Tuesday, Dec 06

Rheem Racing: Kevin Harvick Kansas Advance

Notes of Interest

 

●  Dorothy was right. There’s no place like home. And for Kevin Harvick, home is an intermediate racetrack. With apologies to those in Harvick’s hometown of Bakersfield, California, the veteran racer has made the intermediate tracks that comprise the majority of the NASCAR Cup Series schedule his home. Of Harvick’s 60 career NASCAR Cup Series wins, 24 have come at intermediate-style racetracks. Kansas Speedway in Kansas City is one of them – a sweeping, D-shaped oval that has produced high speeds and daring, side-by-side racing since its debut in 2001. Harvick has competed at the track for every one of its Cup Series races – one of only two drivers to do so (Kurt Busch being the other) – and has amassed quite the history in his 33 career starts. Three wins, five second-place finishes, 11 top-threes, 12 top-fives, 19 top-10s and 949 laps led make Harvick one of the most successful drivers in Kansas’ relatively young history. His average start is 13.4, his average finish is 9.1 and he has a lap completion rate of 98.7 percent.

 

●  Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas serves as the second race of the 10-race playoffs. Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Rheem Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing, is a part of the 16-driver playoff field, but he comes into the race last among his playoff counterparts. Harvick finished 33rd in the playoff opener last Sunday at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway when his car caught fire less than 100 laps from the finish. A potential top-10 result went up in smoke. It put Harvick 13 points below the top-12 cutoff line, as only the 12 highest drivers in points after the third playoff race next Saturday night at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway will advance to the second round of the playoffs. A win at either Kansas or Bristol will punch Harvick’s ticket to the Round of 12.

 

●  Winning is what got Harvick into the playoffs. His victory Aug. 7 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn secured his spot in the playoffs for a 13th consecutive season and his 16th overall since the playoffs began in 2004. Harvick then put an exclamation point on his playoff standing by winning Aug. 14 at Richmond (Va.) Raceway to earn the ninth seed heading into Darlington.

 

●  Kansas is one of the 10 tracks that make up the NASCAR Playoffs, and of Harvick’s 60 career NASCAR Cup Series victories, 23 have come at the remaining playoff venues. Three of those wins have been at Kansas, while Harvick also has three wins apiece at Bristol and Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. He has two wins at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and one win each at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, Homestead-Miami Speedway and Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. The remaining nine wins were earned at the most valuable playoff venue – Phoenix Raceway, home to the championship-deciding race. The only playoff track where Harvick doesn’t have a win is the Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway Roval.

 

●  Harvick won his first NASCAR Cup Series race at Kansas in the 2013 Hollywood Casino 400 with a massive 1.140-second margin over runner-up Kurt Busch. Harvick scored his next Kansas win in the 2016 Hollywood Casino 400 with another impressive performance, crossing the stripe 1.183 seconds ahead of next best Carl Edwards. Harvick’s most recent Kansas victory came in May 2018 when he beat Martin Truex, Jr., by .390 of a second.

 

●  Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon lead the NASCAR Cup Series in wins at Kansas with three victories apiece. Only Harvick, Hamlin and Logano are still active, and only 10 of the 17 Cup Series winners at Kansas are active. Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 marks the 34th Cup Series race at Kansas.

 

●  Harvick’s 12 top-fives at Kansas are the most among active drivers, as are his 19 top-10s, and both are by a wide margin. Next best in top-fives are Kyle Busch and Hamlin with 10 top-fives apiece. And when it comes to top-10s, Truex is next best with 15 top-10s.

 

●  No one has led more laps at Kansas than Harvick. His 949 laps led around the 1.5-mile oval are 146 more laps than Truex, his nearest pursuer in this category.

 

●  Harvick is good at Kansas even outside of the NASCAR Cup Series. He has six top-fives across 11 NASCAR Xfinity Series starts at the track, with the highlight being a victory in September 2006 when he beat Matt Kenseth for the win by .423 of a second. Kenseth retired from NASCAR upon the conclusion of the 2020 season and was recently named to the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2023.

 

●  With Harvick currently in his 22nd year of NASCAR Cup Series competition, a familiar name is back with the driver of the No. 4 Ford Mustang. Rheem, America’s No. 1 water heating brand and major air conditioning and heating manufacturer, is commemorating its 15th year in racing, and as a part of the celebration, Rheem partnered with Harvick and the No. 4 team in 2022. The pairing reunites Rheem with Harvick, a relationship that began in 2007 when Harvick won the Daytona 500 in dramatic fashion, beating NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin for the victory by .02 of a second in a frantic, green-white-checkered finish. It led to Rheem serving as a primary partner for Harvick’s Xfinity Series team, Kevin Harvick Inc. (KHI), in 2008. Rheem’s debut with KHI came on May 2, 2008 at Richmond where Harvick finished second in the Lipton Tea 250. Harvick delivered Rheem its first victory as a primary sponsor on Feb. 27, 2010 when he won the Sam’s Town 300 at Las Vegas. Rheem aligned as a primary partner with Harvick in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2011 and stayed with him through the 2013 season before Harvick joined Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014. This weekend at Kansas, Rheem will entertain more than 200 customers, including 100 from Air Management Supply, a three-time Rheem “Wholesaler of the Year”, and Chemours, a global chemistry company with leading market positions in titanium technologies, thermal and specialized solutions, and advanced performance materials.

    

Kevin Harvick, Driver of the No. 4 Rheem Ford Mustang 

 

Do you have an extra gear that you grab for the playoffs?

“When the Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus era was in full swing, we had to make some decisions on how we wanted to race. We wanted to race like them, and that was championship mode every week so that you didn’t have to figure out how to do something differently when you got to the playoffs. You couldn’t put on this new face or this new mindset, or decide you’re going to do this differently or that differently. You’ve got to have that figured out before you get there and rely on your abilities and the things that you’ve done in the past. You’ve just got to continue to do that going forward, and hopefully the cars are better and you can rely on that extra speed as you go into the playoffs. We try to do the same things week after week. Rodney (Childers, crew chief) doesn’t have a demeanor change whether the sky is falling, or if it’s cold or hot outside, or the car is fast or slow, he’s pretty much the same guy. That helps us all because he’s so even-keeled about everything that he does.”

 

Winning at Michigan was the obvious turnaround for your season. What did you see before that win others on the outside of your race team did not?

“We see everything. Since we came back from the off weekend in June and went to Nashville and had a good weekend and were able to be competitive and run in the top-five, really from that point on things have been progressing well and the cars have had some decent speed and we’ve been able to make some changes here and there with things with the team. And I think as we’ve gone along for a month and a half, the cars had speed, we just had no luck to go along with it. But we knew things were headed in the right direction, and it was just a matter of putting ourselves in the right position and continuing to do that and having the scenarios turned around and having a little bit of good luck. That’s all turned around and, hopefully, that wave up is as long as that wave was down.”

 

After the win at Michigan, you won the very next week at Richmond. How satisfying were those back-to-back victories?

“I think the most gratifying part of it all was the fact that we all worked through it together. As you look at the new car and not really understand a lot that’s going on with it because it’s so drastically different, it made you look at things a lot differently than what you did before. For myself and Rodney, we’ve been around this for a long time, and having to forget all of the stuff that you’ve done, you’re going to the same racetracks, but it’s a different thought process. It’s a different process of how you get to that answer than what it used to be. You had to be somewhat open-minded, and I can be open-minded if it’s something that you want to do.”

 

Kansas has historically been a very good track for you, but in the series’ prior visit back in May, you finished 15th. What are your expectations for your return to Kansas this weekend?

“Kansas was an OK race for us. I think the tire’s a little bit different, a little less stagger this time, so that’ll change the setups a little bit as we go into Kansas. You have to be good middle to the top of the racetrack in order to make good time at Kansas and be able to survive on the long run and make enough speed. So you’re going to need to be comfortable from the middle of the racetrack up to the top to make good lap times, so that’s what we’ll concentrate on.”

 

Middle to the top of the racetrack is where you want to run at Kansas, but when do you adjust that line in the event you’re getting beat?

“I’m going to always want my car to be versatile just because if you are married to that top lane and your car won’t work anywhere else, you don’t have a really good chance of making time and passing people. If you get married to that top lane and catch 15th, 16th place in the field and they’re also married to that top lane, it becomes difficult to pass and then your gaps shrink rapidly as you’re trying to make your way through the field. You need to have some versatility. If your car’s decent up top, you can make good lap times up there, regardless, and park yourself in front of the guys who are also wanting to run up the top. But if your car’s a little more versatile than others, you can kind of swing down through the middle, especially in turns three and four.”

 

Your history at Kansas is impressive. Three wins, five second-place finishes, 11 top-threes, 12 top-fives, 19 top-10s and 949 laps led across 33 career NASCAR Cup Series starts. What makes you so good there?

“I think Kansas has been a great racetrack and, really, from a driver’s standpoint, a fun racetrack because of the fact that it’s worn in so well. You can race at the top of the racetrack, which is the preferred groove as the tires wear out. It’s faster at the bottom of the racetrack on new tires. But as a driver, having options is something that is a lot of fun. With Atlanta having been repaved along with some of the other racetracks, Kansas has become one of the more unique racetracks because of the fact the asphalt and the shape of the racetrack is so driver-friendly, as far as where you can drive on the racetrack. You can literally drive from the wall to the apron all the way around the racetrack. So, it’s a fun racetrack. It’s been good to us and, hopefully, we can continue that trend on Sunday in our Rheem Ford Mustang.”

 

By being able to move around on the track at Kansas, can you be more aggressive with these cars than you can at other tracks?

“In certain situations. I think from pushing, restarts, things like that, you can be pretty aggressive with them, but you also have to be pretty careful with them in certain spots, because it can get out from underneath you pretty quickly.”

 

Race strategy, particularly at Kansas, has come into play in recent races. While strategy is more in the realm of your crew chief, Rodney Childers, when it dictates a race outcome instead of sheer performance, do you have to sort of switch your mindset, perhaps by finding some patience even when you want to just go as hard as you can?

“These cars, in certain situations, have worn the tires a lot more than what they’ve done in the past. Kansas can be a high-wear racetrack just because of the way that the surface has aged, which is a great thing. So, I think for a lot of that, you’ll just have to see what the pit windows are and what the tire wear is when we go there. But it’s definitely a racey track. Those guys can see a lot more on the pit box than I can see in the car, so I usually just go with what they tell me and kind of roll from there.”

 

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