CLINT BOWYER – 2017 Atlanta Race Advance

Last year, when retiring three-time champion Tony Stewart was asked about Clint Bowyer, his 2017 replacement in the No. 14 Haas Automation Ford Fusion, Stewart offered an interesting description of Bowyer’s personality:

“Bowyer is like taking a thousand rubber balls and throwing them off the top of a building, then watching them bounce,” Stewart said with a laugh after playing a key role in recruiting Bowyer to the Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) team he and Gene Haas formed in 2009 and has since won 37 races, a Daytona 500 and two championships.

Stewart’s sharp wit and Bowyer’s frenetic personality should make for some lively moments over the next several years at SHR and in the garage. But beneath the humor, each holds the other in high esteem. Bowyer says everyone who’s followed the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series knows Tony Stewart the driver, but there aren’t as many who are familiar with Stewart’s role and importance as a leader at SHR.

“He’s a really good owner,” said Bowyer, who is driving for his fourth NASCAR Cup Series team since 2006. “That was the side of Tony that I didn’t know. He obviously is a lot of fun to be around as a racecar driver and as Tony Stewart – as ‘Smoke.’ But as an owner, I’ve really watched him over the offseason, in particular the Christmas party.

“I went over to the company Christmas party and I look over and Santa Claus is there, and then I got to looking a little closer and it’s Tony. Tony is Santa Claus, which, by the way, he fit perfectly into the outfit. I mean, it was like it was tailored to him, but nonetheless, it was jolly old St. Nick, Tony Stewart, who really took the time and walked all around and embraced his employees and thanked his employees and made them feel like they’re family.

Bowyer said Stewart’s treatment of employees, including himself, will pay dividends on the racetrack. Bowyer said Stewart has mentally helped him return to the front of the field. SHR drivers Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick likely have similar tales.

“Tony’s given me a great deal of confidence of putting me in that racecar, as has Gene Haas,” Bowyer said. “People have asked me, ‘How do you have the confidence to get back to where you need to be?’ And that’s it. That’s all the confidence you need. You have a three-time champion of this sport and a big-time owner in motorsports who had the confidence in you to put you in the thing, so that gave me all the confidence I needed to be behind the wheel.”

That confidence showed at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway last week, when Bowyer qualified fourth, then finished second in his qualifying race. A midrace accident ruined Bowyer’s bid for a good finish and left him with a 32nd-place finish, but the No. 14 crew took confidence in the good Daytona performances.

Stewart’s was a frequent voice on Bowyer’s radio during the race.

This weekend, Bowyer and the No. 14 team led by crew chief Mike Bugarewicz travel to the high-speed Atlanta Motor Speedway for the second race of the Cup Series season. Bowyer is still looking for his first top-five at Atlanta, but that isn’t indicative of his performance history at the 1.5-mile oval. He led 52 laps at Atlanta during the March 2008 race before finishing sixth. The most heartbreaking moment there came in September 2013, when he led 48 of the first 192 laps before engine failure.

In total, Bowyer has led 115 laps at Atlanta but only has four sixth-place finishes to show for the effort. With the new combination of SHR, Ford and a strong No. 14 team, Bowyer is a good bet to better those marks Sunday.

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

How familiar are you with your SHR teammates?

“I’ve worked with Kevin (Harvick) for many years. I’m looking forward to Kurt (Busch). Kurt is the one who I’ve never really known a lot about. Always raced against him, but never worked with him in any way, shape or form. Danica, I’m closer to her than probably some of the others, so I’m just looking forward to it. It’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s going to be a neat atmosphere and something that, 10 years into this thing, one of the best opportunities ever is at your doorstep and fixing to happen. It’s pretty cool.”


MIKE BUGAREWICZ, Crew chief of the No. 14 Haas Automation Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:

How has Clint Bowyer been so far?

“This whole team is really excited. You can see a new life with us. We’re excited with the new partnership with Ford and especially having Clint on board. You can see it in his face throughout Daytona. Like he said, ‘I feel rich again.’ He’s always a crack-up and going to bring a lot of liveliness to the group just being around him. He’s going to be entertaining, to say the least, this year.”

What is your strategy for the 2017 season?

“The first thing you have to do is show you are strong and can be competitive. We are going to race for top-10s every week and that’s how we’re going to start. A win might come our way and that would be great; that’s what we want to do, we are out to win. The first thing as a team to proceed toward winning a championship is start running in the top-10, then you start being consistent and you run in the top five. Once you are in the top-five, you look for those opportunities to win, whether its segments or end of the race. That’s the methodical approach we are taking into the 2017 season.”


COLE CUSTER – 2017 Daytona Race Advance

Event:               PowerShares QQQ 300 (Round 1 of 33)
Date:                 Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017
Location:          Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway
Layout:             2.5-mile oval (restrictor-plate track)

Cole Custer Notes of Interest

  • The PowerShares QQQ 300 will mark Cole Custer’s sixth career NASCAR XFINITY Series start, his first career XFINITY Series start at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and his first career XFINITY Series start in a restrictor-plate race.
  • Custer’s five previous XFINITY Series starts came in 2016. His best result was a fourth-place finish May 28 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway. 
  • Custer has two overall starts at Daytona between the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the ARCA Racing Series. Both came in February 2016 during Speedweeks, with Custer finishing 24th in the Truck Series race and 10th in the ARCA race. 
  • Custer won the pole for the 2016 ARCA season opener at Daytona, becoming the youngest pole winner in Daytona history among the ARCA, Truck, XFINITY and Cup series.
  • Custer has competed in three restrictor-plate races – twice in the Camping World Truck Series (once at Daytona and once at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway) and once in ARCA (Daytona). All of them came in 2016. His best Truck Series finish was 24th at Daytona and his best ARCA finish was 10th.
  • Custer is competing for rookie-of-the-year honors in the XFINITY Series.

Cole Custer, Driver Q&A

What does racing at Daytona mean to you?

“Daytona is definitely one of the most historic tracks we go to, so it means a lot just to get to race there. Getting a win there also puts you with some legendary names in the sport. Growing up, I always looked forward to Daytona because the pack racing was so cool and it was the first race of the year. It’s always a surreal feeling to race at Daytona because you can’t believe you’re doing what you dreamed of as a kid.”

 You’ve competed at Daytona twice in your career, but never in the XFINITY Series. How do you feel those past experiences will prepare you for the PowerShares QQQ 300? 

“I feel the Truck and ARCA Series helped prepare me to get used to racing in the pack and working with the air. It kind of gave me an idea of where I need to be in the pack and how to stay out of trouble. There are definitely a lot of different things about the XFINITY Series that I will have to learn, though. There are a lot of guys out there with a lot of experience in plate racing, but I’m looking forward to getting in my new Haas Automation Ford Mustang and competing for a top position.”

 You’re only 19 years old, but you’ve been a rookie many times already in a career that has advanced you to the XFINITY Series. Even with all the newness of the XFINITY Series, does having been a rookie in USAC, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series and the Camping World Truck Series, and then establishing yourself in those series, give you the confidence you need to compete at this level?

“The XFINITY Series will definitely be a new challenge with a lot of tough competitors, but I’m confident in Stewart-Haas and Ford to give the team a great season. I think we have a great shot at a successful season and I’m looking forward to it.”

 What are your expectations for Daytona and your rookie XFINITY Series season?

“I think we have as good of a shot as anyone to win at Daytona. We’re building some great Haas Automation Ford Mustangs and have great support from Ford and Stewart-Haas. Stewart-Haas is one of the best teams in NASCAR right now, so I’m confident in our abilities. I think we’ll have a really good shot at Daytona and I’m really looking forward to it. Right now, Daytona is all about staying out of trouble and getting a solid finish. A win would be great, but a solid finish and staying out of trouble would be great, too. For the season, I would like to aim for some solid finishes to start, then make our way to the playoffs and go from there.”

Jeff Meendering, Crew Chief Q&A

 You’ve worked with a lot of veteran drivers, including championship-winning drivers Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Bobby Labonte and Matt Kenseth. What’s it like to work with a rookie driver?“It’s really nice. It’s a new perspective and neat to see someone who is really excited about it, wants to be a part of it and puts most of his time and effort working to make it better. He goes to the wind tunnel and works all day in the shop. It’s different seeing that side of things. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

What have you learned about Custer and what are your expectations for Daytona and the season?“We just want to keep improving. We want to start by consistently being a top-15 team, then a top-10 team, then a top-five team and, by the end of the season, be contenders for a championship. We’ve done one test with Cole now and I’ve really enjoyed working with him. He gives great feedback and, when you ask him questions, he has great answers. He does a great job at steering you in the direction to make the car handle better. I think we’re going to work very well together.”


DANICA PATRICK – 2017 Daytona Speedweeks Race Advance

As the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season gets underway with the 59th running of the Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, Danica Patrick and the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford Fusion team fielded by Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) return to Daytona with a smile, refreshed and ready to kick off a new year.

Before festivities get underway for the Daytona 500, the No. 10 team will first focus on Saturday’s Advance Auto Parts Clash. With the 2017 tax filing season underway, TaxAct, long known for being the best deal during tax season, will serve as primary sponsor of Patrick’s No. 10 Ford Fusion in Saturday night’s non-points race. The event marks the first 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.

Once the Clash is complete, focus will shift to the “Great American Race,” with qualifying for the Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 19. Four years ago, Patrick made history on qualifying day by becoming the first woman to win a NASCAR Cup Series pole when she set the fastest time in qualifying for the Daytona 500.

She followed up that effort with a history-making run in the 55th running of the Daytona 500, when she led five laps to become the first woman to lead a NASCAR race under green. Patrick finished the race in eighth place, the highest finishing position ever for a woman in the iconic event.

All told in Cup Series competition at Daytona, Patrick has led seven laps and earned two top-10 finishes and three top-20s. In the NASCAR Xfinity Series at Daytona, she’s led 34 laps and scored one top-10 and three top-20s. And in her lone ARCA Racing Series start at Daytona, Patrick netted a sixth-place finish.

As Patrick returns to Daytona for her sixth start in the Daytona 500, her No. 10 Ford Fusion will feature the blue-and-white branding of Aspen Dental. It was announced earlier this week that the company, one of the largest and fastest-growing brands in the United States, has expanded its partnership with SHR to become the lead sponsor of Patrick and the No. 10 team during the 2017 season.

There are nearly 600 Aspen Dental practices across 35 states and each practice offers patients a safe, welcoming and judgment-free environment to address their dental challenges. Every Aspen Dental practice offers a full range of dental and denture services – including comprehensive exams, cleanings, extractions, fillings, periodontal treatment, whitening, oral surgery, crown and bridge work – allowing patients to have the peace of mind that they are taken care of and protected, so they can focus on getting the healthy mouth they deserve. In 2016, Aspen Dental practices recorded more than 4.1 million patient visits and welcomed nearly 900,000 new patients.

Patrick has shined a spotlight on oral health across a multitude of channels with Aspen Dental since 2014 and will continue to do so throughout the 2017 season, starting with the biggest race of the year – the Daytona 500.

One year ago, Patrick kicked off the year with new crew chief Billy Scott. This week, Patrick and Scott return to Daytona set to build and improve on the relationship they forged throughout the 2016 season, and there would be no better way to start off the year than by the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford Fusion team leaving Daytona with a smile.


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


When I say Daytona 500, what comes to mind?

“At the beginning of the season, there’s always so much talk about how you do those first five races of the season and, you know, it’s like if you get an F on your paper at the start of the year, you spend all year just trying to get back to an A or a B, and I feel like that’s obviously how it works in our series, too. If you start the year off not so great and at a place like Daytona, where it’s speedway racing and there’s a lot of wrecks, I mean, it’s very possible to finish 40th that day, or 30-something, and that’s obviously a bad start to the season. But, you know, just those first handful of races are so important and so it’s really nice when you can start off with one of the more challenging ones to get that great finish. And, on top of that, for it to also be Daytona, it’s a cool way to kick off the season for us, as a sport, to have our biggest race of the season be first, and it draws a lot of eyes and I hope that we put on a good show.”


What are your goals and expectations for 2017?

“The goal is to do better all the time and hopefully some of the things that have changed within in our team, the big one being the changeover to Ford, will open up some opportunities and possibilities and just some pure potential for the team and we can improve. Hopefully, there is more room to improve now, so that’s kind of exciting to me. I’m optimistic and hopefully it will be something that makes a difference. I think if you’re in the top-15 every weekend, then you do a little bit better and then you’re in the top-10 and then, once you’re in the top-10 with good pit stops, good strategy and all the things that play into it – some of the new formats for the races can play into segment wins – so I think it’s important to be realistic. So, to tell you to go out and win races and segments is not something I necessarily think is going to happen right away, but we’ll assess. We’ll assess how strong we are as a team. A few years back, we were really strong and I felt like that’s where I was running by the end of the year, was up in the top-15 and getting into the top-10, so hopefully we can get back to that and work from there.” 


Do you think the new race format NASCAR has implemented will be beneficial?

“I think that the new structure for the races is cool. I think that winning is something that, for a fan, it’s easy to understand and, for a really casual fan, it’s even easier to understand. I think that having a lot more winners every week and throughout the year is a cool thing, but what I have said is I feel like this is definitely going to be a big chore for the crew chiefs. If I were them, I would already be nervous or trying to think of scenarios. I’d probably be going to bed and waking up thinking, ‘If this happened and then we were running here, but we were fast…’ You’re running through all these scenarios in your head with ‘what would you do?’ I feel like it’s going to be challenging because, as far as a driver goes, I do try and drive the fastest laps I can every single lap. I’m doing my best unless there’s a reason to slow down, like fuel or tires are going off or something like that, or you want to maintain your tire life – something like that. So, I think it’s going be exciting as long as the information of the format can be translated to the fan or average fan in a simple, understandable way. I think it will be cool.”


What is it about Daytona International Speedway that you like?

“I think I’ve always had the good fortune of driving for good teams that have good cars. I also think that my IndyCar background is very similar to the style of racing that the superspeedways bring to NASCAR. That was full-speed, flat-out, don’t-lift-if-you-don’t-have-to racing where you have to keep your momentum up and lots of big-pack racing. For me, that was a big comfort zone when I came over to NASCAR, that it was a lot like the IndyCar days of driving on mile-and-a-half speedways. It’s all about having an awareness of what’s around you, making good decisions and trying to stay out of trouble until the end.”


Describe the intensity of restrictor-plate racing.  

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


CLINT BOWYER – 2017 Daytona Speedweeks Race Advance

Let us re-introduce you to Clint Bowyer.

You might remember him. He finished second in the 2012 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship and third in the 2007 title chase. He has eight NASCAR Cup Series victories and won the 2008 NASCAR Xfinity Series title after leaving his hometown of Emporia, Kansas for racing glory in 2004.

He’s NASCAR’s everyman, whose collar is as blue as his Kansas City Royals hat and his smile as wide as a wheat field.

He’s been quiet the last two seasons, but that only proves how much of a team sport NASCAR is these days. Midway through 2015, his two-car Michael Waltrip Racing team announced it was going out of business at the end of the season. In 2016, Bowyer, needing a temporary home before joining Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) in 2017, drove for an HScott Motorsports team that was still early in its development.

Out of sight usually means out of mind in NASCAR, but Bowyer will be front and center in 2017. He’ll climb into a car worthy of his skill as he replaces the retired and future Hall of Famer Tony Stewart in SHR’s No. 14 Ford Fusion under the leadership of second-year crew chief Mike “Buga” Bugarewicz. After engineering a playoff appearance with Stewart in 2016, expectations of pairing Bowyer with “Buga” – the only rookie crew chief in the 2016 playoffs – are sky high in 2017.

Bowyer will make his SHR debut Feb. 26 driving the No. 14 Mobil 1 Ford Fusion in NASCAR’s most prestigious event – the 59th running of the Daytona 500.

“This is the best opportunity I’ve ever had,” Bowyer said. “Everybody knows that. Getting in the No. 14 Ford isn’t easy. It’s going to be a challenge. The first thing you think about is Tony’s fan base. There are a whole lot of people I don’t want to let down. I want to make all those people proud of the No. 14 this year, proud of me being in that No. 14, and proud of Tony’s decision to put me in it this year. The pressure is probably there but, to be honest with you, from where I’ve come to looking forward to this opportunity for more than a year, there’s more excitement than pressure.”

Bowyer won’t be the only new addition to SHR in 2017. Since its inception in 2009, SHR has posted 36 victories and two championships with Stewart and Kevin Harvick, so it came as a bit of a shock to the motorsports world when it was announced in February 2016 that SHR would welcome Ford Performance as the four-car team’s manufacturer beginning in 2017. The move should provide a boost under the hood and in aerodynamics, as well as in the SHR engineering meetings with the global motorsports company bringing its expertise to its Kannapolis, North Carolina, operation. As the sport grows, the long-term alliance of SHR and Ford Performance could lead to the next wave of dominance that Bowyer expects to surf for the next several years.

If the SHR-Ford-Bowyer combination bears the fruit many expect, then Bowyer’s return to prominence will be a boon to NASCAR. The former dirt racer can boast success on every type of track the series visits. Four of his eight career NASCAR Cup Series victories have come on short tracks, two on restrictor-plate tracks, one on an ultra-fast 1.5-mile track and one on a road course. He’s won everywhere and he’s won in everything. Three times he’s finished in the top-five in the standings and earned eight victories in the Xfinity Series and three in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

Chasing checkered flags is what has driven Bowyer since racing dirt bikes in Kansas. He proved proficient at collecting trophies as he transitioned from two wheels to four, from dirt to asphalt, from Xfinity to Cup. Another trophy and another checkered flag is what drives Bowyer, and from the cockpit of his No. 14 Mobil 1 Ford Fusion, he’s in the best position to secure those highly-sought items.

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

What does the Daytona 500 mean to you?

“This is the biggest race of the year. It’s the race everyone wants to win. You know we have spent a lot of time talking about the stages and new format this offseason but, for this race, throw all that out the window. I’m here to win this Daytona 500. I can’t wait. I have a new opportunity with a new race team. It’s a new everything for me so I’m going down there to work hard in every practice session and get myself prepared to win this baby. I’m hungry and I want to go out there and get established right off the bat as a frontrunner with our team. And I think, ‘Hey, I think I can win the Daytona 500.’ I’ve come close many times.”

How predictable is the Daytona 500?

“It’s one of those things where you can be leading coming to the white flag and finish 15th to 20th. I’ve done that. I’ve also been way back in the pack, then somehow picked my way through it on the last lap and got a good, solid finish. It’s a rollercoaster, just like it has been with everybody. I mean, that’s what the Daytona 500 is. You go from thinking, ‘I got ’em!’ to ‘Oh, no! How have we done so wrong?’ I mean, it’s just one of those emotional rollercoaster races where you just never know what’s going to happen. I had the thing won in 2010, and they literally used the Bondo out of the haulers to fix the track. I didn’t win that year but, before that happened, I just knew I had it won. Whether it’s a track surface, somebody hitting a jet dryer and blowing up, or coming down to a green-and-white checkered at the end, you just never know the recipe and what it’s going to take to win that ultra-special race.”

What are your thoughts on SHR?

“These are the best teammates I’ve ever had, the best equipment I’ve ever had, the best ownership and a fantastic lineup of sponsors. Everything is here. That’s what will breed all of the success. When Tony Stewart and Gene Haas hire you and put you in a car that Tony drove to a championship, that gives you a great deal of confidence. It was a huge confidence booster and it’s what I needed.”

Why do you say you feel more excitement than pressure in 2017?

“You know, you walk into SHR and you see everyone busting their rear ends to make this transition to Ford. Doug Yates (President and CEO of Roush Yates Engines) was at the shop the other day and I laughed because I’ve had my butt whupped by his horsepower for a lot of years, especially on restrictor-plate tracks. I always took notes on how well those Roush Yates engines ran. I’m really looking forward to getting that horsepower under the hood. You see how much success (Ford drivers) Brad (Keselowski) and Joey (Logano) have had with these aero packages. You go back to having teammates – particularly teammates like the ones I now have at SHR. Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick, who each bring a lot to the table. I think they will help me be a better racecar driver and ultimately more successful. That’s all exciting.”

Is joining SHR the year it moves to Ford good timing?

“If you are going to change, you might as well change everything. If there was ever a culture that was a great fit for me, it’s SHR. It seems like everybody at SHR is someone I’ve either worked with before or I’m already friends with. It’s just a perfect fit. The culture is me. They take care of business and have a lot of fun doing it. That’s what I love that about SHR. I think I’ll fit in well. With the transition to Ford, the thing I’ve noticed right off the bat is you are talking to the head honchos. Raj Nair (Executive Vice President of Global Product Development and Chief Technical Officer) is the guy who brought Ford Performance to what it is today. Whether it’s a meeting at the shop or going over to Ford Performance, he and his counterparts are the ones you talk with, making sure you have what you need to be successful at the racetrack. That means a lot to a racecar driver.”


KEVIN HARVICK – 2017 Daytona Speedweeks Race Advance

In a new season that will feature a new race format, points system and manufacturer for Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Kevin Harvick and the No. 4 team at Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), there is comfort in the consistency displayed by the colors adorning their new Ford Fusion for Speedweeks at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.

While the make and model of the No. 4 may have changed as SHR collaborated with Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford Motor Company starting in 2017, the familiar black-and-red livery of Jimmy John’s will return for its second season as the primary sponsor for the Daytona 500. Jimmy John’s, based in Champaign, Illinois and famous for its freaky fast delivery, made its Daytona 500 debut in 2016, when Harvick and the No. 4 team started ninth and finished fourth to start the season in “The Great American Race.”

While Jimmy John’s is on the hood for the Daytona 500, for the second consecutive year Busch Beer returns to Harvick’s No. 4 Ford Fusion for the Advanced Auto Parts Clash at Daytona – the 75-lap, bonus-points-paying race that kicks off the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series season Feb. 18. Busch is back on the hood, but the No. 4 Busch Beer Ford is updated with a fresh new look, giving a nod to new packaging the brand will debut in April.

Busch debuted its new packaging and advertising campaign featuring the return of the “BUSCHHHHH” can-crack sound with its first-ever Super Bowl commercial that aired during the FOX broadcast of the game Feb. 5.

Busch’s rich racing history began in 1978 when the brand sponsored the award presented to the pole winners of what was known then as the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. Busch went on to be the “Official Beer of NASCAR” from 1988 through 1997 and was the title sponsor of the stepping-stone division to the NASCAR Cup Series – currently known as the NASCAR Xfinity Series – from 1984 through 2007. The last Busch-sponsored driver prior to the company’s return in 2016 was Cale Yarborough and his iconic No. 11 car during the 1980 season.

Both Jimmy John’s and Busch have reason to be optimistic as Harvick and the No. 4 team head to Daytona.

As Harvick enters his 17th NASCAR Cup Series season and his fourth at SHR with crew chief Rodney Childers at the helm, he is looking to score his second win in the Daytona 500. He won the famed Harley J. Earl trophy in 2007, when he beat Mark Martin to the Daytona 500 finish line by .020 of a second on the final green-white-checkered restart. It was the closest Daytona 500 finish since the start of computer scoring in 2003.

Harvick also has three wins in the Clash at Daytona – 2009, 2010 and 2013 – tying him for second-most with his team owner Tony Stewart and NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett.

In the 2009 Clash at Daytona, Harvick survived an incident-filled race that saw a record eight caution periods and less than half the starting field make it to the checkered flag.

The following year, he joined Neil Bonnett, Ken Schrader and Stewart as the fourth driver in event history to win consecutive races, and he did so driving a backup car he was never able to practice, passing Greg Biffle with two laps remaining in a green-white-checkered finish. NASCAR declared Harvick the winner when a multicar incident ended the race under caution.

In his 2013 win, Harvick led 40 of 75 laps, dominating the second and third segments en route to his third Clash at Daytona victory in five years.

If Harvick can add his name for a second time to the Harley J. Earl trophy Feb. 26 in the season-opening Daytona 500 at “The World Center of Racing,” he would be the 11th driver in NASCAR history to win the iconic event more than once. It would also put the No. 4 team in prime position to secure a berth in the 2017 playoffs as it attempts to win a second NASCAR Cup Series championship in four years.

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

What does it mean to have a Harley J. Earl Trophy?

“The Daytona 500 is the biggest race that we run every year – it’s the biggest one-week prize you can grab. It is probably the most prestigious list you can probably put your name on for any one trophy. You always hear about people who say winning the Daytona 500 isn’t like winning any other race – and it’s not – it’s the Daytona 500. After you win it and you see all the things that come with it and the things you have to do, you learn very quickly that the Daytona 500 is special. It means a lot to this sport and it’s an honor to have won it and put my name on that trophy with the greats who are on it. I hope we can put it on there again before the end of my career.

Explain the new points system in simple terms to a race fan. What do you tell them?

“I would tell them to just watch the race. I think as you look at the points system and things, that doesn’t really necessarily matter until the end of the day. You tally it all up and show it on the television screen. As long as we are having good races, it’s exciting to watch and the competitors are going as hard as they can every lap to gain or hold every position. You’ll see strategy on TV from the crew chiefs knowing that a segment is coming up. There are a lot of carrots out there. The segment bonus points going toward the playoffs twice in one race. Then you have the race win at the end of the race, so there are many things to think about. There are a lot of things to watch and keep your interest. That’s really what we all needed because, in the end, as competitors we needed to be enthused about having something to go out there and grab. When you see those points up on the table – sure the point total will be higher – but it still won’t be as high as it used to be with the old points system. But I would worry less about how the points work and more about just watching the race, and you’ll naturally just get it.”

From the driver’s seat, how does the new points system change your approach to a race?

“For us, that’s the good thing. For us, Rodney (Childers, crew chief) has always been pretty pressing on going out there and trying to get everything you can out of the car in practice, qualifying and at the beginning of the race to try and position yourself for the end as early in the race as possible. That opens up a lot of windows. You know where your car is and we’ve tried to race that way for the last three years. When you go back and look at the history, the regular-season points, the segment wins and those types of things have been very good for us and hopefully that trend continues as we move forward.”

What will the new format mean for the pit crews with the new stages?

“I don’t think it will change anything. No more than what it used to be because it’s basically a live pit stop when you come down pit road at the end of a segment. You’ll change tires and try to get out first, so in the end the goal is still to be first in everything that we do, whether it’s practice, qualifying, pit stops or the race – whatever it is that’s still the No. 4 team’s goal.”

What will it mean to get points for the Duels at Daytona this year?

“There’s points in everything we do, so you need to go and try and get the most points that are possible because, basically, what you’re doing is racing every moment and every race leading up to Homestead to gather as many points as you can to start to try to build yourself a cushion for when those days happen. You hope those moments don’t happen in the playoffs. For us, they happened in the Chase last year and, luckily, our performance was good enough to be able to win. We had a phenomenal first 26 races and, if we would have had that points cushion, we would have had the ability to have some hiccups and still be able to move on. It rewards performance throughout the year where you won’t have a William Byron-type situation that we had in the Truck Series, where the kid goes out, wins seven or eight races, leads a bunch of laps, has one engine failure in the Chase, and gets eliminated from winning the championship. I like the fact that it rewards running well, running consistently, so it has the mix between traditional and new world NASCAR.”

In the past, you might have laid back at the beginning to better position yourself for the end of the race. Are those days over now with the new format?

“I think there is still balance. You still have to try to go after all the bonus points in the segments that you can in order to pile up as many points as you can if your car is capable of it. However, you still have to balance trying to put yourself in a position to win the race, finish the race and gain the big prize at the end of the day. You still want to get all the points that you can, but you still have to be smart about it as you go through the day.”

KURT BUSCH – 2017 Daytona Speedweeks Race Advance

As Kurt Busch embarks on his 17th full season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and his fourth with Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), he has a good reason to feel right at home as the driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion, as the 2017 marks a homecoming for Busch to Ford Motor Company, the manufacturer with whom he won the 2004 Cup Series championship.

It was Busch’s first Cup Series title and Ford’s most recent. Now reunited, the goal is to once again hoist the trophy during the season-ending Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Busch will attempt to surpass NASCAR Hall of Famer Terry Labonte’s record for time between championships –12 seasons separated Labonte’s two titles in 1984 and 1996 – and do it with the Dearborn, Michigan-based manufacturer with whom his NASCAR Cup Series career began.

The story of Busch’s start in NASCAR is well documented. While racing in the Southwest Tour Series, his skill attracted the attention of team owner Jack Roush, who decided to host driver auditions for a team he fielded in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. The auditions were informally known as “The Gong Show” and Roush invited Busch to participate. In a pivotal moment in Busch’s life, he won the audition and started competing in Ford F-150s for Roush in 2000. Since then, both Busch and Ford have gone on to experience much success. But, there’s more to be had, and to be had together.

That all starts with the 59th Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. Three times a runner-up in the season-opening event, Busch is still seeking his first Harley J. Earl trophy. In fact, while he’s found victory lane at Daytona before, in 2011’s Advance Auto Parts Clash and Can-Am Duel, he’s yet to score a win in a points-paying race at either Daytona or its sister racetrack, Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. While he hasn’t found victory, he’s almost always found a way to be in contention at the end. And that, in a race that is known for unpredictable racing with the high likelihood of large, multicar accidents at any moment, is an impressive feat that cannot be overlooked.

Busch has been listed as running at the end of 30 of 31 career points-paying Cup Series starts at Daytona. While he’s seemingly mastered the art of finishing Daytona races, it’s the finishing first part he’s yet to figure out. In fact, a superspeedway win is the only kind that has eluded him during his 18-year Cup Series career. With a victory in the Daytona 500, Busch would join an elite list of drivers who have won at every type of track on the circuit: superspeedway, speedway, intermediate, short track and road course.

So, as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rolls into Daytona to kick off the 2017 season, Busch hopes being reunited with Ford can help him not only to finally find his way to victory in the Daytona 500, but also to improve upon his successes of the last four seasons with SHR. While he’s made the playoffs each year with the Kannapolis, North Carolina-based team, he’s fallen short of contending for the championship late in the playoffs.

With the 16-driver Cup Series championship format, all it takes is just one win to lock a driver and team into the playoffs. Busch would like nothing more than to score that win in the 59th Daytona 500, marking his first victory in the prestigious event and placing him well on his way to reaching his season-long goal of winning his second Cup Series title.

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

You’re the most recent Ford NASCAR Cup Series champion. How special would it be to be able to win another for the company?

“It is a special homecoming feeling to head back to work with Ford and to have them with our power and our bodies at Stewart-Haas Racing. It really feels neat to come back to a place where I’ve seen the faces before and the way that the structure has been polished up on and the way that there’s more depth with Ford Performance. Edsel (Ford) has done an incredible job over the last decade to continue to improve. Guys like Raj Nair, Dave Pericak – the whole gang is ready and willing to help in all areas and directions and the best thing that I’ve seen already come out of things with the engineering staff at Stewart-Haas. It’s like they just opened up a whole new book of things to look at and to advance our program further from where we were.”

 You can’t test like you once were able to in January. So how do you, as a driver, adjust to a change like the one that has been made at Stewart-Haas Racing for the 2017 season?

“It’s because the teams have more depth. There is more simulation. The engineering staff has gone through things at a much higher level, whereas it used to be the driver and the crew chief who would go to the track and then come back with a notebook of things. Now the notebook has been gone through by the lead engineers and they’ve prepared it as best as possible before we show up. Limited track time saves money but, at the same time, you end up spending it on personnel and hiring the key guys to make the cars safer, faster, stronger, and I know we’ve done a great job to transition with Ford because I’ve seen some of the drawings and the way that Doug Yates has the engine set up. We had to change a few of our suspension settings to adapt to the way he had his engine set up, so there might be a couple bugs here or there, but I’m not too worried about it. We’ve got really good, quality people at Stewart-Haas with Yates engines.”