Notes of Interest
● Who owns Phoenix Raceway? NASCAR or Kevin Harvick? NASCAR owns the facility, at least on paper, but Harvick owns the track. The driver of the No. 4 Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) has won a record nine NASCAR Cup Series races at the 1-mile oval. No other active Cup Series driver has won more than three races at Phoenix. Former Cup Series driver Jimmie Johnson is the closest to Harvick with four wins at the track.
● Harvick hasn’t finished outside the top-10 in his last 17 starts at Phoenix. The last time he finished outside the top-10 was March 3, 2013 when he finished 13th. That was nearly 10 years ago when the San Francisco Giants were the reigning World Series champions, the Baltimore Ravens were just a month removed from winning Super Bowl XLVII, the Miami Heat were marching toward their second straight NBA championship, and the Chicago Blackhawks were on their way to hoisting the Stanley Cup. Kyle Larson, the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion, still wasn’t old enough to enjoy a Busch Light, and Austin Cindric, winner of this year’s Daytona 500, was in eighth grade.
● Of Harvick’s nine NASCAR Cup Series victories at Phoenix, he won four straight between November 2013 and March 2015. The streak ended when Harvick finished second at Phoenix in November 2015, but when the series returned to the track in March 2016, Harvick won again. Harvick is the only driver to win four Cup Series races in a row at Phoenix. Johnson was next best with three straight wins between November 2007 and November 2008. Only five drivers have won consecutive Cup Series races at Phoenix, but Harvick is the only driver to win consecutive races twice, as he also swept both races in 2006.
● In 38 career NASCAR Cup Series starts at Phoenix, Harvick has earned an average finish of 8.8, the best of any active Cup Series driver. Denny Hamlin is next best with an average finish of 10.5 over 33 Cup Series starts.
● Harvick’s best average finish at Phoenix comes from running up front at Phoenix. He has led 1,663 laps in his 38 career NASCAR Cup Series starts at the track, dwarfing that of any other driver. Next best in this category is Kyle Busch with 1,190 laps led, 473 fewer laps than Harvick. That deficit represents more than a full race and-a-half distance at Phoenix as Sunday’s Ruoff Mortgage 500k is 312 laps.
● To finish first, one must first finish. Proving this mantra is Harvick’s lap completion rate of 99.8 percent at Phoenix. In fact, of the 11,863 laps available to Harvick at Phoenix, he has only missed 21 of those laps. Harvick’s first career NASCAR Cup Series start at Phoenix came on Oct. 28, 2001 when he started 37th and finished 17th.
● With the Estrella Mountains as its backdrop, Phoenix is a picture-perfect racetrack. Harvick has also been perfect at the desert oval. He has scored a perfect driver rating (150.0) at Phoenix on three occasions – November 2006 when he started second, led 252 of 312 laps, and won; November 2014 when he started third, led 264 of 312 laps, and won; and March 2015, when he started first, led 224 of 312 laps, and won.
● Harvick has also proven to be successful at Phoenix outside of the NASCAR Cup Series. He owns a NASCAR Xfinity Series win (April 2006) and four NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victories (November 2002, October 2003, November 2008 and November 2009).
● Harvick has two NASCAR K&N Pro Series West starts at Phoenix. His best effort came in his first K&N start at the track when he won the pole for the 1998 Phoenix 150 and led twice for a race-high 74 laps before finishing second to Rich Woodland Jr., by just .016 of a second.
● Before Cup and Xfinity and Trucks and K&N, Harvick competed at Phoenix while on the NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Tour. He made six starts between 1994 and 1999, with his last start being his best. Harvick qualified fourth and finished fourth as part of the 1999 Copper World Classic. Finishing just behind Harvick in fifth was an up-and-coming racer named Kurt Busch. Today, Harvick and Busch lead the NASCAR Cup Series in starts at Phoenix with 38 starts apiece.
● The 2022 season marks the 13th year of partnership between Harvick and Hunt Brothers Pizza. The nation’s largest brand of made-to-order pizza in the convenience store industry has sponsored Harvick for years in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Hunt Brothers Pizza joined Harvick fulltime in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2019 and has been a mainstay in NASCAR’s premier division ever since. With more than 8,000 locations in 30 states, Hunt Brothers Pizza offers original and thin-crust pizzas available as a grab-and-go Hunk A Pizza®, perfect for today’s on-the-go lifestyle, or as a customizable whole pizza that is an exceptional value with All Toppings No Extra Charge®. Hunt Brothers Pizza is headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, and is family owned and operated. For additional information, visit www.HuntBrothersPizza.com or download the app.
● Said Harvick about his more than decade-long partnership with Hunt Brothers Pizza: “Our fans are pretty loyal to the brands that are on our cars. Many of my pictures come from the standees in the store. People take selfies next to them. There are a number of reasons you have sponsorships – you want that brand recognition, the brand integration. Hunt Brothers Pizza is a very family-oriented company and we’re a very family-oriented group. Those relationships you build through the years with brands that recognize and reflect what you believe in are few and far between. We’ve grown with the Hunt Brothers Pizza brand. They’ve grown with us and have been very loyal to us, and I think our fans are very loyal to Hunt Brothers Pizza. It’s fun to see that brand recognition and that understanding of loyalty and partnership. You realize how many Hunt Brothers Pizza stores there are as you drive to racetracks.”
Kevin Harvick, Driver of the No. 4 Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford Mustang
Phoenix marks the final race of our three-race, West Coast swing, and with the new NextGen car, teams are having to manage limited cars and limited parts and pieces to fix the cars they have. How are you and the team handling it all?
“The situation is manageable because we have to manage it. These first five weeks of the season, including the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum, we’ve had a mindset of survival. We’re learning a lot about these racecars in regard to wear and tear on the parts and pieces, how to fix things, how well you can fix things, and the tendencies of the car. I think finding the limits of the car and learning about the car from a driver’s standpoint, that’s why you’re seeing accidents. And there’s just going to be mistakes because the pit stops are different, the way you shift these cars is different, they race different, so there are just a lot of things to learn. Keeping the cars together, and keeping yourself in a position to have solid finishes, is going to put you in a position to where, if you can bring everything home and have made all the laps in the first four points races, you can come home and work on your cars and be in a good position to start the rest of the season on the East Coast.”
We’ve spoken a lot about the NextGen car, but for the uninitiated, what are the differences between the NextGen car and the previous-generation car you raced from 2013-2021?
“I believe that the car we just got out of was one of the neatest racecars that our sport will ever see, just because of the innovation and the evolution and all the things that went into it. I think the biggest thing fans have probably noticed about the NextGen car is how relevant it looks compared to a car in the showroom. Especially for us in the Ford camp, our Mustangs look very relevant to the cars on the showroom floors in dealerships, and I think that was the highest priority – to make the cars squared up and relevant to a street car. In regard to everything underneath, it’ll really take some time to wrap our arms around accepting and enjoying what we have underneath. With the old car, they revolutionized the sport every year with new ideas and innovations that changed the way the car handled and looked and felt, and all the things that come with the evolution of a racecar. Now, you’ve got stock parts and pieces that you buy off the shelf, which is intended to cut a lot of that out. So for us – a team that really built a lot of those things and owns a CNC machine company in Haas Automation and is on the forefront of developing things – it’s a little bit of a culture shock just because you have to race differently and you have to assemble things differently. It’s a culture change that’s taking time for me to get used to because I’ve been a part of that innovation and evolution of cars my whole career. It was just part of what you did. This car will evolve, but it’s really just going to be in how you align the parts and pieces and how you drive it – all the things you do to make the car drive and do what you want it to.”
What’s the difference in skillset, and even mindset, from last year to this year as you’ve transitioned to the NextGen car?
“Our sport is unlike a lot of professional sports. A lot of professional sports depend on your body and speed and agility. Our sport puts a lot of value on experience, just because of the fact that in order to perform, you need common sense paired with street smarts so you can make decisions on the fly and, sometimes, just so you can survive. A lot of the things that we do, especially last year, we just survived and we’d grind away week after week and get solid finishes with cars that just weren’t as good as they needed to be. And while we were trying to figure it out and make the cars better as we went through the year, we still had to race. And just like last year, there are going to be weeks this year where the car is just not going to be very good and you have to figure it out and grind it out. Those things just come with time. You can bang your fist on the table and say, ‘We need to do this!’ and end up causing more commotion. It’s definitely more of a working relationship with Rodney (Childers, crew chief) and the team to hone in on exactly what we need to do to make the car better.”
What are the technical aspects of the NextGen car and how does it feel from a driver’s perspective?
“The base engine package is around 670 horsepower, which is exactly what the Xfinity cars are. I’m sure that’ll evolve into more power as time goes on. When this whole project originally started, we had three different engine packages and aerodynamic packages and, as offseason testing took place and evolved, it cycled into all the engine packages and spoiler packages being the same, except for the superspeedways. So, it’s got a low-downforce package with higher horsepower, which is much more than that 550-horsepower package that we had on last year’s car. The biggest thing was to try to have some off-throttle time and be able to have some handling deficiencies as the run went on, where you slip and slide and move around the racetrack. You’re able to have an old-school type of race and not just run in a big pack. It’s evolved in a good direction and we’ll see how it goes.”
Three races into the season and the NextGen car is still very much a blank canvas. How much are these race weekends akin to R&D sessions when it comes to understanding this car and finding ways to make it better?
“You just have to understand the situation and get used to what you’re working with. You have to evolve with it, and everybody’s going to have to communicate well in order to hone in on exactly what you need, as far as changes and grip on our Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford Mustang.”
You have nine wins at Phoenix, with the last one coming in March 2018. And even when the track was repaved and the start-finish line was moved to the dogleg, you’ve never finished outside the top-10. How different is the new layout compared to the old layout and what have you done to adapt?
“When they moved the start-finish line, there was nothing really different, other than the restart. The restarts have become much more exciting because of the fact that you can use the apron and everything that happens going into what is now turn one. So, the restarts are the biggest difference since they moved the start-finish line. This configuration of racetrack is much different than what we had in the late ’90s, early 2000s. That track used to be very low on grip, and this one’s become lower on grip and now, with the resin that they add on the racetrack, you have to kind of adapt just because of the fact that you never know what the grip level is going to be. The resin and the start-finish line have added a couple of different elements to it that we didn’t have in the past.”
Restarts in the NASCAR Cup Series are chaotic, but perhaps nowhere more so than at Phoenix as drivers use all of the infield portion of the dogleg to advance their position. How dicey are restarts at Phoenix, and when does it make sense to dive bomb the dogleg and when do you need to take the traditional line around the track?
“You just have to be aware of where you are on the racetrack, and it depends on which guy you are. If you’re the guy on old tires, new tires, inside, outside, you kind of have to have a plan before you get to the corner as far as what you want to accomplish. If you accomplish it, that’s fine, but if you don’t, then you immediately have to go into damage control, where you go on defense to try and be used up as little as possible. You can easily wind up in a bad spot in the middle, four-wide, because it funnels down pretty quickly off of turn two. There’s a wall that you come up on to the straightaway, and then everybody’s funneling from four-wide to at least three-wide. There are a lot of different angles of attack that happen, so you just have to be aware of your situation.”