Notes of Interest
● This time last year, Pocono (Pa.) Raceway was one of the few tracks on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule where Kevin Harvick hadn’t yet won. He fixed that by leading the final 17 laps to take the checkered flag by .761 of a second over second-place Denny Hamlin in the first race of the doubleheader weekend. Harvick then followed up his win with a strong second-place finish on Sunday.
● This year’s doubleheader at Pocono will mark Harvick’s 41st and 42nd career NASCAR Cup Series starts at the 2.5-mile triangle. Harvick has finished among the top-10 in half of his races at Pocono. He has 14 top-fives there as well, a stat that includes four second-place finishes.
● Harvick has also enjoyed success outside of the NASCAR Cup Series at Pocono. He has made two career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts at the track, winning from the pole in 2011 and finishing second in 2015.
● Last year’s doubleheader at Pocono was eagerly anticipated by the NASCAR industry. Two NASCAR Cup Series races on back-to-back days was going to be Pocono’s calling card – and then COVID hit. In order to get in all of its 36 points-paying races during a truncated timeframe, doubleheaders also took place Aug. 8-9 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn and Aug. 22-23 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. Pocono, however, was still the first, and now in 2021, is the only doubleheader on the calendar.
● How’d Harvick do at those other doubleheaders last year? He swept the Michigan races and won the second race at Dover after finishing fourth the day before. Harvick’s average finish across the six races that comprised all the doubleheaders was 1.667.
● We know the doubleheader involves two races in two days, but how is the starting field for each race determined? Thankfully, we know that too. The starting lineup for the first race was determined by Metric Qualifying, with the numbers coming from each drivers’ respective performance in last Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Nashville (Tenn.) Superspeedway. So, who’s ready for some math?! It involves 15 percent of the driver’s fastest lap time position, 25 percent of the driver’s final race finishing position, 25 percent of the car owner’s final race position and 35 percent of the car owner’s points position. Just like in golf, lowest score wins. In the case of the first race at Pocono, Nashville race winner Kyle Larson is on the pole. Harvick, who finished fifth at Nashville, will start third. But wait, there’s more! The finishing order of the first Pocono race will determine the starting order of the second Pocono race. The top-20 finishers from Saturday’s race will have their final finishing positions inverted for Sunday’s race. So, the race winner will start 20th, second-place will start 19th, and so on. Drivers finishing between 21st and 40th on Saturday will start Sunday’s race in the same order they finished on Saturday. All of that was very math-centric. Who’s ready for an ice-cold Busch Light? Yes, we’ve got that too.
● The doubleheader does involve some quirks, but it’s all good as they come at a quirky track. Pocono is the only triangular-shaped track on the NASCAR Cup Series calendar. Its layout was designed by two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Rodger Ward, who modeled each of its three turns after a different track. Turn one, which is banked at 14 degrees, is from the legendary Trenton (N.J.) Speedway. Turn two, banked at eight degrees, is a nod to the turns at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And turn three, banked at six degrees, is based on the corners at The Milwaukee Mile. The first race on the 2.5-mile triangle came in 1971, but it wasn’t until Aug. 4, 1974 that NASCAR visited, with the inaugural race won by NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty.
● There’s a new logo on the front fender of the No. 4 Ford Mustang this weekend at Pocono. Unibet, a part of the Kindred Group, has partnered with Stewart-Haas Racing and Harvick to further grow its presence in the United States and, specifically, with motorsports. The Unibet brand is building on its years of European experience in the responsible gambling and player sustainability field and extending that mindset to its U.S. operations, with motorsports being a key platform. Unibet will have a larger presence on the No. 4 car later this year when it serves as the primary sponsor for Harvick at two NASCAR Cup Series races – Aug. 15 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Oct. 31 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. Unibet will also serve as the primary sponsor for Harvick during the NASCAR Xfinity Series race Aug. 14 at Indianapolis. Kindred is one of the top online gambling operators with business across Europe, the U.S. and Australia. Sports betting is legal in more than a dozen states and in line with sports betting’s growth, Unibet wants to expand it user base, with the platform already available to residents in Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Jersey and Virginia.
Kevin Harvick, Driver of the No. 4 Busch Light Ford Mustang
Before COVID struck and doubleheader race weekends became somewhat commonplace last year, Pocono was supposed to be the only doubleheader. It seemed groundbreaking at the time – two NASCAR Cup Series races on the same weekend. Was Pocono ahead of its time?
“The great part about Pocono is all of the competitors – the people that race – love going to Pocono. So when all of this talk started about losing races and changing races and Pocono went to the doubleheader, it probably saved them from losing a race. It also set the tone for a very unique weekend in how the cars are lined up and how you race. They were definitely ahead of their time because of the fact that we hadn’t gone through COVID yet and we hadn’t done what we’re doing now, and they were going to do it. I think that unique layout and that schedule allowed them to keep both of their races.”
The 2020 season began with just one doubleheader on the schedule – Pocono. But then Pocono became one of three doubleheader race weekends. What was it like running doubleheaders, and did you do anything differently in terms of your preparation?
“We were fortunate to run really well in the first race at Pocono and, from there, we knew what adjustments we needed to make for the second race. There was more rubber on the racetrack and you could see all of the competitors in the garage making their stuff better. But there’s also a flip side to all of that – you can also make yourself worse. So, you have to be careful about how much you adjust on your cars. But we did really well in all the doubleheaders last year, and I think Pocono has always been a really good racetrack for us. And being able to do that two days in a row and finish first and second in those races and have a chance at winning both races was definitely more fun than losing. The hardest part is the guys in the garage turning the car around. For me, it’s really not that big of a deal. But going through tech, getting your car prepared, doing the things that you can do to your racecar, working all night, showing back up and racing the next day, that’s really when it becomes difficult on the crew and the guys in the garage more so than me.”
Are doubleheaders a bit of a double-edged sword in that if you’re really good in the first race, you ought to be really good in the second race, but if you’re bad in the first race, you’re also likely to be bad in the second race?
“Whether you’re running good or you’re running bad, there’s really no difference, and I know people look at me funny when I say that, but you have to treat them the same. You have to treat a good day the same way you would treat a bad day, or else your preparation just gets lopsided and you just don’t progress like you need to whether you’re running good or bad. So you have to have that equal analysis of how you go about analyzing everything and how you go about doing everything just because of the fact that it all matters. It’s all building blocks to the next one, and whether that’s in a matter of 12 hours or it’s a matter of six days, it’s still relevant to what you’re doing to that progression, because I think most people don’t realize the amount of progression that comes in our sport on a week-to-week basis. Missing a week or having a person not be there for a week just backs you up, and you have to try to deliver as much information to each person as possible, and they have to take in as much information as possible and give it to you, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a 12-hour window or six days.”
What makes a lap at Pocono so challenging?
“When you look at Pocono, you know that you’re going to have a challenge of getting your car to handle in all three corners. That’s the biggest challenge when it comes to Pocono. You have to make sure you can get all you can coming to turn three because the straightaway after that is really, really long. You can kind of give up the tunnel turn, but you still need to be very good in all three corners. It’s just a different style of racetrack than what we go to on a week-to-week basis.”
You mentioned the tunnel turn – what makes it so difficult?
“The tunnel turn is difficult just because you try to carry so much speed through there. It’s not an extremely hard corner, but it’s an extremely hard corner to carry speed through there without having the front end push or the back slide out. It’s not an extremely hard corner until you try to go through there as fast as you can lap after lap. It’s an easy corner to make a mistake. You can give up a lot of time there, but you can also make a lot of time.”