As the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to the high-banks of Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway for Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Food City 500, Kevin Harvick will be looking to capture his second straight Cup Series win at Bristol and his second consecutive top-five finish of 2017.
The driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Fusion scored his first NASCAR Cup Series top-five finish of 2017 on April 9 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. He took Jimmy John’s “Freaky Fast” motto and put it to the test early in the weekend when he captured the pole position with a lap of 27.217 seconds at 198.405 mph in the third round of knockout qualifying to score his second pole of 2017. He followed that up by leading 77 laps on Sunday afternoon en route to a fourth-place finish in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500.
It also helps that Harvick is no stranger to victory lane at Bristol. In fact, he has won there in each of NASCAR’s three touring series.
The 2014 NASCAR Cup champion has two wins at Bristol in NASCAR’s top series. In addition to his win at Bristol in August 2016, he scored his first win at the .533-mile oval in April 2005, when he started 13th and led 109 of 500 laps and beat Elliott Sadler to the finish line by 4.652 seconds. He has five NASCAR Xfinity Series wins there with his most recent coming in March 2009, when he started 13th and led 46 laps to beat runner-up Carl Edwards by .798 of a second. He also visited Bristol’s victory lane in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in August 2011, when he started sixth, led 103 of 200 laps and beat Johnny Sauter by .434 of a second.
Harvick would like to add his first NASCAR Cup Series win of the year at Bristol on Sunday afternoon.
The best news for Harvick coming into this weekend may be crew chief Rodney Childers’ record at the .533-mile bullring. He’s led four different NASCAR Cup Series drivers to top-five finishes at Bristol. In addition to Harvick’s NASCAR Cup Series win in August 2016, Childers has led Scott Riggs, David Reutimann and Brian Vickers to top-five finishes at the track affectionately known as “Thunder Valley.” Childers led Riggs to a fourth-place finish in August 2006 while both worked for Evernham Motorsports. While at Michael Waltrip Racing, Childers led Reutimann to a runner-up finish in August 2010 and Brian Vickers to a fifth-place finish in March 2012, as well as fourth-place finishes in August 2012 and 2013.
Seven races into 2017, Harvick is ranked 10th in the championship driver standings with 198 points. While he has continued to show speed, the team has struggled to find the consistent finishes it has to start the previous three seasons. Since joining SHR prior to the start of the 2014 season, Harvick has never gone to Bristol Motor Speedway in April without a win to his credit. The string of tough luck has included a pit-road speeding penalty at Atlanta that cost the No. 4 team a win; a cut tire at Las Vegas resulting in a 38th-place finish; and a damaged nose coming to the green flag at the start of the race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, followed by a cut tire in the same race, which forced Harvick to battle back from two laps down to finish 13th.
Harvick and the No. 4 Jimmy John’s team hope to make it two straight on Sunday afternoon at Bristol – a second straight NASCAR Cup Series win at the “World’s Fastest Half Mile,” and a second straight top-five finish to build momentum for a charge towards the NASCAR playoffs.
KEVIN HARVICK, Driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What did you take away from your win last August at Bristol?
“For me, I was excited that you were able to use the bottom of the racetrack, and the lap cars had an option. You just didn’t get pinned up high. Really just want to applaud the racetrack for the effort that they made to really get that bottom groove working so that we had multiple grooves of racing, and I think as a driver you had a lot of options to make your car work and maneuver through traffic and make up positions. We started 24th and pretty much drove through the field because of that.”
What did you think of Bristol Motor Speedway adding VHT resin to the racetrack last year to make the racing groove better?
“Taking a chance like that, it could have been a complete disaster, but everybody was all in on trying to make the racing better. The SMI group has a little bit of an advantage on everybody else when it comes to those types of situations with their drag race side of things and the VHT and how to apply those things. How to rubber it in with all their concrete launch pads, so they had a pretty good insight on what they needed to do to the bottom after the driver council and NASCAR got together and told them what we thought we needed to do to try to make better racing at Bristol. So they were all in. This is just a classic example of collaboration between SMI, NASCAR and the driver council and seeing the outcome of it was pretty exciting, just because of the fact it does open up options. I think it definitely has opened everybody’s eyes to saying, all right, that worked pretty darned good because the last few years we’d been there, you get on the bottom of the racetrack and you are three or four tenths slower. Now you could hold your ground and get past lapped cars. It gave everybody an option to do something different, and as a driver, that’s what you want. You want options.”
Do you consider yourself a short-track specialist?
“I think we’ve had success on short tracks in the past. It’s really just a matter putting a weekend together. It’s really no different than any other racetrack. This business is hard to be successful at and sometimes you go through years where short tracks are good and some years not so good. Some years longer tracks are good and some are not so good. It’s really just about putting together a whole weekend. It all starts with practice on Friday and trying to qualify well. I enjoy the short tracks because we don’t get to go to quite as many as I think we’d all like.”