992, Haas Automation moved to a larger facility in Chatsworth, California, to keep up with demand. In 1997, again seeking to keep up with the success of its growing product line and production demands, Haas Automation moved once more, to its current location in Oxnard where all of its products are manufactured. The 1-million-square-foot facility is one of the largest, most modern machine tool manufacturing operations in the United States. Haas Automation currently produces four major product lines: vertical machine centers (VMCs), horizontal machine centers (HMCs), computer numeric control (CNC) lathes and rotary tables.

Cole Custer, Driver Q&A

 

What are your expectations for the NXS 300?

“We’ve had some solid cars the last few weeks that I feel have been top-10 every single week. Our goal is to go into this weekend with a top-five car and make a solid top-five run. I’ve never been to Fontana before, but hopefully I can learn it pretty fast. It looks like we’ll have a great Haas Automation Ford Mustang this weekend. It would be great to bring home a solid finish for the team.”

 

What does it mean to race at your hometown track in California?

“It means a lot. I’ve never raced there before, so it will definitely be cool. I’ve had some friends come out for a couple of races on the West Coast swing and we’ll have a lot of family in California, so it will be cool having a lot of support there. I’m really looking forward to seeing what it’s like at my hometown track.”

 

Talk about growing up in Ladera Ranch, California, where racing wasn’t exactly on the main stage.

“A lot of the kids my age didn’t know a lot about racing, so it was kind of weird because you couldn’t relate to people, sometimes. I was pretty much the only person in my whole school who liked racing, so it was out of the ordinary, but I always had my dad who was really into it. A lot of people supported what I was doing because it was so different, but you always looked forward to going back East and seeing all those guys where racing was big. You have a lot of great drivers who come out of California, so it wasn’t a bad place to grow up.”

 

Do you attribute your success to growing up around the local tracks in California?

“A little bit. There were a lot of great Quarter Midget tracks and short tracks that helped me learn, and I’ll always appreciate that. It’s all about what you do with it, what you make of it and what opportunities you get, so growing up in California was definitely a great thing for me.”

Besides racing, what was life in California like?

“I was never the average ‘California Kid.’ I didn’t care for the beach as much as everyone else, but I loved hanging out with my friends and doing average things outside of racing. I grew up playing football, baseball and soccer, so I always had friends through that, as well as friends in racing. Other than having to travel so much, I lived a pretty normal life. Those are things you can never experience again, so I’m thankful to have been able to grow up that way.”

 

Jeff Meendering, Crew Chief Q&A

 

What are your thoughts for the upcoming NXS 300 at Auto Club Speedway?

“California is Cole’s hometown track, so there will be a lot of pressure there for us. I’m sure he’ll have a lot of friends and family. Auto Club Speedway is such a large track and you have to deal with the bumps down the backstretch that are really rough, and then you’ve got such long sweeping corners. It’s a big compromise between setting your car up for downforce to handle through the corners. Then, as big as it is, you’ve got to take as much drag out almost similar to a superspeedway. It’s kind of a difficult track to set up for, but we’re looking forward to it.”

KEVIN HARVICK – 2017 Fontana Race Advance

KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Busch Beer Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), heads to Fontana, California this weekend for the final race of the three-race West Coast swing – the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.

The visit to Fontana serves as a home game for the 2014 NASCAR Cup Series champion, who grew up approximately 150 miles northwest of Auto Club Speedway in Bakersfield.

The stop at Auto Club Speedway should provide confidence for the Bakersfield native. He is one of three drivers from California to win a Cup Series race at Fontana, joining Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.

Harvick scored his only Cup Series win in Fontana on March 11, 2011. Kyle Busch dominated the afternoon, leading 151 laps of the 200-lap event but, in the closing laps as Busch attempted to hold off a hard-charging Johnson, Harvick worked the top of the racetrack and ran down the leaders. On the final turn of the final lap, Harvick passed Johnson and beat him to the finish line by .144 of a second. He led only one lap on the day, but it secured the victory at his home track.

Both of Harvick’s last two Cup Series starts at the 2-mile oval came ever so close to victory. He started and finished second in both 2015 and 2016. In 2015, he led 34 laps but finished runner-up by .710 of a second to Brad Keselowski after a late-race restart. He led 143 of 200 laps in 2016 but finished runner-up to Johnson by .772 of a second in an overtime finish.

Harvick also has had success in the NASCAR Xfinity Series at Fontana. He has one win, one pole, 12 top-five finishes and 17 top-10s in 20 career starts. He scored his lone Xfinity Series win there in 2015, when he started sixth, led 100 of 150 laps and beat second-place Brendan Gaughan to the finish line by 3.317 seconds.

The 41-year old Harvick also has four starts at Fontana in the Camping World Truck Series but has yet to score a win at his home track in that series.

He has two starts at Fontana in the K&N Pro Series West, resulting in a runner-up finish to Ken Schrader by 1.314 seconds in May 1998 and a trip to victory lane in July 1998, when he led 52 laps and beat Austin Cameron to the checkered flag by 1.15 seconds.

But, it’s more than winning on the Fontana track that makes Harvick a hometown favorite.

In March 2016, he and baseball legend Cal Ripken Jr. cut the ribbon to unveil the Kevin Harvick Foundation Park at the Boys & Girls Club in Bakersfield, which provides a clean and safe environment in which local youth can play, learn and grow. The Bakersfield facility marks the second collaboration between the two organizations, which commenced their alliance by opening the Kevin Harvick Foundation Park in Greensboro, North Carolina in November 2015.

The state-of-the-art facility in Bakersfield is designed for multisport use, featuring four outdoor fitness stations, a rubber track surface circling the field’s perimeter, and a digital scoreboard. The park, a gift to The Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club of Kern County, is maintained by the organization, with which the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation and Kevin Harvick Foundation collaborate to create and implement character education programming and clinics for the children who utilize the facility.

The Boys & Girls Club of Kern County is not the only project Harvick has completed in his hometown to help area youth.

After he won the 2014 NASCAR Cup Series championship, he planned an additional stop as part of his champion’s tour – a visit to Bakersfield. Harvick wanted to bring the Cup Series trophy to his high school, where he spoke to more than 2,000 kids in the school’s gymnasium and encouraged them to follow their dreams.

In fact, Harvick regularly gives back to his hometown through donations from his foundation. Donations have included funds to provide wrestling, baseball and golf equipment to his high school in order to ensure that anyone who wants to participate can do so without worrying about paying for proper equipment.

Harvick hopes he can give his hometown fans another thing to cheer about at the track Sunday as he attempts to capture his first win of the season in the Auto Club 400.

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

 

NASCAR used to be considered a Southern regional sport, but now so many drivers have come out of California. Can you describe what the culture was like here, racing-wise, when you and some of the other drivers came up and how it led to what we have now?

“I think, when you look at California, there are a lot of racetracks up and down the coast. Whether it’s asphalt, dirt tracks, go-kart tracks, there is a well-supported community of racing up and down the state of California, even into Washington and Oregon. As I was coming up, there was the Southwest Tour, Winston West Series, and the (NASCAR Camping World) Trucks that raced on the West Coast a lot. There was also a fairly good following for Late Models. Things have slowed down from what they used to be, but you have the Kern County Raceway in this particular area. There is definitely a lot of racing when you look at way back in the day it was mostly a Southeastern sport. I think Jeff Gordon was obviously somewhat responsible for being able to allow guys like myself in and pave the way for us to have a path to have an opportunity to come and race in NASCAR. It’s always been a well-supported racing area and I was fortunate to grow up in Bakersfield, California, which is a very well-supported racing town no matter what you race. There is a lot of racing. It just took a while for everybody to figure that out.”

Now that there is just one race a year at Fontana, talk about what the atmosphere has been and how the crowds have gotten better and how the drivers’ perceptions of the way things are starting to turn around there.

“This racetrack is a great example of lessons that a lot of people who run racetracks don’t pay attention to. Sometimes, if you take one really great thing, you can easily make them into two mediocre things. I don’t understand that with racetracks a lot of the time, but this one has come full circle. When you look at the crowds that we’ve had over the last couple of years, they’ve been really good. The racing has been really good as that track surface has aged. As a driver, you look forward to coming here now because it’s one of those tracks where you can run all over the place, the cars slide around, and you’re going to have fun from the driver’s seat. That bleeds over into the perception that the fans get because everybody is talking about enjoying racing on this particular track. Some markets are just one-race markets. I would say ninety percent of them are one-race markets, but a lot of them still have two races and you just see those mediocre crowds and, when people know that you’re only coming once a year, you have to go to that one particular race. Having a race with a good date is obviously good for the weather and the people to come out and enjoy it. It’s not 115 degrees in August, which was always fun to be a part of in the racecar (laughs). But, I think, it’s all come full circle and everything is going well for this particular track.”

DANICA PATRICK – 2017 Fontana Race Advance

The NASCAR Goes West journey continues for Danica Patrick and the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford Fusion team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) as they travel to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California for Sunday’s Auto Club 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race.

The race in Fontana marks the third and final event of this year’s three-race jaunt out West for NASCAR Cup Series teams. The No. 10 Aspen Dental team was credited with a 36th-place finish on the first leg of the trip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after engine failure. Patrick finished 22nd in the second round of the West Coast adventure last weekend at Phoenix International Raceway.

As the No. 10 team moves on to Fontana this week, it is looking to end the NASCAR Goes West journey with a solid run. Sunday’s race will mark Patrick’s fifth NASCAR Cup Series start at Auto Club Speedway. Her top finish at the track is a 14th-place effort she earned in March 2014. Patrick also has three NASCAR Xfinity Series starts at the 2-mile oval.

In last year’s race at Fontana, Patrick started 31st and ran as high as 16th before midrace contact with a competitor sent Patrick into the wall, ending the team’s day early. She was credited with a 38th-place finish.

In addition to her stock car experience at the track, Patrick also competed in the 2005 IndyCar Series event at Fontana. She started fourth and led two laps before being involved in an accident late in the race and finished 18th.

As Patrick returns to Fontana this weekend, her No. 10 Ford Fusion will feature the blue-and-white branding of Aspen Dental. One of the largest and fastest-growing brands in the United States, Aspen Dental has been a partner of SHR since 2012 and aligned with Patrick since 2014. In the brand’s sixth year with SHR and fourth with Patrick, it will serve as the primary sponsor of Patrick’s No. 10 Ford Fusion for a double-digit slate of races in 2017.

Patrick has helped shine a spotlight on oral health across a multitude of channels since partnering with the brand. She promotes Aspen Dental’s Healthy Mouth Movement – a community-giving initiative that has delivered more than $7.5 million in donated dentistry for veterans since its inception, and also appeared in “A Taste of the Future” – a hidden-camera video campaign designed to raise awareness about the long-term consequences of delaying dental care.

Sunday, Patrick and the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford team will look to head home with a smile and close out the West Coast swing with a solid finish at Fontana.

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

 

What are your overall thoughts on Fontana?

“Fontana’s pavement has not aged gracefully (laughs), so it makes for a challenging race. It’s a challenge to set up the car – the seams move the car around a lot. It’s very fast, yet you still have to get the car to rotate and it seems really tight off of (turn) two. It’s one of the tougher places to get the balance right. But, if you do strike a good balance in practice, you have a chance to have a really good day on Sunday.”

 

Coming out of Daytona, we hit a stretch of the season that includes Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Fontana. How important is that slate of races?

“The first five races of the year are super-critical for the points championship but, in particular, they’re a good indicator of how the rest of the year is going to go from a performance standpoint. With those tracks, you’re covering all the bases with a short track, being Phoenix, a mile-and-a-half with Atlanta, a mile-and-a-half with Vegas – with Vegas being high-grip and Atlanta being low-grip – and then you go to Fontana, which is a 2-mile, flat, wide oval. So, you’ve got a lot of different challenges. If we can perform well as a team at all of those tracks and have the mechanical handling that we need, and good understanding as to what we need there to balance out the aerodynamics – which, hopefully, aero-wise we’re in good shape – then we’ll have a great start to the year.”

KURT BUSCH – 2017 Fontana Race Advance

For Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), this weekend’s Auto Club 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race is one for bragging rights as he and the team converge on Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California looking to claim the victory in the backyard of both primary sponsors.

Headquartered is in Oxnard, California approximately 100 miles from Fontana is Haas Automation, the largest CNC (computer numerically controlled) machine tool builder in North America. Founded by Gene Haas in Sun Valley, California in 1983 to manufacture machine tools, Haas Automation entered the industry with the first fully automatic, programmable collet indexer – a device used to position parts for machining with high accuracy. Haas moved the company to its current purpose-built facility located on 86 acres in Oxnard in 1997. By then, the company had shipped its 10,000th CNC machine and, less than 10 years later, had installed its 75,000th machine. To date, more than 175,000 Haas CNC machines have been put into service worldwide.

Based in Corona, California is Monster Beverage Corporation. Its subsidiaries develop and market energy drinks, including the brand that adorns the quarterpanels of the No. 41 Ford – Monster Energy. A company that typically passes on traditional forms of advertising and instead earns significant brand exposure through its roster of extreme athletes, Monster Energy made the jump to the NASCAR Cup Series with Busch in 2015. Renowned for a tenacious driving style that has earned him 29 wins and the 2004 Cup Series championship in a career spanning more than 17 years, Busch fit the bill as a Monster Energy athlete. Located approximately 20 miles due south of Fontana, this weekend’s race will be a home one for Monster’s more than 2,000 employees.

While Busch may downplay that there is added pressure to perform well this weekend, he’d like nothing more than to return to his winning ways at the 2-mile oval and give both Haas Automation and Monster Energy the trophy from their home track. While it’s been a number of years since he won there – 14 to be exact – his recent performances there make him difficult to overlook.

Augmenting Busch’s Fontana win are four poles, seven top-five finishes and 12 top-10s in 23 career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series starts there. Two of those top-fives and four of those top-10s have come in his last five starts.

Busch heads to Fontana this weekend having posted two less-than-desired finishes due to electrical issues that plagued his No. 41 Ford. He’s looking to get back to his winning ways this weekend at Fontana by scoring both his second win at the 2-mile racetrack and of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.

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

 

Talk about heading to Auto Club Speedway this weekend and racing in the backyard of your primary sponsors Haas Automation and Monster Energy. Do you feel any extra pressure to perform there?

“It’s a lot of fun to race at Auto Club Speedway with both Haas Automation and Monster Energy headquartered nearby. I’m going to both headquarters to visit, to see all the employees. It’s a busy week. Then you want to go to the racetrack and have a good run because everybody’s there, and they’re that close to the action one time a year. So, of course you want to do well. There’s some added pressure. We want to come away with the win. We almost got it a couple of years ago but, last year, we missed the setup. You’re going to be hot, you’re going to be cold – we hope it’s a race we’re going to be hot for.”

 

What’s the key to success at Auto Club Speedway? 

“I think the key to success is short-run speed. It always seems to come down to a green-white-checkered finish or a quick pit stop at the end to put four tires on. You’ll be five-, six-wide going down into turn one and off of two, you’ve got to find the right holes at the end of the race even though you’ve been out there for 400 miles.”

 

What’s the difference between the asphalt at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Auto Club Speedway?

 “They’re really similar, it’s just that there’s no banking at Auto Club Speedway compared to what we have at Atlanta. You’re really slip-sliding around and the pace drops off a ton at Auto Club.”

 

DANICA PATRICK – 2017 Phoenix I Race Advance

KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina – Danica Patrick and the No. 10 TaxAct Ford Fusion team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) enter this weekend’s Camping World 500k Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway looking to score a “Premium Finish” at the mile oval.

Entering Sunday’s race, Patrick brings experience from competing in three different series at Phoenix: the NASCAR Cup Series, the NASCAR Xfinity Series and the IndyCar Series. In her lone IndyCar start at the mile oval in 2005, Patrick finished 15th. She has competed in five Xfinity Series races at Phoenix and earned a 10th-place result in November 2012. Patrick has made nine NASCAR Cup Series starts at the track and scored her best finish there – a 16th-place effort – after overcoming a pit-road penalty in November 2015.

As the No. 10 team enters the weekend at Phoenix International Raceway, it is looking to accomplish stronger on-track marks. Sunday’s race at Phoenix will be the second of four events during which TaxAct will serve as the primary sponsor on Patrick’s No. 10 Ford and the official tax preparation software partner of SHR, and Patrick is looking for good results from the team, as well.

The leading provider of clear, transparent and affordably priced tax preparation software for DIY filers, TaxAct once again begins this weekend offering race fans the chance to file their 2016 federal and state tax returns using TaxAct Online 2016 Premium Edition at a highly discounted price. If Patrick or any member of the SHR team grabs a top-10 finish in Sunday’s race, or any race before April 18, NASCAR fans can file their tax returns using TaxAct Online Premium Bundle for only $10 – currently priced at $70. This gives filers access to the federal and state forms needed to complete their return no matter how complex their situation, all in, for $10 – offer and pricing subject to change. In the event none of the SHR drivers finish in the top-10 in those races, NASCAR fans can take advantage of a $10 discount off their federal return when they use TaxAct Online Plus or Premium Editions.

Tax filers can get a “Premium Finish” with the running of the Camping World 500k, with applicable discounted pricing available through the following Saturday – offer and pricing subject to change. TaxAct will offer additional opportunities for NASCAR fans to file returns with “Premium Finish” pricing for the NASCAR Cup Series races up to the tax filing deadline on April 18. Fans can lock in their “Premium Finish” price online by visiting TaxAct.com/Ten. 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.

Heading into this weekend at Phoenix, the TaxAct Ford team is looking to improve upon its results thus far with great hopes that a return to the “Valley of the Sun” will bring a “Premium Finish” and, in turn, help fans get a great deal on their taxes.

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

 

There are a lot of logistics involved in the West Coast swing. What do you do? Do you stay out West or do you commute like you would to other NASCAR races?

“I stay out on the West Coast. I lived in Phoenix full-time for 10 years. My house is there, so I base in Phoenix and it’s perfect. Those are long trips, back-and-forth, from the West Coast. Those are four- and five-hour plane rides each way, so it definitely functions logistically a lot easier to just base myself on the West Coast and I think more and more people are doing that. I think it’s smart.”

Are there any other areas on the West Coast that you make a point to visit when you’re out there or that you want to visit when you go out there?

“Not really. When I’m on the West Coast, Phoenix is my base and that’s where I lived for so long. I’ve got a lot of friends there, I’ve got a house and I’ve got all of the creature comforts. It’s not even home away from home, it is home.”

What are your thoughts on racing at Phoenix this weekend?

“We had a solid race at Phoenix last spring but struggled a bit in the fall. We’re looking to do a lot better when we return to the track this weekend. I like Phoenix and think it’s a great track, so I hope we can have a smooth run and do well.”

Talk about returning to Phoenix for this weekend’s race.

“The Phoenix area just has amazing amenities, like great grocery stores, great restaurants and great shopping. When it comes to the track itself, the fans are such a big part of everything. They get in early to camp out and it’s like they have their own little city. They even have a grocery store at the track. There’s always a really big crowd at Phoenix and it’s great to see how much this area supports our sport.”

Coming out of Daytona, we hit a stretch of the season that includes Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Fontana. How important is that slate of races?

“The first five races of the year are super-critical for the points championship but, in particular, they’re a good indicator of how the rest of the year is going to go from a performance standpoint. With those tracks, you’re covering all the bases with a short track, being Phoenix, a mile-and-a-half with Atlanta, a mile-and-a-half with Vegas – with Vegas being high-grip and Atlanta being low-grip – and then you go to Fontana, which is a 2-mile, flat, wide oval, so you’ve got a lot of different challenges. If we can perform well as a team at all of those tracks and have the mechanical handling that we need, and good understanding as to what we need there to balance out the aerodynamics – which, hopefully, aero-wise, we’re in good shape – then we’ll have a great start to the year.”

Do you have a lot of friends coming out for this race?

“I always have a lot of friends who come out for the races in Phoenix. It’s a nice track for everyone to come out to and, hopefully, everyone has a good time.”

COLE CUSTER – 2017 Phoenix I Race Advance

Event:               DC Solar 200 (Round 4 of 33)
Date:                 Saturday, March 18
Location:          Phoenix International Raceway
Layout:             Mile oval

Cole Custer Notes of Interest

  • The DC Solar 200 will mark Cole Custer’s ninth career NASCAR XFINITY Series start and his first career XFINITY Series start at Phoenix International Raceway.
  • While the DC Solar 200 will be Custer’s first XFINITY Series start at Phoenix, it will be his seventh overall start at the mile oval. Custer has three NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts and three NASCAR K&N Pro Series starts at Phoenix. Custer’s best Truck Series finish is third in 2014 and that same year he won the K&N Pro Series race. Custer also has a K&N Series pole at Phoenix, earned in 2013 when he first competed at the track.
  • Since 2015 across eight XFINITY Series starts, 42 Camping World Truck Series starts and 29 K&N Pro Series starts, Custer has five wins, six poles, 13 top-fives, 22 top-10s and 919 laps led at tracks that are a mile in length or shorter.
  • In last Saturday’s XFINITY Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Custer finished 11th to earn rookie-of-the-race honors. Custer is competing for rookie-of-the-year honors in the XFINITY Series.
  • Custer is currently 10th in the XFINITY Series championship point standings, 37 points behind series leader Elliott Sadler.
  • Custer’s best finish in the three XFINITY Series races run thus far is 10th, earned in the second race of the season March 4 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. It was his third top-10 finish in eight career XFINITY Series starts.
  • The DC Solar 200 is one 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 DC Solar 200. This means the only NASCAR Cup Series drivers competing in the DC Solar 200 are Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon, Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones and Ryan Blaney. Theoretically, this gives regular XFINITY Series drivers a better chance to win.

 

Cole Custer, Driver Q&A 

 

How do you like racing at Phoenix? 

“The surface at Phoenix is a lot like Vegas. You get a lot of grip and it lays a pretty good amount of rubber. It’s a really flat track so you get a lot of speed. It’s really fun to get around, and there’s that cool dogleg on the backstretch, so it’s definitely a fun place to race.”

You were the highest finishing rookie last week at Las Vegas and you have a successful track record at Phoenix. Does this give you a level of confidence going into the DC Solar 200? 

“For sure. We’re starting to get everything sorted out on our team and I think we’re going to head into Phoenix really strong with a lot of confidence. I’ve done fairly well there in the past, so hopefully that translates to this weekend.”

What do you like most about racing at shorter tracks like Phoenix? 

“It’s always good when you’re all the way out of the gas and you have to use the brake and throttle. There’s a lot more work you have to do, so it’s just more fun to and more natural.” 

What are your expectations for this weekend at Phoenix?

“We’ve been solid the first few races with top-10 cars, so I think we definitely have a shot at continuing these solid runs and progressing. We’re getting better and better each week and sorting everything out so, hopefully, we’ll be in the top-five soon.”

 With fewer NASCAR Cup Series drivers entered at Phoenix, do you see a greater opportunity to run up front and win? Or do you prefer racing against Cup Series drivers so that your learning curve is accelerated?

“I’m definitely a little split on the Cup driver debate. I think it’s great for us young guys to run against the Cup drivers because we can learn a lot, but I can also see from a fan’s point that racing might be a little better without them. I think all of us XFINITY regulars are especially looking for strong runs when they aren’t in the race, but it makes it even better when they are and you’re able to beat them.”

 

Jeff Meendering, Crew Chief Q&A

 

What are your overall thoughts as you head to Phoenix?

“Phoenix is a really fun track. I know Cole does well at the shorter tracks like Richmond and Loudon, so I’m confident in his abilities to race well in Phoenix. What’s difficult about Phoenix is that it’s considered a short track with a dogleg in the back and higher speeds since the repave, so you’ve got speeds similar to an intermediate track. We have to set up a car in between the two.”