Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), will attempt to add a second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win to his impressive resume at Atlanta Motor Speedway Sunday in the Folds of Honor 500.
He won his first NASCAR Cup Series race there in only his third career start on March 11, 2001. The circumstances surrounding the month leading up to Harvick’s first career Cup Series win in 2001 make it all the more remarkable.
Following Dale Earnhardt’s death on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, Harvick was named the driver of the No. 29 car for Richard Childress Racing and made his Cup Series debut the following weekend – Monday, Feb. 26 – at Rockingham (N.C.) Speedway, where he finished 14th. Two days later, Wednesday, Feb. 28, as the series headed west to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Harvick married his wife DeLana. The following Sunday, March 4, Harvick scored his first career Cup Series top-10 finish. Then, on Sunday, March 11, less than one month since his debut in NASCAR’s top series, Harvick won his first Cup Series race at Atlanta.
Harvick’s first win didn’t come easily. He was in third place with five laps remaining and chased down NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Dale Jarrett for second, then overtook Jerry Nadeau for the lead. Once in front, Harvick had to hold off another future Hall of Fame driver, Jeff Gordon, to secure the win. As he and Gordon raced door-to-door to the finish line, Harvick prevailed to secure his first Cup Series win by .006 of a second.
Since that maiden NASCAR Cup Series win, Harvick has reached victory lane at Atlanta on five other occasions, four times in the NASCAR Xfinity Series – including three of his last four Xfinity starts – and once in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
Harvick came close to adding a second Cup Series win at Atlanta in each of his last three starts at the 1.54-mile oval. In September 2014, he won the pole and led 195 of 335 laps before late-race tire strategy by several drivers led to a multicar accident involving his No. 4 car. He started from the outside front row in 2015, led 116 laps and finished runner-up to race-winner Jimmie Johnson by 1.802 seconds. In his most recent Atlanta start, he began sixth, led a race-high 131 laps and finished sixth after being shuffled back on a late-race restart.
If the 2014 NASCAR Cup Series champ plans to achieve success Sunday at Atlanta, he is going to have to do it utilizing NASCAR’s new 2017 lower-downforce aerodynamic package as this is the package’s debut in a race event.
This weekend, Harvick will attempt to add that elusive second Cup Series win at the 1.54-mile oval in Sunday’s Folds of Honor 500. He will also debut Stewart-Haas Racing’s new No. 41 Textron Off Road Ford Mustang on Saturday in search of his fourth Xfinity Series win at Atlanta in five years.
KEVIN HARVICK, Driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What’s it like to be back at the site of your first NASCAR Cup Series win?
“You can’t ever win the first one twice. To come back here and know everything that was attached to that first win is something you look back on and realize the magnitude of the situation. I guess the second thing is I can’t believe we haven’t won there since. It’s definitely one of my favorite racetracks and we’ve led a ton of laps there. For whatever reason, on Sundays, we haven’t been able to put the finishing touches on it. Fridays and Saturdays in the Truck Series and the Xfinity Series, we’ve won a ton of races but, hopefully, we can end that Cup Series streak this weekend. I’m looking forward to having Folds of Honor there this weekend. They’re a big part of all the sponsors on our car and I would call Major Dan a good friend. He participates a lot in the activities we do. Usually, for whatever reason, when we’re around Major Dan, we’ve had a lot of success over the next weekend’s race so, hopefully, we can go to victory lane and have someone from the Folds of Honor hand us that trophy.”
What do you like about the Atlanta Motor Speedway layout?
“I just love the abrasiveness of the racetrack. It still has a lot of speed for the first three or four laps, but then it has a lot of fall-off and a lot of bumps that give it character. As a driver, you just love the challenge that comes with racing at Atlanta. This is always one that I circle on my calendar as a favorite and I look forward to racing in Atlanta this weekend.”