Notes of Interest
● In the 312 laps that will eventually lead to the checkered flag in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series season finale at Phoenix Raceway, there will be a handful of leaders jousting to lead the most important lap – the last one around the 1-mile oval. Busch Light is highlighting this race within the race with its #BuschLineLeader Twitter promotion. Any time there’s a lead change, fans have the opportunity to win $100 by simply following @BuschBeer, turning on notifications, and then tweeting #BuschLineLeader and #Sweepstakes. Whether it’s Kevin Harvick driving his No. 4 Busch Light Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) to the lead, or a different driver taking over the top spot, Busch Light will award those fast enough to tweet #BuschLineLeader and #Sweepstakes with $100 until its $7,000 budget has been emptied. So with a cold Busch Light in one hand and the TV remote in another, tune into NBC at 3 p.m. EST to catch the final 312 laps of the 2022 season and earn some cold, hard cash.
● Who owns Phoenix Raceway? NASCAR or Harvick? NASCAR owns the facility, at least on paper, but Harvick owns the track. The 2014 NASCAR Cup Series champion has won a record nine Cup Series races at the desert mile. 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 18 NASCAR Cup Series 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 Lebron James-led 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 39 career NASCAR Cup Series starts at Phoenix, Harvick has earned an average finish of 8.7, the best of any active Cup Series driver. Denny Hamlin is next best with an average finish of 10.6 over 34 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 39 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 race 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 12,175 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 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 39 starts apiece.
Kevin Harvick, Driver of the No. 4 Busch Light Ford Mustang
A NASCAR Cup Series champion will be crowned Sunday at Phoenix. As a former Cup Series champion, what do you think winning a championship says about you?
“I think it says a lot about our team. For me, leaving RCR (Richard Childress Racing) and coming to SHR was a huge risk, and breaking out of my comfort zone and being open-minded to new people and new cars and new things is something I’ve always looked back on and said, ‘That’s why that change was good.’ Don’t ever give up on the evolution and the change of what you need to do to progress with the sport because our sport has an incredible progression rate, as far as how the car progresses, how the rules progress, how the tires progress, how the team progresses, how your driving style progresses – it’s kind of evolve or die, and I think that’s important to remember.”
What makes a championship memorable beyond just winning a title?
“I would tell you desire and grit, and that ability to not let the outside world affect what you do, and how you do things and why you do things, and believing in the process and the things that you do. Believe in the people around you, but don’t be afraid to change things along the way. For me, the biggest thing is just learning how to do that as an adult. But professionally, which is something that I didn’t do great at RCR, I think as Rodney (Childers, crew chief) came into the picture and we were able to evolve with the team, and each of us was able to evolve as a person, really helped the communication and the things that happen with the team, to be able to keep that cohesiveness of the group, to be able to be productive and work forward through good times and bad. Sometimes, the good times were harder to progress through than the bad times. In the bad times, you know you have to get better. In the good times, you can be a little bit slow to react. You have to balance these things. That’s why you always hear me talk about balance, because it’s not really just about good times and bad times, it’s also about the circle of life and your team and everything that goes with that to get the maximum potential out of the mental thought process and things that come with being good and being a communicator. I’m not the fastest driver in the world, but I feel like I can out-think a lot of situations and help my team think forward to figure things out. That’s part of what we do well.”
How difficult is it to defend a championship?
“Our first thought was, how do we defend this championship and not look like it was a fluke? We were a first-year team, won the championship the first year, and then at the end of the year we didn’t win the championship, but we had a way better year than we had in 2014. We just came up short from winning the championship. The only conversation we had as a group was how do we do better than we did in 2014 to show them that we are for real.”
A championship wasn’t in the cards this year, so what are you looking ahead to in order to prepare for 2023?
“You want to have all the cars as competitive as possible, and you do the things that it takes to do that. So, the better we can make all the cars, the better off everybody is going to be. That’s the goal.”
Chase Briscoe was SHR’s last man standing in the NASCAR Playoffs and he nearly raced his way into the Championship 4. He’s finishing his second season in Cup, and it’s one that delivered success early as he won at Phoenix when the series first raced at the track back in March. How is it working with Briscoe?
“Chase and I have developed a good relationship. I like hearing his feedback because of the fact that he has such a different, fresh approach to what he’s feeling, seeing, ideas, how he drives. It keeps it good for me too, because of the fact that he looks at it so differently than I look at it. Being able to have that conversation go both ways is important for the progression of the organization. Him finding a balance of what I do and me finding a balance of what he does, because they’re two different outlooks of what you’re feeling and seeing, that’s healthy.”
What are some of the things you and Briscoe talk about?
“We’ve had more time to spend on the plane and go to the tests and just be around each other more, other than just showing up at the racetrack, which is what we did the first year. During COVID, you just showed up at the racetrack and weren’t around each other much because you weren’t allowed to go to the meetings and things at the race shop, anyway. Obviously, that’s different now, and we’re back to a more normal routine. That’s good, because one of the hardest things to learn in what we do is how to deal with not only just becoming a Cup driver, but in his particular case, how to deal with success. Then you have a family and you have finances and you have commitments and all of those things that you have to balance. And Chase is a very simple person. His life revolves around his family and racing, and I think when you start to complicate that and your life becomes less simple, you have to figure out how to deal with life and still maintain that ability to have that approach of, ‘I’ll do whatever it takes to put myself in a position to be a driver, to be a winner.’ That’s hard, and sometimes you let your guard down. You see a lot of these younger guys let their guard down after they win their first race, or when they get to the Cup level, and they can’t ever figure out how to get that same hunger in their belly to get to that second win and that third win and that fourth win and be that consistent, up-front guy. That’s the difficult part and, after he won, what I tried to stress to him was, ‘Hey, don’t ever lose that fire in your belly of thinking that you’re not going to make it, that you might not have a job tomorrow, because that’s what will drive you to be great.’ He has that ability because he’s been on the other side of the fence where he’s been sleeping on couches and wondering what he’s going to do tomorrow. I’ve been there, a lot of us have been there, and you don’t want to go back to that. You want to keep the success that you have, and I think not having had that before, that’s what sets Chase apart from a lot of the guys he’s racing against.”
You talk about making the time to commit to racing. Does that include working on the car?
“Well, I haven’t worked on a car in 25 years. Working on a car is almost viewed as you’re in the way, now. That being said, I think young drivers should work on their cars a little bit, but I also think there’s a point where it becomes more about the computer and the iPad and the data and the information to understand what their job is from a driving standpoint and, more importantly, to be able to communicate with the engineers, and understand the graphs and the information that’s coming with it. The information that you give, it isn’t a guess anymore. If you’re not doing a good job, like if the car’s tight or loose in the simulator, they can tell that it’s tight or loose, and then if it’s something that they don’t expect, they can diagnose whether it’s aero or mechanical. So when you start feeding those directions, it’s more important to able to analyze the things that are going on because it’s a different era.”
That “fire in the belly” you mentioned, is that how you got the nickname, “The Closer”? Do you remember who gave you that nickname and when and where it started?
“It had to be Mike Joy and Darrell Waltrip, I would assume. Darrell probably had three or four different nicknames for me throughout the years. I guess that’s just the one that stuck. I think as we went through the years at RCR, it’s kind of like where were there at the end of August, where it’s like, ‘Man, how in the world did these guys even get into contention to race for a win this week and now they’re walking out with the trophy.’ That’s kind of been the M.O. of everything that we’ve done throughout the year. There’s just no quit. It’s never over until it’s over, and there’s never a race where I’ve gotten into the car and I haven’t said, ‘OK, we have a chance today. We might be slow, we might be fast, we might have something go wrong, but in the end, we’ve just got to figure it out.’ And I think that mentality has carried over to all the guys on our Busch Light team.”