KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina – Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Busch Beer Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), heads to Fontana, California this weekend for the final race of the three-race West Coast swing – the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.
The visit to Fontana serves as a home game for the 2014 NASCAR Cup Series champion, who grew up approximately 150 miles northwest of Auto Club Speedway in Bakersfield.
The stop at Auto Club Speedway should provide confidence for the Bakersfield native. He is one of three drivers from California to win a Cup Series race at Fontana, joining Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.
Harvick scored his only Cup Series win in Fontana on March 11, 2011. Kyle Busch dominated the afternoon, leading 151 laps of the 200-lap event but, in the closing laps as Busch attempted to hold off a hard-charging Johnson, Harvick worked the top of the racetrack and ran down the leaders. On the final turn of the final lap, Harvick passed Johnson and beat him to the finish line by .144 of a second. He led only one lap on the day, but it secured the victory at his home track.
Both of Harvick’s last two Cup Series starts at the 2-mile oval came ever so close to victory. He started and finished second in both 2015 and 2016. In 2015, he led 34 laps but finished runner-up by .710 of a second to Brad Keselowski after a late-race restart. He led 143 of 200 laps in 2016 but finished runner-up to Johnson by .772 of a second in an overtime finish.
Harvick also has had success in the NASCAR Xfinity Series at Fontana. He has one win, one pole, 12 top-five finishes and 17 top-10s in 20 career starts. He scored his lone Xfinity Series win there in 2015, when he started sixth, led 100 of 150 laps and beat second-place Brendan Gaughan to the finish line by 3.317 seconds.
The 41-year old Harvick also has four starts at Fontana in the Camping World Truck Series but has yet to score a win at his home track in that series.
He has two starts at Fontana in the K&N Pro Series West, resulting in a runner-up finish to Ken Schrader by 1.314 seconds in May 1998 and a trip to victory lane in July 1998, when he led 52 laps and beat Austin Cameron to the checkered flag by 1.15 seconds.
But, it’s more than winning on the Fontana track that makes Harvick a hometown favorite.
In March 2016, he and baseball legend Cal Ripken Jr. cut the ribbon to unveil the Kevin Harvick Foundation Park at the Boys & Girls Club in Bakersfield, which provides a clean and safe environment in which local youth can play, learn and grow. The Bakersfield facility marks the second collaboration between the two organizations, which commenced their alliance by opening the Kevin Harvick Foundation Park in Greensboro, North Carolina in November 2015.
The state-of-the-art facility in Bakersfield is designed for multisport use, featuring four outdoor fitness stations, a rubber track surface circling the field’s perimeter, and a digital scoreboard. The park, a gift to The Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club of Kern County, is maintained by the organization, with which the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation and Kevin Harvick Foundation collaborate to create and implement character education programming and clinics for the children who utilize the facility.
The Boys & Girls Club of Kern County is not the only project Harvick has completed in his hometown to help area youth.
After he won the 2014 NASCAR Cup Series championship, he planned an additional stop as part of his champion’s tour – a visit to Bakersfield. Harvick wanted to bring the Cup Series trophy to his high school, where he spoke to more than 2,000 kids in the school’s gymnasium and encouraged them to follow their dreams.
In fact, Harvick regularly gives back to his hometown through donations from his foundation. Donations have included funds to provide wrestling, baseball and golf equipment to his high school in order to ensure that anyone who wants to participate can do so without worrying about paying for proper equipment.
Harvick hopes he can give his hometown fans another thing to cheer about at the track Sunday as he attempts to capture his first win of the season in the Auto Club 400.
KEVIN HARVICK, Driver of the No. 4 Busch Beer Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
NASCAR used to be considered a Southern regional sport, but now so many drivers have come out of California. Can you describe what the culture was like here, racing-wise, when you and some of the other drivers came up and how it led to what we have now?
“I think, when you look at California, there are a lot of racetracks up and down the coast. Whether it’s asphalt, dirt tracks, go-kart tracks, there is a well-supported community of racing up and down the state of California, even into Washington and Oregon. As I was coming up, there was the Southwest Tour, Winston West Series, and the (NASCAR Camping World) Trucks that raced on the West Coast a lot. There was also a fairly good following for Late Models. Things have slowed down from what they used to be, but you have the Kern County Raceway in this particular area. There is definitely a lot of racing when you look at way back in the day it was mostly a Southeastern sport. I think Jeff Gordon was obviously somewhat responsible for being able to allow guys like myself in and pave the way for us to have a path to have an opportunity to come and race in NASCAR. It’s always been a well-supported racing area and I was fortunate to grow up in Bakersfield, California, which is a very well-supported racing town no matter what you race. There is a lot of racing. It just took a while for everybody to figure that out.”
Now that there is just one race a year at Fontana, talk about what the atmosphere has been and how the crowds have gotten better and how the drivers’ perceptions of the way things are starting to turn around there.
“This racetrack is a great example of lessons that a lot of people who run racetracks don’t pay attention to. Sometimes, if you take one really great thing, you can easily make them into two mediocre things. I don’t understand that with racetracks a lot of the time, but this one has come full circle. When you look at the crowds that we’ve had over the last couple of years, they’ve been really good. The racing has been really good as that track surface has aged. As a driver, you look forward to coming here now because it’s one of those tracks where you can run all over the place, the cars slide around, and you’re going to have fun from the driver’s seat. That bleeds over into the perception that the fans get because everybody is talking about enjoying racing on this particular track. Some markets are just one-race markets. I would say ninety percent of them are one-race markets, but a lot of them still have two races and you just see those mediocre crowds and, when people know that you’re only coming once a year, you have to go to that one particular race. Having a race with a good date is obviously good for the weather and the people to come out and enjoy it. It’s not 115 degrees in August, which was always fun to be a part of in the racecar (laughs). But, I think, it’s all come full circle and everything is going well for this particular track.”