It’s Homecoming week for Kevin Harvick as he heads to the Auto Club 400 NASCAR Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.
Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Mobil 1 Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), is from Bakersfield, Calif., which is about three hours north of Fontana. There will be no cheerleaders, bands or football players, however. Instead, it will be members of his Mobil 1 crew and a loud and powerful No. 4 Mobil 1 Ford Mustang that will greet him as he returns to his home state.
Fontana has been good to Harvick as he has one win, seven top-five finishes and 12 top-10s in 27 career NASCAR Cup Series starts at the 2-mile oval. The 44-year-old driver has led 237 laps there and has an average starting position of 14.8, an average finish of 15.4, and has completed 98.6 percent – 5,874 of 5,956 – of the laps he’s contested.
He has competed in some sort of race at Fontana every year since 1997, the year Auto Club Speedway opened. He started in October of that year in a NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race driving for Wayne Spears. He finished 20th. No one, probably not even Harvick, could have imagined he would race there each year since. He now enters his fourth decade of racing at Fontana.
In addition to crew chief Rodney Childers and the No. 4 team helping Harvick, he will also have the support again of sponsor and technical partner Mobil 1.
Mobil 1 isn’t just the world’s leading synthetic motor oil brand, it also provides the entire SHR team with leading lubricant technology, ensuring that all SHR Mustangs have a competitive edge over the competition on the track. In its 18th consecutive season as the “Official Motor Oil of NASCAR,” Mobil 1 is used by more than 50 percent of teams throughout NASCAR’s top three series.
Harvick is hoping he can put the No. 4 Mobil 1 Ford Mustang in victory lane at Fontana. Because much like any Homecoming game, it’s much sweeter when it ends with a win.
KEVIN HARVICK, Driver of the No. 4 Mobil 1 Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Is Auto Club Speedway a place you look forward to going to, and why?
“Auto Club Speedway is by far one of my favorite tracks we go to. It’s top three on my list as far as tracks that I’m excited to go to, just for the fact that the asphalt is so worn out. It is very similar to Atlanta in a much different shape of a racetrack. It’s a very unique racetrack because it is so wide and you have so many options to run all over the racetrack. When you add in the tire falloff, then it becomes strategy and how many laps do you stay out when everybody else starts pitting because you’re going to give up three seconds a lap. If the caution comes out, you can get caught a lap down. So there are so many things that come into play, but it has become a great race and a great racetrack to race on. The crowd has been great since we went from two races down to one. It has changed the whole vibe at Auto Club Speedway. It’s in my home state. It’s a big week and I know, from a driver standpoint, Auto Club Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway are right up there at the top of everybody’s list because there is so much falloff and the asphalt is so worn out.”
Why do your prefer Mobil 1 synthetic?
“I’m a synthetic guy because, in 1993 when we were sitting in the engine shop, we dumped Mobil 1 synthetic in and that’s all we did and gained seven horsepower. From that day on, we would actually save our money and then go to the local auto parts store because, at that time, it was like $5.50 a quart and the conventional and other oils were like $3.50. At the big races, we would put the Mobil 1 in the car and the regular races would put the regular oil in there. You know I’m going to say synthetic.”
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 there, 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 Gander RV & Outdoors) 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 going there 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.”