Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), is considered a favorite nearly every time he visits Phoenix International Raceway, but Sunday’s Camping World 500k Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race marks a new beginning behind the wheel of a Ford Fusion for the first time at the mile oval in the desert.
Harvick has an unmatched and impressive list of accomplishments at Phoenix headed by a series-high eight NASCAR Cup Series wins, including five of the last seven and six of the last nine. He is the only Cup Series driver to win four consecutive races at Phoenix. He won the November 2013 race, swept the 2014 races and won in March 2015 before ending the streak with a second-place finish in November 2015. Only five drivers have won consecutive Cup Series races at Phoenix and Harvick is the only driver to win consecutive races twice. He swept both races in 2006 to go with his back-to-back wins in 2014.
According to NASCAR loop data, Harvick is the only driver to score a perfect 150.0 driver rating on three different occasions at Phoenix. Harvick scored his first perfect rating at the mile oval in November 2006, when he started second and led 252 of 312 laps on his way to victory lane. He accomplished the feat a second time by winning the November 2014 race, which he started third and led 264 of 312 laps. His third perfect score came in March 2015, when he won the pole, led 224 of 312 laps and beat Jamie McMurray to the finish line by 1.153 seconds.
Harvick scored his first and only Phoenix pole in NASCAR Cup Series competition in March 2015 with a lap of 25.577 seconds at 140.751 mph.
In addition to the Cup Series, Harvick has five other NASCAR touring series wins – four in the Camping World Truck Series and one in the Xfinity Series. The 2014 Cup Series champion won the Truck Series events at Phoenix in 2002, 2003, 2008 and 2009. He scored his lone Xfinity win at Phoenix in 2006.
Luckily for Harvick and the No. 4 Jimmy John’s team, they were able to participate in the NASCAR test session at Phoenix on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1. It was the team’s first outing with the No. 4 Ford Fusion and allowed valuable track time in preparation for this weekend’s event.
Harvick and the Jimmy John’s team hope to return to their winning ways at Phoenix this Sunday and secure their position in the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. A win Sunday would be their first of the 2017 campaign and would extend Harvick’s series-best win total at Phoenix.
KEVIN HARVICK, Driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What makes racing at Phoenix unique?
“Phoenix is a really flat racetrack where you want to have the freshest tires possible, but track position is really important. A lot of what happens at Phoenix depends on the weather and how hot it is – how much (tire) fall-off and how you have to manage track position throughout the day. The cooler the day is, the more you have to manage your track position. The hotter the day, the more you have to manage the fall-off. Better-handling cars will have a little easier time getting through the field.”
You’ve had great success at Phoenix but, on top of a new aero package there this season, does your team have to adjust to a whole new car with the switch to Ford?
“I think those were some of our biggest questions when we went to the first test of the year at Phoenix. We had to run down some checklists of really basic things to try to figure out exactly where we need to be, what we need to do, what we need to work on. The main thing is that we now have a starting point to work from. There’s not a lot of guessing anymore. We know what’s going on and where we are at and going around a racetrack is what we needed to be doing, so we know where to work from here.”
Did the Ford Fusion feel similar to what you were expecting or compared to what you’ve run in the past?
“Yes, there was really no surprise with the way it felt. The things we worked on are very similar to what we have worked on in the past. I think this particular aero package – with the spoiler and splitter – is very similar to a lot of the things we fought last year at the end of the season. Now we can dive into the problems and try to solve those issues, but they are very similar to the things we’ve had in the past.”
When you went to the test, did you notice much of a difference in the balance of the car?
“The drivability of the Ford Fusion is not that big of a difference, but the balance of the car is definitely different than what we’ve had in the past. I think there is just not one reason for that, though. I think that’s a bit of where we are right now. We have to look at it and say, ‘Is it the balance of the car? Is it the balance of the new aero package?’ But that doesn’t matter – you know what the problems are that you’re going to fight there. It’s irrelevant what it is really, at this point. We just have to address the handling and make it better at this point.”