The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is starting fresh with a new-look point system and rebranded NASCAR Playoff format following the 26-race regular season. The 2017 NASCAR Playoffs kick off Sunday afternoon with the Tales of the Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois.
Luckily for Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), his primary partner, Jimmy John’s, always starts “Freaky Fresh” when making its sandwiches and knows what it takes to deliver in “Freaky Fast” fashion.
Jimmy John’s, founded in 1983 by then-19-year-old Jimmy John Liautaud approximately 163 miles from Chicagoland Speedway in Charleston, Illinois, serves up ridiculously fresh sandwiches quicker than he can say “Turkey Tom,” a customer favorite which, ironically, is No. 4 on the menu. Jimmy John’s is all about the freshest ingredients, the fastest service and “Freaky Fast” delivery. While most people are more than impressed with the freaky fresh quality of Jimmy John’s sandwiches, it’s the speed with which they are prepared and delivered that really puts the Champaign, Illinois-based chain ahead of the rest.
Harvick is hoping to use the same principles to deliver a freaky fresh and freaky fast win early in each round of the 10-race playoffs to help him advance to the final four and add to his 2014 NASCAR Cup championship.
Harvick qualified for the 10-race playoff by virtue of his win at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway in June. He earned five playoff points for the win and gathered an additional three stage wins and a fourth-place overall finish in the points during the regular season. The 15 total playoff points enable Harvick to start the 2017 playoffs as the sixth seed.
This is his eighth consecutive playoff appearance and his 11th since the inception of the playoffs in 2004. He finished fourth in his playoff debut in 2006, 10th in 2007, fourth in 2008, third in 2010 and 2011, eighth in 2012, third in 2013, won his first NASCAR Cup Series championship in 2014, finished runner-up to champion Kyle Busch in 2015 and sixth in 2016.
Harvick already has two Cup Series wins at Chicagoland and three wins in the NASCAR Xfinity Series there. He won the inaugural Cup Series race on July 15, 2001, and made it back-to-back Chicagoland wins as he reached victory lane again on July 14, 2002. His three Xfinity Series wins came in September 2005, July 2007 and September 2014.
The No. 4 Jimmy John’s team is hoping it can continue its approach of winning early and applying it all the way through the 2017 playoffs. Race wins, stage wins and playoff points are the only way to reach the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where the 2017 champion will be crowned.
Harvick is looking to ride his “Freaky Fresh” and “Freaky Fast” Jimmy John’s Ford all the way to a second NASCAR Cup Series championship.
KEVIN HARVICK, Driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Do you change anything in your preparation or in your own life to prepare for those final 10 weeks?
“My attitude. My attitude changes a lot. It’s all offense. Be greedy for your team. Do what you have to do.”
We’ve come to the end of the regular season. What are you anticipating most as the playoffs get under way?
“For those of us who are in the playoffs, I think the anticipation of the whole season getting to this point and being able to race for a championship and do the things we’re going to do are all here. For me, it seems like it took a long time to get to this point – 26 weeks is a long time. We’ll race as hard as we can and get after it.”
Can you approach this year similar to years past?
“I don’t think so. I think there are still a lot of things left to play out. As you look at this particular playoff point structure, you are going to have to collect stage points. If you look at the stage points, they basically line up to how the points are right now. I think you’re going to have to go after those stage points and stage wins will gain you some more bonus points, but those bonus points that you’ve already accumulated carry over to every round. I don’t think we all understand exactly how that is going to play out. I think everybody is anticipating that you have two or three guys with more points. Are those going to be the guys who go all the way to Homestead-Miami? If it works out that way, is it really a playoff structure? Does it give everybody a chance? I like the structure that we have with the points and the things we’ve done currently, but sometimes you have to step back as a fan and say, ‘Is that right or is that wrong?’ We don’t know yet because it hasn’t all played out. Is it going to be exciting? Most likely. Is it going to play out how everybody thinks it’s going to with the playoff points from those guys, or are there going to be teams that step up and win races and put everybody in a position where they have to perform and those points will become even that much more important? It’s going to be interesting and I look forward to watching it play out.”