Monster Energy Cup Series News (14571)
Kevin Harvick is locked in.
The driver of the No. 4 Busch Light Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) secured his position in the Championship 4 at the season-ending Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway with his win Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. He will appear in the Championship 4 for the third time in the last four seasons.
However, Harvick is entering refreshing new territory as he heads to Phoenix Raceway for this weekend’s Can-Am 500k Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race without the pressure of having to race his way in to the Championship 4. In Harvick’s previous two trips to the winner-take-all finale, he has had to produce nearly flawless results under pressure in the Arizona desert.
Harvick needed a win at Phoenix in November 2014 to advance to the championship race at Homestead, and he delivered one of the most dominant wins of his Cup Series career when he started third, led 264 of 312 laps and beat runner-up Jeff Gordon to the finish line by 1.636 seconds.
In 2015, a second-place finish in a rain-shortened race at Phoenix was enough to advance Harvick to the Championship 4.
Harvick needed a Phoenix win to advance to the Championship 4 in 2016 but fell just short with a fourth-place result.
The Bakersfield, California, native has no pressure to win as the series heads to the desert mile oval in 2017, but that won’t stop Harvick and the No. 4 team from trying to add another trip to victory lane to their already impressive resume at Phoenix.
Harvick’s career numbers at Phoenix feature a series-high eight NASCAR Cup Series wins, including five in his last eight outings. He became the only Cup Series driver to win four consecutive races there when he won the November 2013 race, swept the 2014 races and won again in March 2015. Only five drivers have won consecutive Cup Series races at Phoenix and Harvick is the only one to win consecutive races twice. He swept both races in 2006 to go with his back-to-back wins in 2014. His most recent Phoenix win was this past March.
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 in winning the November 2014 race. 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.
In addition to his series-high eight Cup Series wins, the 2014 Cup Series champion has four NASCAR Camping World Truck Series wins at Phoenix and one in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. His Truck Series wins came in 2002, 2003, 2008 and 2009. His lone Xfinity win came in 2006.
A win at Phoenix would continue the momentum from Texas all the way through to the Championship 4 at Homestead next week, where Harvick will attempt to be the first Ford driver to win a Cup Series championship since his SHR teammate Kurt Busch won the title driving a Ford in 2004.
Michael McDowell is returning to his home track of Phoenix Raceway this weekend in the No. 95 Rohto® Jolt™ Chevrolet SS for the Can-Am 500.
McDowell began his career BMX and Kart racing in Phoenix, Arizona before moving on to open wheel cars. It wasn’t until 2007 that he made his stock car racing debut in the ARCA series. In 2008, he made his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS) start and has not looked back since.
This weekend in Phoenix will mark his 248th start in the MENCS. His best finish at Phoenix is 24th, which came earlier this year, and his best start at the 1-mile tri-oval is 12th.
McDowell is excited to return to Phoenix, the track where his career began, as he pilots the No. 95 Rohto® Jolt™ Chevy.
"It’s my home race!” said McDowell. “Until Alex Bowman gets back in the No. 88, I’m the only Arizona native that’s racing in the cup series. Lots of fans and cheers during driver intros – it’s just good to be home. Everyone at Phoenix Raceway has been so good to me. They have a lot on their plate right now with this big renovation, but it will be good to get there and be with all my friends and family."
The Can-Am 500 will take place on Sunday, November 12 at 2:30pm ET on NBC. Race fans can follow @LFR95 on Twitter for team updates throughout the weekend.
Germain Racing PR
Though he already clinched a Championship 4 berth, Martin Truex Jr. has more than 1200 reasons to go all out in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Phoenix Raceway, the final event in the Round of 8 playoffs.
Riding along with Truex in the 312-lap race will be 1200 Auto-Owners Insurance associates, plus family and friends, whose names will be on the hood of the No. 78 Toyota. The Auto-Owners associates took part in the Race with Martin campaign by donating money to the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation which supports a number of causes including childhood cancer and ovarian cancer. The employee contribution along with an Auto-Owners company match totaled $75,000.
“They (Auto-Owners) kept the Race with Martin campaign a secret from me,” said Truex. “And when I was presented the $75,000 check for our foundation, I was overwhelmed and lost for words. It just blew me away. The best way I could thank them was winning the Charlotte race that same day (Oct. 8) in the No. 78 Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota. And the best way I can thank those 1200 associates riding with me on Sunday is to once again drive the blue car to Victory Lane.”
Truex, a seven-time winner this season, clinched the final four spot after finishing runner-up Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.
Thanks to a bankroll of playoff bonus points earned throughout the season, Truex advanced to the championship round on points. He needed to leave Texas with a 56-point margin ahead of the fourth place driver. He left with a 57-point lead over Brad Keselowski, who is positioned in fourth place heading to Phoenix.
Truex joins Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick as the three drivers who already clinched a final four berth for the Homestead-Miami Speedway race on Sunday Nov. 19.
“We’re going into Phoenix as if we need to win the race to make it to Homestead,” said Truex. “You can’t turn it off and on, you have to continue the way you have been doing things and keeping building momentum.
“The biggest challenge for Phoenix is to find grip and to have consistency where it is somewhat comfortable over the long runs. The hardest thing to figure out are the ends of the racetrack, which are completely different.”
So far Truex is having a consistent playoff run. Take away the 19-car pile-up he was involved in at Talladega, his average finish in the other seven playoff races is 2.28. He has scored three wins, two runners-up, a fourth and a fifth.
Who was the first driver to top 200 mph in an Indy car? Some would say Tom Sneva at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1977.
Others would say “unofficially” Gordon Johncock or Mario Andretti at Indianapolis in 1973.
The first was actually the late Gerald Wayne “Jerry” Grant on Sept. 3, 1972 at Ontario (Calif.) Motor Speedway. Grant hit 201.4 mph in his 1,100-horsepower Mystery Eagle for Dan Gurney.
Kurt Busch, winner of the 2017 Daytona 500, did a great impression of Jerry Grant, who finished fifth in the 1967 Daytona 500, last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth when he earned the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series pole with a blistering lap of 200.915 mph.
It was the NASCAR track record at Texas and the fastest NASCAR lap ever at a 1.5-mile oval. It was
Busch’s 22nd career pole and his first since 2016 at Las Vegas.
After finishing ninth in Sunday’s race at Texas, Busch and his NASCAR brethren head to Phoenix Raceway, where Grant finished eighth at Phoenix in an Indy car in 1972.
Busch has one win, seven top-five finishes and 17 top-10s at Phoenix. Additionally, the 39-year-old driver has led 751 laps, has an average starting position of 12.1, an average finish of 13.5, and has completed 99.6 percent – 9,012 of 9,051 – of the laps he’s contested there.
With only Phoenix and Homestead left on the schedule, Busch is hoping he can finish strong and finish in the top-10 in points.
This Saturday is Veterans Day, and Richard Petty Motorsports is proud to have the United States Air Force as its primary partner throughout the weekend. The U.S. Air Force has been a supporter of RPM since its inception in 2009. Throughout the relationship, Richard Petty Motorsports has hosted high level Generals and service men and women from all across the country at the track. More importantly, the U.S. Air Force has helped educate and recruit at the track.
Aric Almirola and Richard Petty have played a role in the recruitment process. Almirola has attended many Delayed Entry Program swear-in ceremonies for the new Air Force men and women. Each race weekend, Petty himself shakes the hands and thanks each Air Force member.
Almirola has also had success with the Air Force on the track. He won his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series pole with the U.S. Air Force on the No. 43 in 2012 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
This weekend, Almirola heads to the Phoenix International Raceway. He has a best finish of 10th and a best start of fifth.
"It's been an honor to work with the U.S. Air Force and to help host the many Generals and guests. It's been a humbling experience and something I've been really honored to do while at Richard Petty Motorsports. The men and women are fighting for our freedom, so we can race and go to the track each weekend. It's always easy to say 'thanks' and meet them. It's been rewarding for me.
"This will be my last time racing an U.S. Air Force car. We won Daytona together and that will forever be a special memory. It was my first Cup win, it came during the July 4th weekend, and to bring back the '43' to Victory Lane was really special. It's cool to have that memory and have that experiences with the U.S. Air Force. It's been a great partnership."
For Eddie Wood, there are two ways of looking at his team’s status headed into this weekend’s Can-Am 500, the final race of the Monster Energy Cup playoffs Round of Eight. On one hand, it’s a “must-win” race if Ryan Blaney and the No. 21 team want to advance to the final round of the playoffs and compete for the Cup title in Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead Miami-Speedway. It is possible for Blaney to get a berth in the title round without a Phoenix win, but it would take a combination of a great finish by Blaney and poor finishes by the other five playoff contenders not already assured of advancing.
On the other hand, it’s a “can’t lose” time for the team, as Blaney and the crew can celebrate a fantastic season no matter how they finish at Phoenix.
With three drivers - Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. - already assured of being in the elite four on Ford Championship weekend, there’s only one spot left and Blaney is sixth in the standings, 22 points below the cut-off line for advancement.
“I think it’s quite an accomplishment to go into the next-to-last race of the season and still be in the running for the championship,” said Wood, co-owner of the No. 21 team. “Going into the season I would have been happy just to make it into the playoffs, so getting through the rounds and coming this far has been a bonus.”
Indeed, Blaney and the team have had an amazing season considering Blaney and his crew chief Jeremy Bullins are just in their second full season in NASCAR’s elite division. And the Wood Brothers are back on a full time basis for just the second year after running a limited schedule for the previous seven seasons.
They scored a win at Pocono, Blaney’s first and the Woods’ 99th, a pole at Kansas, Blaney’s first and the team’s 117th.
So far this season, they have four top-five and 14 top-10 finishes and 290 laps led.
They’ve held their own against the Cup circuit’s elite teams during the eight playoff races to date. As in most years, the playoff participants have been at their best.
“You’ve got to give credit where it’s due,” Wood said. “The teams headed to the championship round have really stepped up their performance,” Wood said. “And Ryan and Jeremy and all of our team members have done the same.
“To have finishes of third, eighth and sixth in the past three races and still needing a win at Phoenix to advance shows just how tough this playoff competition has been.”
Heading into this weekend at Phoenix, Blaney has three Cup starts on the one-mile oval in the Arizona desert. He has two top-10s there, and an average finish of 13.7, but he has a runner-up finish there in the Xfinity Series earlier this year and two top-fives in three Camping World Truck Series starts.
For Sunday’s race, the blue and white colors of SKF will be on the hood, while Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center will be on the quarter panels. SKF was a primary sponsor for the Wood Brothers in two races last season and has been a long-time supporter of motorsports, including a relationship with Wood Brothers’ technical partner, Team Penske.
SKF is a leading global supplier of bearings, seals, mechatronics, lubrication systems, and services. The company is represented in more than 130 countries and has around 17,000 distributor locations worldwide.
Qualifying for the Can-Am 500 is set for Friday at 4:45 p.m. (6:45 p.m. Eastern Time), and Sunday’s 312-lap race is scheduled to start just after 12:30 p.m. (2:30 Eastern) with TV coverage on NBC.
Though Erik Jones grew up in Byron, Mich., 70 miles northwest of Detroit, it’s the home cooking at Phoenix Raceway he has been waiting to taste for the past eight months.
The driver of Furniture Row Racing’s No. 77 5-hour ENERGY Extra Strength Toyota believes Sunday’s Can-Am 500 as the best opportunity in the season’s final two races to capture his first NASCAR Cup Series victory. He has very good reason to think so.
In 11 races at Phoenix Raceway in NASCAR’s top three series, Jones has never finished outside the top 10. He earned his first career Camping World Truck Series victory there in 2013 and repeated in 2014. The 21-year-old has also tallied four other top-five and five more top-10 finishes. Two of those top-10 finishes were a ninth in just his third NASCAR Cup Series race, subbing for Matt Kenseth in November 2015, and an eighth earlier this year in his Furniture Row Racing debut there.
“Winning that first Truck race in 2013 was huge and cemented for me that Phoenix Raceway is a special place,” said Jones. “I’ve just felt comfortable racing there from the beginning and that gives me that much more motivation. We were running fifth late in the race earlier this year and I thought we had a shot at the win until that final caution shuffled us back a little. I know we can win there so it’s just a matter of execution and catching a break or two.”
Jones also knows how to get the job done in qualifying. Three times each he’s earned the pole, second place, or third place on the starting grid. Both of his NASCAR Cup Series starts have been in the top 10, qualifying eighth earlier this season and seventh in 2015.
“I’m just so proud of how far this 5-hour ENERGY Toyota team has come this season,” said Jones. “We started the year out with the speed we needed from TRD (Toyota Racing Development) to run up front. Racing in the Cup Series has been a learning process for all of us and by the middle of the season I felt like we got better about what we needed to do to be more successful and compete for a win. So it’s been awesome to see the progress we’ve made with a brand new team.”
Jones is 19th in the NASCAR Cup Series standings with 802 points after 34 races. He trails Clint Bowyer for 18th by 18 points (820) and Joey Logano for 17th place by 67 points (869) and is ahead of Daniel Suarez in 20th place by 47 points (755).
Jones leads the 2017 Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings with 261 points, seven ahead of Suarez (254) and 71 ahead of Ty Dillon (190).
The 312-lap, 312-mile Can-Am 500 will consist of three stages of 75/75/162 laps (75/150/312). Sunday’s race will air live beginning at 12:30 p.m. MT (2:30 p.m. ET) on NBC, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90 and MRN. Qualifying (multi-car, three rounds) is scheduled for Friday at 4:45 a.m. MT (6:45 p.m. ET) on NBCSN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90 and MRN.
Stewart-Haas Racing has signed Aric Almirola to join its Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series lineup in 2018. The 33-year-old from Tampa, Florida, will drive the team’s No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion.
Almirola has won races in each of NASCAR’s top-three national touring series and is currently in his sixth full season in the premier NASCAR Cup Series. Almirola has one NASCAR Cup Series victory, three NASCAR Xfinity Series wins and two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series triumphs.
“I’ve known Aric since 2004 and have always been impressed with him on the racetrack,” said Tony Stewart, who co-owns Stewart-Haas Racing with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas. “I’ve raced with him and seen him mature into a really good racecar driver. He can compete for wins here at Stewart-Haas Racing and help our other drivers compete for wins. He’s an excellent fit for this team and for Smithfield.”
“This is the opportunity every racer wants,” Almirola said. “Stewart-Haas Racing is an experienced organization with a lot of depth, great technical support from Ford, and staffed with racers from top to bottom. They lean on each other, challenge each other and make each other better. I’m really looking forward to being a part of that.
“I’ve known Tony Stewart since our time together at Joe Gibbs Racing. I know what he expects and he knows my commitment. I can’t thank him and Smithfield enough for believing in me and providing this opportunity.”
“This is a great moment for Aric, and Smithfield is very happy to be a part of it because it’s a great opportunity for our company,” said John Pauley, executive vice president of sales and marketing, Smithfield. “Obviously, we strongly believe in Aric’s ability and that of Stewart-Haas Racing, and those abilities transcend the racetrack. They want to consistently run up front and contend for wins, but they’re also very interested in helping us win in the marketplace. This is a strong partnership with outgoing personalities who are driven to succeed.”
Almirola’s path to NASCAR started in his home state of Florida, beginning in karting in 1992 before advancing to open-wheel modifieds in 2000 and then late-model stock cars in 2002. In late 2003 at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway, Almirola participated in a driver combine for Joe Gibbs Racing and was ultimately selected as one of the first two drivers for Gibbs’ diversity program, which launched in 2004. Almirola became a teammate of Stewart’s, who was in his sixth year as a NASCAR Cup Series driver and only two years removed from the first of his three NASCAR Cup Series championships.
Nine wins and 11 poles during the 2004-2005 seasons of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series allowed Almirola to advance from local short tracks in the southeast to a fulltime, national schedule in the Camping World Truck Series in 2006. A handful of Xfinity Series starts also came in 2006, and Almirola’s NASCAR Cup Series debut took place on March 11, 2007 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, three days shy of his 23rd birthday.
There have been 15 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers who have won two or more championships since the sport was founded in 1959.
Kyle Busch is hoping to become the 16th this season after winning his first title in 2015.
But before Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Caramel Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), can contend for the championship Nov. 19 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, he first must trek west for the penultimate race of the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series schedule.
The Can-Am 500k is this weekend at Phoenix Raceway, the 35th of 36 races on the schedule. Busch, along with Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr., are already locked into the winner-take-all Championship 4 at Homestead. One more driver will be added after the Phoenix race is complete.
So, could this weekend in Phoenix be a throwaway race for Busch and the M&M’S Caramel team?
No. Absolutely not.
Busch finished a solid eighth in his very first outing at Phoenix in the spring of 2005, followed by his second career Cup Series victory in his next start there in the fall race that year. Coincidentally, Busch’s first Cup Series win came just 10 races prior in another desert-like setting not too far from his hometown of Las Vegas – Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.
In 24 Cup Series starts at the mile oval known as the “Diamond in the Desert,” Busch has one win, seven top-five finishes and 17 top-10s. He’s finished no worse than fourth in his last four races at Phoenix.
This weekend, Busch hopes to have another solid run at Phoenix to prepare himself for the ultimate championship race in South Florida.