Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), knows how to deliver a dominating performance in the Folds of Honor 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
In 2017, Harvick displayed one of his most commanding performances of his Cup Series career when he led 292 of 325 laps at the 1.54-mile oval. Unfortunately, he came up just short of victory lane after a late-race speeding penalty on pit road led to a ninth-place finish.
Harvick has had this event circled on his calendar since leaving the racetrack last spring. He plans to add a second NASCAR Cup Series victory to his Atlanta resume at the site of his first career win.
That first Cup Series win at Atlanta came in only his third career start on March 11, 2001. The circumstances surrounding the month leading up to it make it all the more remarkable.
Following Dale Earnhardt’s death on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, Harvick was named the driver of the No. 29 car for Richard Childress Racing and made his series debut the following weekend – Monday, Feb. 26 – at Rockingham (N.C.) Speedway, where he finished 14th in the rain-delayed event. Two days later, Wednesday, Feb. 28, as the series headed west to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Harvick married his wife DeLana. The following Sunday, March 4, Harvick scored his first career Cup Series top-10 finish. The following Sunday, less than one month since his debut in NASCAR’s top series, came Harvick’s landmark win at Atlanta.
Harvick’s first Cup Series win didn’t come easily. He was in third place with five laps remaining and chased down NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Dale Jarrett for second place, then overtook Jerry Nadeau for the lead. Once in front, Harvick had to hold off another future Hall of Fame driver, Jeff Gordon, to secure the win. As he and Gordon raced door-to-door to the finish line, Harvick prevailed by .006 of a second.
Since that maiden NASCAR Cup Series win, Harvick has reached victory lane at Atlanta on five other occasions, four times in the NASCAR Xfinity Series – including three of his last four Xfinity starts – and once in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
Harvick came close to adding a second Cup Series win at Atlanta in each of his last four starts. In September 2014, he won the pole and led 195 of 335 laps before late-race tire strategy by several drivers led to a multicar accident involving his No. 4 car. He started from the outside front row in 2015, led 116 laps and finished runner-up to race-winner Jimmie Johnson by 1.802 seconds. In his 2016 Atlanta start, he began sixth, led a race-high 131 laps and finished sixth after being shuffled back on a late-race restart. The 2017 performance was the most dominant, but the late-race penalty cost him his second trip to victory lane.
To put his recent Atlanta performance in perspective, Harvick has led at least 100 laps in five of the last six Cup Series races at Atlanta. He has accumulated a series-best 835 laps led in those six races. The next closest driver during that span is Joey Logano with 165 laps led.
This weekend, Harvick will attempt to add that elusive second Cup Series win at the 1.54-mile oval in Sunday’s Folds of Honor 500. He will also race Saturday, piloting Stewart-Haas Racing with Biagi DenBeste’s new No. 98 Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford Mustang in search of his fourth Xfinity Series win at Atlanta in six years.
KEVIN HARVICK, Driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
You’ve led 100 or more laps in five of your last six races at Atlanta. Talk about that.
“It’s been a really good racetrack to us to be able to lead a lot of laps. We’ve won some Xfinity and Truck races there and we’ve dominated a lot of the Cup races and just haven’t gone to victory lane enough. So, it’s just one of those places where we went to a tire test there in 2008 and figured some things out and nothing’s really changed since then. A lot of the same techniques, cracks and crevices are still there. Last time, we saw some of the racing lanes move up the racetrack, but it’s a great place to race. I love going to Atlanta and I hope the nice warm weather this weekend brings a lot of race fans to Atlanta.”
You dominated last year and came up short in the end. What makes Atlanta such a fun place to race?
“I led 292 laps last year at Atlanta and screwed it up with a speeding penalty at the end of the race. But, I think if you would talk to the garage in general, this is one of the drivers’ favorite tracks. I think the reason it is considered one of the favorite tracks on the circuit is that the tires wear out so fast, cars slide around and you just have to do so much behind the wheel to be able to make your car go around the corner all day. It’s a very fun place to race but, for me, it’s been a very frustrating place to race because we’ve run so well through the years there and only been to victory lane one time – and that was my very first time. It’s a place we want to go to and run well and hopefully they keep putting a lot of patches down – a lot of patches. Anybody from a fan standpoint or a driver standpoint, feel free to find Marcus Smith on Twitter and tell him how great the old asphalt is and do not repave the racetrack. The campaign has begun – do not repave Atlanta.”
What do you like about the Atlanta Motor Speedway layout?
“I just love the abrasiveness of the racetrack. It still has a lot of speed for the first three or four laps, but then it has a lot of fall-off and a lot of bumps that give it character. As a driver, you just love the challenge that comes with racing at Atlanta. This is always one that I circle on my calendar as a favorite and I look forward to racing in Atlanta this weekend.”
At some point in time, if they have to repave, do you keep the same configuration or change it up a bit?
“I have told Ed Clarke this – he is the president of Atlanta Motor Speedway – I’ve told him face-to-face that if you repave Atlanta Motor Speedway, and you can remember back to the last time they repaved and gave it its current configuration, just how fast it was. Atlanta is just one of those racetracks where the banking is just really smooth getting into the corner and the transitions are really smooth off of the corner, the exits open up really nice – you can just carry a ton of speed. For me, that is not exactly what we need more of. If you’re going to redo the racetrack and you just have to repave it – and the only way I would repave it is if you can’t dry it like we had at Texas a few years back. I would do everything that I could not to repave it because of the fact it’s just a great place to drive and the competitors love it. I would definitely try to reconfigure it in some way, shape or form if you did have to repave it. I told Ed that, if it was me, I would just move the backstretch in a whole bunch and go back to the original tighter corners they used to have. If you’re going to go through the whole repaving process, have an open mind and the ability to have some ownership where they’ve redone their corners and some of their racetracks with the banking. They’re obviously willing to change things and make them different. There is no way I would just repave it in the current configuration because it would be lightning fast.”
What’s it like to be back at the site of your first NASCAR Cup Series win?
“You can’t ever win the first one twice. To come back here and know everything that was attached to that first win is something you look back on and realize the magnitude of the situation. I guess the second thing is, I can’t believe we haven’t won there since. It’s definitely one of my favorite racetracks and we’ve led a ton of laps there. For whatever reason, on Sundays, we haven’t been able to put the finishing touches on it. Fridays and Saturdays in the Truck Series and the Xfinity Series, we’ve won a ton of races but, hopefully, we can end that Cup Series streak this weekend. I’m looking forward to having Folds of Honor there this weekend. They’re a big part of all the sponsors on our car and I would call Major Dan a good friend. He participates a lot in the activities we do. Usually, for whatever reason, when we’re around Major Dan, we’ve had a lot of success over the next weekend’s race so, hopefully, we can go to victory lane and have someone from the Folds of Honor hand us that trophy.”