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.”