KEVIN HARVICK – 2017 Indianapolis Race Advance

Kevin Harvick grew up racing go-karts in Bakersfield, California, dreaming of his turn to one day emulate his childhood hero Rick Mears, the four-time Indianapolis 500 champion and three-time IndyCar Series champion who also hails from Bakersfield. His dream was to win the historic Indy 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But the driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) saw his career take a different path that led him to NASCAR instead of IndyCar.

The path that led to NASCAR meant that Harvick would have to slightly amend his dreams of winning at Indianapolis. Instead of winning the 500, he would instead try to win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Brickyard 400.

In 2003, in just his third attempt at the Brickyard, Harvick made his dream of winning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway a reality, and he did so in grand fashion. Harvick won the pole with a speed of 184.343 mph, led 33 laps and beat runner-up Matt Kenseth to the finish line by 2.758 seconds.

Since 2003, the 16-year NASCAR Cup veteran has come close winning again at the Brickyard. In 2006, Harvick started 10th, led 18 laps and finished third. In 2010, he started ninth, led five laps and finished runner-up to Jamie McMurray by less than two seconds.

In 2014, Harvick set the NASCAR Cup Series track qualifying record with a time of 47.647 seconds at 188.889 mph in the opening qualifying round. He went on to win the pole with a time of 47.753 seconds at 188.470 mph in the final round, then led 12 laps in the race, but he finished eighth.

Harvick started sixth and led a race-high 75 laps in 2015, but his bid for a second Brickyard win was foiled by a late-race restart when runner-up driver Joey Logano pushed race-winner Kyle Busch past Harvick to the lead. Harvick would go on to finish third.

The 2014 NASCAR Cup Series champion would like nothing more than to score his second Cup Series win at Indianapolis in Sunday’s Brickyard 400. A win Sunday would be Harvick’s second of the 2017 season and provide additional playoff points heading into the postseason.

Since Harvick scored his first Cup Series win of the 2017 campaign at Sonoma, he now looks to build on his playoff points heading into the championship run. His eight playoff points are currently tied for sixth in the Cup Series, 13 behind leader Martin Truex Jr.’s 21 playoff points. In total, the 2017 season has produced 12 different winners through the first 19 Cup Series races.

While Harvick and the No. 4 team are ready to advance to the playoffs and pursue their second Cup Series championship, gaining playoff points for additional stage and race wins continues to be their top priority through the next six races starting this weekend at Indianapolis.

KEVIN HARVICK, Driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Fusion:

 

What makes Indianapolis unique or special to you?

“Indianapolis is a very unique track. For me, it’s kind of a cool place to go to as I grew up always wanting to race Indy cars. With Rick Mears being from Bakersfield (California), he was a hometown, childhood hero as we were all racing go-karts. So, to win there back in 2003, and be able to kind of achieve your childhood dream in a sense, but in a stock car, was a great moment. Going back to Indy is just knowing it’s a very historic racetrack where it’s a lot of fun to be a part of the event. It’s always a place where  you want to win, but it’s fun to just go there and race to be a part of the next era of its history.”

What is your favorite Brickyard moment? 

“My favorite Brickyard moment is definitely the win. I always tell people that the best part of the win is not kissing the bricks or taking the checkered flag, but the best part of the win is driving around in the car after the race. You can tell who the fans are who have been at Indy for a long time and know about the victory lap. So just driving around and reminiscing about what you just achieved with the team owner and DeLana (Harvick, wife) is just a cool 15 minutes.”

What does it take to be successful at Indianapolis?

“Indianapolis is a very hard racetrack to pass on. Obviously, with how narrow the racetrack is and how fast the cars are going, you have to try and maintain your track position all day. It takes really everything – you have to have great motors, good handling and all the things you hear about at a lot of racetracks. You can’t overcome a lack of horsepower or a lack of downforce and I feel like we’ve done a good job with both of those things all year. Hopefully, we can find the right handling package to go with the great pieces and parts that we have to go on the cars.”

DANICA PATRICK – 2017 Indianapolis Race Advance

When Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams visit Indianapolis Motor Speedway for Sunday’s Brickyard 400, (Back Home Again in) Indiana, the song performed prior to the Indianapolis 500 each year since 1946, will be a welcoming tune for Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR).

While Patrick was born in Beloit, Wisconsin and raised in the town of Roscoe, Illinois, when she returns to Indianapolis, it’s a homecoming of sorts after years of success at Indy as she competed in the Indianapolis 500 from 2005 to 2011.

“I think the best thing about coming back is that it feels familiar and it feels comfortable,” Patrick said. “We spent so much time there during the month of May that it becomes like a second home, almost. It’s not like the Indy 500 was a three-day show. You spent just about the entire month there. My parents live outside of Indy, as do my sister and her family, so it’s nice to come back.”

Patrick burst onto the scene at Indy in May 2005, when she stunned the world by leading three times for 19 laps and finishing fourth in her first 500 – becoming the first woman to lead laps and score a top-five finish in the historic race.

She set numerous records during her Indy 500 debut and set the tone early when she posted the fastest lap on the opening day of practice. She went on to set the fastest practice lap five times during the month – more than any other driver – including Pole Day and Carburetion Day.

Patrick’s practice lap of 229.880 mph on Pole Day was the fastest of any driver during the month and the fastest turned by any woman in the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. During her qualification attempt, Patrick made an impressive save as her car bobbled in turn one on her first lap, earning her rave reviews for her car control by longtime Speedway observers. She ended up qualifying fourth, the best-ever starting position for a woman in the race.

On race day, with 11 laps remaining in the 200-lap event, Patrick blew past leader Dan Wheldon and held the point until lap 194, when she was forced to slow down in order to conserve fuel to make it to the finish. Her efforts earned her Rookie of the Year honors.

Patrick scored six top-10 finishes in seven starts at Indianapolis and qualified 10th or better five times. Her third-place result in 2009 is the best finish ever for a woman in the history of the 500.

While Patrick has earned history-making results at Indianapolis in her IndyCar career, she has yet to experience the same level of success at the 2.5-mile track in a stock car. In her first NASCAR Cup Series start at the track in 2013, she finished 30th and, in 2014, her day at the iconic track was cut short by rear-gear issues and she ended up 42nd. In 2015, Patrick was running 13th with less than 15 laps to go but lost considerable ground on the final two restarts and finished 27th. Last year, Patrick scored her highest stock car finish at the track when she took the checkered flag in the 22nd position.

In Patrick’s lone Xfinity Series race at Indianapolis in 2012, she finished 35th after getting caught up in an accident.

Patrick returns to Indianapolis this week on the heels of scoring back-to-back top-15 finishes. Riding that momentum, Patrick and the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford team hope her past success in the 500 will finally carry over to the Brickyard 400 so they can bring home a solid finish.

 

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

 

How special is Indianapolis Motor Speedway to you?

 “I love going to Indy. I love driving through the tunnel and coming into the track – when it’s empty – just seeing the Pagoda. It’s just such a special place and I have so many great memories from there. No matter what car I’m driving, I always feel the track’s magnitude and just how special of a place it is.”

Compare driving a stock car at Indianapolis to driving an Indy car.

“It’s just about finding a balance with the car out there, which is no different in a stock car than in an Indy car. You’re just trying to find a balance. All you’re doing in an Indy car is trimming it out and, if I could have more downforce in these cars, I’d probably take it because, in an IndyCar, we learned very quickly that it’s about how much throttle you could carry around. The stock cars get very low in the corners, and that can be a little bit of a danger in an IndyCar, especially if you get just a little bit too low and get a little loose. So, that’s a little bit different, I suppose.”

Talk about what it’s like when you drive through the tunnel at Indianapolis and get ready for a race weekend.

“I think the best thing about coming back is that it feels familiar and it feels comfortable. I like seeing it. It feels very comfortable, very familiar. I just feel like I’ve had a lot of different experiences there that can help me and, again, it’s just a special place where I feel like, from the beginning, I’ve always really believed that you have to show this track respect and it will hopefully show you the respect back. I’ve always thought that and, especially in an Indy car, this place can bite you pretty big. I don’t think it’s too much different in a stock car, to be honest. It’s just a very familiar place. We spent so much time there during the month of May that it becomes like a second home, almost. It’s not like the Indy 500 was a three-day show. You spent just about the entire month there. My parents live outside of Indy, as do my sister and her family, so it’s nice to come back.”

How hard is it to drive a stock car at Indy and what do you need to turn a fast lap?

“In an Indy car, you don’t have to lift, which is obviously nice. But, on the other hand, you get to the point where you do have to lift a little bit and it’s always that breaking point of flat or not flat, so I think that that is quite challenging. But, in a stock car, you’re always lifting, you’re breaking, you’re sliding around a lot more without so much banking, so we need the banking. I have always thought flat tracks make for good racing in IndyCar and really banked tracks are good for racing in stock cars. I don’t know if (Indianapolis Motor Speedway) necessarily suits us as our best races of the year that we’ve put on, but I think it’s still a great race and I personally enjoy traditional passing because that’s my background. That’s my go-karting, road-course-racing background. So much of what I did growing up was setting up the pass, getting inside of them and them having to kind of give way because there are not two lanes, so I do enjoy that challenge.”

CLINT BOWYER – 2017 Indianapolis Race Advance

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway will be a hot, slick, challenging racetrack for the 40 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers competing in Sunday’s 24th annual Brickyard 400. But, there are few tracks where raising the trophy at the end of the day means more than it does at the 108-year-old Indy oval.

Clint Bowyer knows a win Sunday afternoon would top the list of his career accomplishments in the Cup Series. Only 13 drivers have their likeness on the Brickyard 400 trophy permanently housed in the track’s infield museum. The Emporia, Kansas native will drive the No. 14 most recently driven at Indianapolis by Hoosier racing legend and Bowyer’s boss Tony Stewart, who retired from NASCAR competition last year.

“I love going to Indianapolis,” said Bowyer, whose No. 14 Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) will carry the Mobil 1/Rush Truck Centers paint scheme this weekend. “The history and tradition behind it is very special. It’s a huge opportunity, and a privilege, to be able to race on it. I understand the significance of Indianapolis. I enjoy not only the city, but also the racetrack. Knowing Tony’s thoughts about Indianapolis only makes it more important we do well this weekend.”

Indy is a difficult track for the stock car crowd, whose cars lack the downforce of their open wheel counterparts in the IndyCar Series. The rectangular oval track includes two 5/8-mile straightaways and four nearly identical quarter-mile turns connected by short, eighth-mile straightaways. The turns are banked about nine degrees – far flatter than the 30-plus-degree banking at tracks like Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, and others that are part of the NASCAR schedule.

“Indy is just so unique,” said Bowyer, who has posted two top-five and three-top 10 finishes in 12 starts at Indianapolis. “You’re going so fast. The corners are so flat. You’ve got to have that baby flat to the floor, all the way around. It’s just a hard, hard track to get around.”

He said the key to racing success there is managing risk behind the steering wheel.

“The challenge is trying to be patient,” Bowyer said. “You just have to be patient. You push it to the edge there. You come off of them corners and you’re like, ‘There’s no way. I’m gonna hit the wall. Whoo.’ By the way, I gotta do that 400 more miles.”

Bowyer has more incentive than just winning at the world’s most famous racetrack. He and his No. 14 team led by crew chief Mike (Buga) Bugarewicz are battling for one of the final berths in NASCAR’s 16-team playoffs. Bowyer arrives at Indianapolis 15th in the standings, just 54 ahead of the cutoff for the final playoff spot. A win would secure a berth and make for a much more pleasant summer stretch, but Bowyer knows that without a regular-season win, accumulating every available point is mandatory.

He’s done a good job of that in 2017. The No. 14 team has scored the 10th-most points of any team. It’s a significant accomplishment for Bowyer and Bugarewicz in their first season together and first season with Ford Performance. The Roush-Yates-powered team has posted three second-place finishes and eight top-10s this season.

Last weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, Bowyer rallied in the closing laps for a seventh-place finish. It marked his third top-10 in the last four races. Bowyer has scored the third-most points of any driver in the last four races that included second-place finishes at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway and Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.

“We go into each weekend thinking we need to win to make the playoffs,” Bowyer said. “Indianapolis is no different.”

If successful this weekend, he’ll join a handful of drivers who’ve won at the Brickyard, secured a 2017 playoff berth and taken a place in the history books.

That’s a lot of incentive.

 

CLINT BOWYER, Driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Rush Truck Centers Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:

 

What makes winning at Indianapolis so special?

“Oh, I think it’s the racetrack, man. It’s the history behind it. It’s a hard race. It’s a hard place to get around, as a driver. But it all comes down to the history, the people who have won that race and won at that racetrack before you. That’s why you want to win there so badly.”

KEVIN HARVICK – 2017 New Hampshire I Race Advance

Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Busch Beer Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), kicked off his Tuesday-night SiriusXM Radio show “Happy Hours” by announcing that he and wife DeLana are expecting to add a daughter to their family around the first of the year.

The surprise announcement comes as the NASCAR Cup Series heads to New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, where Harvick is the most recent Cup Series winner on the 1.058-mile oval.

In September 2016, things didn’t go as planned for Harvick and the No. 4 team at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet to kick off the NASCAR playoffs. The 20th-place finish at Chicagoland had the team ranked 13th in points, trailing SHR teammate Tony Stewart by one point with two races before the cutoff for the Round of 12.

Harvick started 19th in the 40-car field at New Hampshire and quickly made a charge to the front, cracking the top-10 within the first 50 laps around the track. By the halfway point, he had become a fixture among the top-five. The last restart of the race turned out to be the game changer for Harvick and company.

The 2014 Sprint Cup champion was in second place for the restart with six laps to go. He charged into the first turn alongside race leader Matt Kenseth and maintained the inside position on the track as the field raced down the backstretch into turn three. He emerged as the race leader at the exit of turn four and started to stretch the lead during the final laps en route to the victory.

The victory allowed the No. 4 team to automatically advance to the Round of 12 in the 2016 playoffs and continue its pursuit of Harvick’s second championship.

As the second half of the 2017 season continues, Harvick and the No. 4 team are ranked fourth in points with a win to their credit and eight playoff points. The goal moving forward is to score as many playoff points as possible in the remaining seven regular-season races.

The best way to gain playoff points is to win races and win stages. Harvick and the No. 4 Busch Beer team will attempt to do both this weekend at New Hampshire as he continues his march toward a second NASCAR Cup Series championship.

Harvick is hoping the good news continues with a win on Sunday.

KEVIN HARVICK, Driver of the No. 4 Busch Beer Ford Fusion:

 

Harvick on his family expecting the arrival of a baby girl around the first of the year:

“(Son) Keelan (Harvick) obviously broke the news this week but, I think for us, we had a birthday party with DeLana’s birthday being on Friday of Kentucky weekend and Keelan’s birthday on Saturday, so we had a big birthday party at the house for DeLana and Keelan. We had all of DeLana’s family, we had my mom come out, and we had everybody in the yard. We figured, ‘You know what? It’s just a good time to tell everybody.’ So, we weren’t going to tell anybody else, and then this week I did my call-in at the shop and my good ole buddy Clint Bowyer, who has known for a long time everything that has been going on, and he said, ‘Well, how’d it go?’ And I’m like, ‘What are you talking about?’ So he says, ‘Well, did you tell everybody at the party? You know, you were going to tell everybody at the party.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, yep, told everybody.’ So he was like, ‘Well, tell everybody else!’ So I had to tell everybody in the competition meeting. Then we walk outside on Tuesday morning to go to Pocono for an appearance, and Keelan is going with me, but he sees the pilot when we get to the airport and he says, ‘Guess what, Mr. Chris? I’m going to be a big brother.’ I was like, OK, so I told DeLana, ‘Keelan is going to tell everybody because he seems to be pretty excited about the situation and everything that’s going on.’”

What does it take to be successful at Loudon?

“I’d say the most important thing at Loudon is track position just because it’s hard to pass. You want to be up front and on the right strategy no matter what you do. If the caution flag falls in the wrong spot and you lose track position, it usually becomes a longer day than it could have been.”

KURT BUSCH – 2017 New Hampshire I Race Advance

The first time Kurt Busch raced at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, he won. It was July 8, 2000 and Busch was a rookie in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Wheeling a Ford F-150 and coming off his first career win the week before at the Milwaukee Mile in West Allis, Wisconsin, Busch qualified fifth at New Hampshire and then led the final 35 laps around the 1.058-mile oval to earn his first Granite State victory and his second Truck Series win in a row.

Busch only spent one season in the Truck Series before jumping to the elite Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. At just 22 years old, Busch entered the 2001 season as a rookie competing with the best drivers in the world. He didn’t make it to victory lane that year, but moments of brilliance flashed, including a pole-winning effort at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway and a fifth-place finish in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

When Busch came back to New Hampshire in 2002 as a sophomore in the NASCAR Cup Series, he knocked down an eighth-place finish in July and followed it up with a second-place effort when the series returned in September. It was the beginning of what has become an exemplary Cup Series record at New Hampshire.

The now 39-year-old has three wins, two second-place finishes, seven top-threes, eight top-fives, 13 top-10s and has led a total of 541 laps in his 32 career NASCAR Cup Series starts at New Hampshire. His average start is 11.8, his average finish is 15.8 and his lap completion rate is 96 percent.

Busch’s three NASCAR Cup Series wins at New Hampshire ties him for the most among active drivers, joining Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman.

And while every win is cherished, those first two New Hampshire triumphs carry significant importance.

The year was 2004, which any New Englander who knows the names Bucky Dent and Aaron Boone remembers vividly. That’s because it was the year the Boston Red Sox finally vanquished the Curse of the Bambino, winning its first World Series since 1918 by sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals. Well before this October Classic of All Classics, Busch swept the NASCAR Cup Series’ races at New Hampshire in 2004. He overcame a 32nd-place qualifying effort in July to lead twice for 110 laps en route to his first win Cup Series win at the track. His second win came in September when he led three times for a race-high 155 laps. Busch went on to win the 2004 NASCAR Cup Series championship.

Coincidence? We think not.

When Busch won at New Hampshire in September 2004, he became the first driver to win a race in NASCAR’s playoffs. The victory placed Busch in a tie with Dale Earnhardt Jr. for first place in the championship standings. Busch also became one of only two drivers to have swept the slate of NASCAR Cup Series races at New Hampshire. The other is Johnson, who swept the pair of Cup Series races in 2003.

Busch’s most recent win at New Hampshire came in July 2008 when he won the rain-shortened NASCAR Cup Series race. He only led 10 laps, but they were the final 10 of the 284-lap contest.

Busch has captured the magic of the Magic Mile before, and as the driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion returns to New Hampshire after back-to-back DNFs (Did Not Finish) at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, he’s looking to recapture that magic.

With a win in the season-opening Daytona 500, along with two top-fives and eight top-10s in the 18 races prior to the Overton’s 301 on Sunday, Busch is plenty capable of earning a fourth victory at New Hampshire to solidify his playoff standing and take sole possession of having the most New Hampshire wins among active drivers.

With the Red Sox back in first place in its division, Busch looks to take a page from 2004 and grab another first-place trophy in New England on Sunday.

 

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

 

Your record at New Hampshire is pretty stout. Why is that?

“It’s a track that has been pretty good to me since I started racing in the top series of this sport. I raced there for the first time in the Truck Series and won that race. Then, it’s a track where I have three wins in the Cup cars and, when you’re able to go to a track where you’ve had that kind of success, it just gives you confidence. Because of the wins and everything, it’s a place we go to where I feel like I especially know what it takes from the car and the driver to be successful.”

Are the challenges at New Hampshire the same as always, or does the track change over the years?

“It seems like it has changed a little bit toward the end of the race with a lot of aggressive restarts. That is when you gain positions, or it’s easy to lose positions. Everybody is out there elbows out, pushing hard, and you hope to not have trouble.”

What do you need your car to do really well at New Hampshire to have a chance to win?

“It’s got to be able to cut in the center of the corner, cut underneath guys, look to get to that bottom lane and drive up off the corner and get side-by-side with guys. That way you have position on corner exit.”

With New Hampshire being a tight and flat one-mile oval, it has some short-track characteristics in that there’s close racing and sometimes contact is made. If you inadvertently get into someone, do you try to right that wrong so it doesn’t come back to bite you later?

“It depends upon the circumstances, but yes. Usually, you’re trying to keep your eye on the main prize, which is victory lane at the end of the day. If you have a run-in early on in the race, that guy is going to be trying to find you or you’re looking over your shoulder. So if you can sort of hit a reset button and right a mistake, you do that, but not at the expense of taking yourself out of position for the win.”

COLE CUSTER – 2017 New Hampshire Race Advance

Event:               Overton’s 200 (Round 17 of 33)
Date:                 July 15, 2017
Location:          New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon
Layout:             1.058-mile oval

 

Cole Custer Notes of Interest

 

  • The Overton’s 200 will mark Cole Custer’s 22nd career NASCAR XFINITY Series start and his first XFINITY Series start at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon. 
  • While the Overton’s 200 will be Custer’s first XFINITY Series start at New Hampshire, it will be his fifth overall start at the 1.058-mile oval. Custer has three NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts and one NASCAR K&N Pro Series start at New Hampshire. Between Custer’s four starts at New Hampshire, he has two wins, two poles, three top-10s and has led 208 laps.
  • In Custer’s first ever start at New Hampshire in 2013, he captured his fourth K&N Pro Series win from the pole after leading 60 laps.
  • In 2014, Custer made his first Truck Series start at New Hampshire. It proved memorable, as he won the pole and then won the race to earn his first career Truck Series victory. At 16 years, 7 months and 28 days, Custer became the youngest race winner in NASCAR national series history.
  • If Custer wins the Overton’s 200, he will have earned his first victory in his first career start at New Hampshire in three different NASCAR divisions – K&N Pro Series East, Truck Series and XFINITY Series. 
  • In 21 XFINITY Series starts, 42 Camping World Truck Series starts and 29 K&N Pro Series starts since 2015, Custer has five wins, six poles, 14 top-five finishes, 23 top-10s and 919 laps led at tracks currently on the NASCAR circuit that are approximately one mile in length or shorter. 
  • Custer’s best finish in the 16 XFINITY Series races run this season is fourth, earned in the 11th event June 3 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. It was his eighth top-10 and third top-five and it equaled his career-best finish in 21 career XFINITY Series starts.
  • Custer’s best qualifying effort in the 16 XFINITY Series races run this season is third, earned in the seventh race of the season April 22 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. Custer has nine top-10 starts and three top-five starts this season.
  • Custer is third in the XFINITY Series Rookie of the Year standings, 53 points behind leader William Byron and four points behind second-place Daniel Hemric. Custer has earned five Rookie of the Race awards this season.
  • Custer is sixth in the XFINITY Series driver standings, 210 points behind series leader Elliot Sadler.
  • Custer has earned two top-five finishes, six top-10s and has led 29 laps in the 2017 XFINITY Series season.

 

Cole Custer, Driver Q&A

 

Describe the feeling you had after winning your second race at New Hampshire, where you became the youngest winner in national series history.

It was so special because it was a special place for our team with a lot of crew guys from the Northeast. We came there with a fast truck and we were fast in the K&N car the year before that. It was just phenomenal to get my first win there and it kind of solidified myself in that series. It was definitely a day to remember. It probably put my name out there a bit more and gave me more confidence going forward.”

What does it take to run a successful lap around New Hampshire?  

You just have to try to max out your entry speed and roll through the center to get a decent exit. It’s tough when your car isn’t perfect.

Are you more confident at tracks that are a mile in length or shorter?

“I think we’ve had really good cars in the past at short tracks and I think it’s more natural to me than a mile-and-a-half. It’s probably like that for most guys. We just grew up running short tracks and didn’t have to deal with aero as much.”

Explain the impact that Ford has made on your season thus far.

“They’ve put a lot into our program and they’ve helped a lot with getting us going. They’ve got a lot of awesome tools at the Ford Performance Center. Also, our motors have been awesome with the Roush Yates power under the hood. We’ve definitely had a leg up there and it’s coming along great. We just have to fine tune our Haas Automation Mustangs a little.”

  

Jeff Meendering, Crew Chief Q&A

 

How do you feel going to a track where Cole has won from the pole twice and became the youngest winner in national series history?

“I’m excited about going to Loudon. Cole is very good at that track and I’ve been fortunate to be a part of several good teams that have won at that track. We are bringing the same Haas Automation Ford Mustang that we finished fourth with at Dover and a really good run going with it at Bristol before being caught up in a wreck at the end of the race. We haven’t had the runs we hoped for the past couple of weeks, but I feel like we can easily get back on track this weekend and continue to move up in the point standings.”

DANICA PATRICK – 2017 New Hampshire Race Advance

On Wednesday night, Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), will trade in her firesuit for formal wear as she serves as a presenter at The ESPYS in Los Angeles. The 25th annual celebration of the best moments from the year in sports is scheduled to air live at 8 p.m. EDT on ABC and the night will mark the 13th consecutive year that Patrick has been a part of the event.

After the star-studded festivities conclude in Los Angeles, Patrick will travel to New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon and return to her firesuit, helmet and racing shoes for Sunday’s Overton’s 301 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event.

The gates first opened to what is now known as New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 1990. Built as a 1.058-mile oval, the track soon earned the nickname “The Magic Mile.” Now, as NASCAR Cup Series teams head to the track for Sunday’s race, Patrick and the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford team will be ready to find some magic of their own at the track.

Patrick has made eight NASCAR Cup Series starts at New Hampshire with a career-best 14th-place effort there in July 2016. In two Xfinity Series starts, she finished a career-best 14th in July 2012. Patrick also earned a sixth-place result in the 2011 IndyCar Series race at the track.

After a top-15 run last July, Patrick returned to the track in September and scored an 18th-place finish, which marked her second-highest NASCAR Cup Series finish at New Hampshire.

This weekend, Patrick heads to New Hampshire fresh off of a 15th-place finish at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta. The effort marked the team’s second top-15 finish of the season. While Patrick has earned a top-10 at “The Magic Mile” in open-wheel competition, she’s yet to find the same success in stock cars. As the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford team looks to build on the momentum from its run at Kentucky, the weekend ahead could provide a great opportunity for Patrick to finally find some magic at the track in the form of her first top-10 finish in a stock car there.

 

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

 

What are you looking forward to as you return to New Hampshire this weekend?

“I love the area. I do. I love the track, too, because I love short-track racing. When I come to Loudon, I love the lobster. I go to this place that does this amazing, humongous – like way-too-much-food – stuffed lobster dish. And I love the lakes. I’m reminded every time on Saturday, when I drive into the local town, that there’s a farmer’s market, or what looks like one during the day, so I’ve got to try and catch that this year. The summers in the north are so beautiful. I grew up near Chicago, so I really appreciate that. I just enjoy the area, but the racing is great because, again, it’s short-track racing. It’s a little bit interesting because of the different banking throughout the track from lane one to lane two that makes for good racing.”

How challenging is New Hampshire Motor Speedway?

“It’s flat and tough to get around, sometimes. You just have to make sure you get through the corners OK and are able to get on the gas quickly on the straightaways. It’s tough but, if you have a good car, you can pass and move up through the field. But it can be challenging if it’s not working in your favor.”

 

CLINT BOWYER – 2017 New Hampshire Race Advance

It’s getting to be that time of year.

Only eight races remain in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular season and Clint Bowyer, along with several other big-name drivers in the sport, are battling for one of the final spots in NASCAR’s 16-driver playoffs. With 10 different winners locked in so far after 18 races, it appears a championship-caliber driver could miss this year’s playoffs.

Bowyer doesn’t want to be that guy.

“The pressure cooker is certainly turning up,” said Bowyer, who has scored the second-most points of any driver in the last three Cup Series races. The trio of finishes includes second-place runs at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway and Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, as well as 13th place at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta last Saturday night.

Bowyer is 15th in the playoff standings as he and his No. 14 Nature’s Bakery/Feeding America Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) head to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for Sunday’s Overton’s 301. He knows the quickest and safest way to earn a playoff berth is to win a race before the regular-season finale Sept. 9 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.

That could come this weekend on the mile oval in New Hampshire, where he won the fall races in 2007 and 2010 and has posted four top-five finishes and seven top-10s in 22 starts.

“Those wins allow you to go into this race with more confidence than you would at a track where you haven’t won,” Bowyer said. “I feel like we can win again at New Hampshire this weekend. We really want to win, but we also want to make sure we don’t do anything that will knock us out of the points.”

Bowyer said as the regular season races wind down, the intensity picks up. That’s just what NASCAR and the fans want to see each weekend.

“There will be drivers who don’t have anything to lose,” Bowyer said. “They can’t make it in on points so they have to win. They’ll be willing to take more gambles. They aren’t going to wreck people and take chances that way. They’ll take chances on something like fuel mileage.”

It’s been a successful 2017 season so far for Bowyer, who joined SHR this year after three-time champion Tony Stewart retired from NASCAR competition. Bowyer has posted four top-five finishes and seven top-10s in 2017. The No. 14 team, led by crew chief Mike Bugarewicz, has scored the 10th-most points of any team.

But everyone involved knows that to secure a berth in the playoffs, their performance will have to continue to improve.

“It is all about the racecars and making them as fast as possible,” Bowyer said. “That goes for aerodynamics, having the right setup underneath with (computer) simulation and everything. Everything has to be perfect. It is so much more competitive than 10 years ago when I came into this sport. You can’t have a down area. You can’t have a weak link. It is all across the board that you have to be 100-percent perfect.”

 

CLINT BOWYER, Driver of the No. 14 Nature’s Bakery Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:

 

After a half season at SHR, what are your thoughts? 

“The fit factor couldn’t be better for me going to Stewart-Haas Racing. I was friends with all of them and worked with most of them. If you had to look in a glass ball and make that perfect match-made-in-heaven-atmosphere, it was definitely there.”

Why do you always seem so happy?

“There’s no possible way that I can have success without having fun. It’s not in my DNA. If I’m having fun, I’m having success and it’s just always been that way. I’ve been that way since I was a little kid.”

KURT BUSCH – 2017 Kentucky Race Advance

Quick, name the only 1.5-mile oval the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will visit between now and the start of the 10-race playoffs. If you answered Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, go to the head of the line.

Five of the 10 races in the playoffs take place on 1.5-mile ovals, making Kentucky a valuable track to not only earn a race win and stage bonus points to secure one’s playoff position, but to also gain valuable data for a championship drive that culminates on the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway.

If you’re standing at the head of the line when the checkered flag drops at Homestead, it means you’re the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion. Kurt Busch was in this very position in 2004 when he won the championship in its first playoff guise.

That a title-winning party in South Beach can trace its origins to the Upland South region of Kentucky is not far-fetched. Twice the winner of the Kentucky 400 has gone on to win the NASCAR Cup Series championship – Brad Keselowski in 2012 and Kyle Busch in 2015.

There have only been six NASCAR Cup Series races at Kentucky since the series made its inaugural trip to the track in 2011. Kurt Busch, while winless at Kentucky, has knocked down a top-five finish, four top-10s and led a total of 51 laps. His average start is 11.5 and his average finish is 10th. Also impressive is his 100-percent lap completion rate, where the driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion has completed all 1,602 laps available.

Busch’s best Kentucky performance came in last year’s race when he qualified third and led once for 10 laps before finishing fourth. The third-place qualifying effort equaled his best at Kentucky, first earned in the inaugural Cup Series race in 2011. And his fourth-place finish was his best at the track, topping his previous best of sixth secured in the 2013 race.

That fourth-place finish allowed Busch to check off another stat box on his tenured Cup Series resume, as it gave Busch a top-five at every track on the Cup Series schedule. Prior to last year, Kentucky was the only omission.

Busch returns to the Bluegrass State with back-to-back top-10 finishes in the Kentucky 400. He’s eager to upgrade those performances with a win and simultaneously notch his milestone 30th career NASCAR Cup Series victory to take sole possession of 25th on the all-time Cup Series win list.

While victory at Kentucky is in his immediate sights, a strong performance aids Busch’s long-term goal of securing another championship. Between participating in a Goodyear tire test May 9-10 at Kentucky and coming out of Saturday night’s Kentucky 400 with another strong drive, Busch believes Kentucky can take him to Homestead.

 

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

 

You’re 14th in points with nine races to go before the playoffs begin. Ten different winners are already taking up 16 of the available spots. How important is your Daytona 500 victory in the scope of securing your playoff position?

“It’s vital. It’s definitely a nice safety net to have for our Haas Automation/Monster Energy team. Once we went to the West Coast early in the year, we struggled with alternator issues and missed the setup a few times with the new balance of our Ford versus where we were last year. And then since Texas, though, I think we’ve turned a good corner to find good, consistent runs. Like Kansas, I was running fifth on the last restart and we ended up 19th just getting hit by Denny (Hamlin) on that last restart. Similarly, at Michigan, we were running 10th and got 12th at the end with Jimmie Johnson passing us on the outside. We’re running better, but we’re just not capitalizing on any of the stage points. That’s been the toughest part so far this year and that’s why we’re down a little bit in points.”

How would you assess your season so far?

“To start off winning the biggest stock car race in the world and to have the chance to hoist up the Harley J. Earl trophy – that was a special moment and the highlight of my career. That isn’t something to rest on. I would say a few weeks after that, we were slightly hungover, not necessarily literally, it just seemed like a fog. There was a lot of energy. All of us were so excited. We’re ordering rings, flags. We’re taking the Harley J. Earl trophy to Ford’s headquarters, Monster Energy’s headquarters, Haas Automation’s headquarters – there was a lot going on. Once we settled in and learned the balance of our Ford Fusion and how things were changing here and there, quite honestly, I think we’ve done great. In half the races this year we have a top-10 finish. We have to focus on the mile-and-a-halves and making sure we are best prepared for when the playoffs start.”

Did winning right out of the gate this year change your approach to this season?

“The way that it seems to have unfolded the last few years for us on the 41 car is we’re always building up to that win. We’re running well with a top-five here and there and a bad day might be 12th. When we broke through at Pocono last summer for the win, then it seems like it was a struggle after we won. You have to get it rebuilt and adjust and not get complacent and get ready for the playoffs. So when you win the first race of the year, it changes the game in how you have to adjust and build it back up.”

You mentioned the importance of the mile-and-a-half tracks. Kentucky is the only mile-and-a-half racetrack before the playoffs start. How important is this race?

“Well, we tested at Kentucky earlier this year (May 9-10) working with Goodyear on the tires. I know that we have a Chicago test (Aug. 15-16) with Goodyear on the tire that they’re wanting to bring to that race. A lot of it is getting into sim work. I was on the Ford Performance simulator before we went out to Sonoma, and then there are the computer simulation models that the engineers use. I think it’s just getting into more details and gaining a further understanding of what it’s going to take to be successful at Chicago, Dover, Charlotte, Kansas and Texas. Texas is one of the most important races, or at least it used to be, because the asphalt surface was very comparable to Homestead. Right now, I think the two most important races coming up are Kentucky and Chicago if we’re gearing up for a championship run.”

You’ve been competing at Kentucky since its beginning, running the track’s inaugural NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race in 2000. The track has changed quite a bit even since the NASCAR Cup Series began racing at Kentucky in 2011. What did you think of the place when you first arrived as a Truck Series rookie?

“I went there for the first time when I was racing Trucks. It was an inaugural race and I thought that since it was the first time anyone went there that rookies had just as good of a shot to win as veterans. I overdrove that race every ounce I could and ended up wrecking with about 15 laps to go while running in the lead pack. I hit pretty hard. I think that was one of the hardest hits I’ve taken. Kentucky stood up and bit me the first time I was there. And, up until recently, we never ran a Cup race there, so we used it as a test facility. So, my time when I was at Roush, I think we were there every other Tuesday making laps. So, I had plenty of laps at Kentucky, but not in race configuration.”

Richard Petty turned 80 earlier this week. What are your thoughts on The King and his contributions to the sport?

“He’s our King. He deserves a full year of celebration. He’s a true pioneer of our sport. Two hundred race wins. Seven championships. The legacy that the Petty family has is incomparable, and it’s great that he’s still here and signs autographs every week. He’s the most charismatic guy and his personality is so big. Every time you see him at the track, he’s got his hat and sunglasses on and he’s just happy-go-lucky, and yet he is the face of our sport when it really comes time to reaching back to our past. My favorite moment was watching him win his 200th at Daytona and having Kentucky Fried Chicken with President Reagan. And the time I got to meet him at Richard Petty Motorsports in Level Cross, North Carolina – that was a big moment of walking into the King’s office and being there where the history of our sport has been rooted.  It was really neat to go to his office and share a moment with him.”

COLE CUSTER – 2017 Kentucky Race Advance

Event:               Alsco 300 (Round 16 of 33)
Date:                 July 7, 2017
Location:          Kentucky Speedway in Sparta
Layout:             1.5-mile oval

 

Cole Custer Notes of Interest

 

  • The Alsco 300 will mark Cole Custer’s 21st career NASCAR XFINITY Series start and his second XFINITY Series start at Kentucky Speedway.
  • In Custer’s first XFINITY Series race at Kentucky a year ago, he ran in and around the top-10 until he was struck by a lapped car while exiting his pit stall, ultimately ending his day on lap 138 of the 200-lap race.
  • Custer’s best finish in the 15 XFINITY Series races run this season is fourth, earned in the 11th race of the year June 3 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. It was his eighth top-10 and third top-five and it equaled his career-best finish in 20 career XFINITY Series starts.
  • Custer’s best qualifying effort in the 15 XFINITY Series races run this season is third, earned in the seventh race of the year April 22 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. Custer has eight top-10 starts and three top-five starts this season.
  • In eight XFINITY Series starts and nine Camping World Truck Series starts at 1.5-mile tracks, Custer has three top-five finishes and nine top-10s. Custer has earned three top-10s this season at 1.5-mile tracks – Texas (fifth), Charlotte (seventh) and Atlanta Motor Speedway (10th).
  • Custer is third in the XFINITY Series Rookie of the Year standings, 47 points behind leader William Byron and one point behind second-place Daniel Hemric. Custer has earned five Rookie of the Race awards this season, three of which have come at 1.5-mile tracks – fifth at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, seventh at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway and 11th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
  • Custer is seventh in the XFINITY Series driver standings, 216 points behind series leader Elliot Sadler.
  • Custer has been the highest-finishing XFINITY Series regular driver in four races this season – Charlotte, Dover, Pocono (Pa.) Raceway and Texas.
  • Custer has earned two top-five finishes, six top-10s, and has led 29 laps in the 2017 XFINITY Series season.

 

Cole Custer, Driver Q&A

 

Explain racing around Kentucky. 

It’s a different place because it’s almost like Texas Motor Speedway, but with opposite corners. Turns one and two are pretty fast where you’re almost wide open on the throttle. Turns three and four, you have to use the brake and have to turn the center pretty good. It’s just two different ends that you have to deal with at Kentucky, but it’s an awesome track to go to. 

Are you looking forward to getting back to an intermediate track?  

“Yeah. I think the intermediate tracks have been really good for us and our Haas Automation Ford Mustang. Hopefully, we can bring the same kind of consistency. I think we’ve put a lot of emphasis on our bodies and chassis at the intermediate tracks and have tested at a few, as well.”

 

Jeff Meendering, Crew Chief Q&A

 

What are your thoughts about heading to Kentucky Speedway this weekend?

“After having a good run at Texas earlier in the year, we are anticipating another good run at Kentucky. Kentucky and Texas have very similar track surfaces and the tire we run at the two tracks is really close to one another. We are bringing one of our better cars this weekend. Chassis 970 was fast at Charlotte and California.”