News and notes from each week of NASCAR racing using a Las Vegas oddsmaking perspective
Wednesday, July 7, 2021
Kevin Harvick is 9/1 to win 2021 Quaker State 400 at Atlanta
No. 4 Mobil 1 Summer Road Trip Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing
● Event: Atlanta 400 (Round 21 of 36)
● Time/Date: 3:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, July 11
● Location: Atlanta Motor Speedway
● Layout: 1.54-mile oval
● Laps/Miles: 260 laps/400 miles
● Stage Lengths: Stage 1: 80 laps / Stage 2: 80 laps / Final Stage: 100 laps
● TV/Radio: NBCSN / PRN / SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Notes of Interest
● Mobil 1 has been the Official Motor Oil of NASCAR since 2003, and this summer Mobil 1™ synthetic is celebrating everyone’s drive as the Official Motor Oil of Road Trips. Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 Mobil 1 Ford Mustang is sporting a special paint scheme commemorating summer road trips this Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway where Harvick will embark upon a 400-mile road trip of his own in the Atlanta 400. What’s more, as part of the Mobil 1 Thousand Sweepstakes, Mobil 1 is sending one lucky winner and a guest on a once in-a-lifetime trip from the final race of the regular season at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway to the first race of the NASCAR Playoffs at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. Special stops include meet-and-greets with Harvick and his Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) teammates, a tour of SHR, a Ford Performance Racing School ride-along with SHR’s Chase Briscoe, and a visit to the NASCAR Hall of Fame where SHR co-owner Tony Stewart’s 2011 NASCAR Cup Series championship-winning car is on display. Fans can register at Mobil1Thousand.com where in addition to becoming eligible for the ultimate summer road trip, they’re also eligible to win $1,000 or more every race weekend if a NASCAR Cup Series driver who uses Mobil 1 takes the checkered flag.
● The Mobil 1 branding on Harvick’s No. 4 Ford Mustang goes more than skin deep as the world’s leading synthetic motor oil brand gives Harvick an added advantage. Mobil 1 products are used throughout his racecar and they extend beyond just engine oil. Power steering fluid, transmission fluid, gear oil and driveline lubricants from Mobil 1 give Harvick a technical advantage over his counterparts by reducing friction, heat and rolling resistance.Mobil 1 is a sponsor whose technology makes Harvick’s No. 4 Mobil 1 Ford Mustang faster.
● Since joining SHR in 2014, Harvick has only one finish outside of the top-10 in his last eight starts at Atlanta. In fact, that lone result came in Harvick’s first race at Atlanta as a member of SHR. Since finishing 19th in August 2014, Harvick has finished in the top-10 in every race since – a streak that includes two victories (February 2018 and June 2020) and four top-fives.
● Harvick has finished among the top-10 in 14 of his last 17 starts at Atlanta, a run that began with a seventh-place drive in March 2008.
● Harvick’s top-10 streak at Atlanta appeared in jeopardy during the NASCAR Cup Series’ most recent visit to the 1.54-mile oval in March. After starting seventh and running as high as second, Harvick made a routine pit stop for four tires and fuel during a caution period on lap 27. But just before taking the green flag for the lap-31 restart, Harvick had to duck onto pit road to replace a flat left-rear tire. The culprit? A broken valve stem. This put Harvick all the way back in 32nd place. He ended up going a lap down, finishing 24th in the first stage and 20th in the second stage. Harvick began the final stage in 19th, one of six drivers a lap down. A fortuitous caution on lap 221 allowed Harvick to take the wave-around and get his lap back. He restarted 17th on lap 225 and cracked the top-15 with a pass of Michael McDowell on lap 231. Harvick then passed Ryan Newman for 14th on lap 259 before making a scheduled, green flag pit stop on lap 268 for four tires and fuel. Thanks to quick work by his pit crew, Harvick climbed to 12th by lap 270. He passed Ricky Stenhouse Jr., for 11th on lap 303 and then grabbed 10th from Matt DiBenedetto four laps from the finish to preserve his top-10 streak at Atlanta.
● Harvick has three NASCAR Cup Series wins at Atlanta. His first at the track was the first of his career, and it came a little over 20 years ago on March 11, 2001. The Cracker Barrel Old Country Store 500 was just Harvick’s third race in a Cup Series car. He started fifth in the 325-lap race and led twice for 18 laps, including the final six. But Harvick had to earn the win on the final lap and hold off a then three-time champion in Jeff Gordon. Harvick succeeded, outdueling the eventual 2001 series champion to take the win by a scant .006 margin of victory – the seventh-closest finish in NASCAR history.
● Of course, the backstory to that first win is significant. Harvick wasn’t just driving any racecar when he won at Atlanta. He was driving the racecar that less than a month earlier had been piloted by Dale Earnhardt. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion died on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. Team owner Richard Childress tabbed Harvick, who was racing for him in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, to pull double-duty and take over Earnhardt’s Cup ride. The No. 3, made iconic by Earnhardt, was changed to the No. 29 and Harvick made his Cup Series debut Feb. 25 at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham. Harvick started 36th that Sunday at Rockingham, but rain washed over the 1.017-mile oval just 51 laps into the 393-lap race. The race resumed at 11 a.m. ET on Monday, whereupon Harvick drove to a solid 14th-place finish. He then traveled to Las Vegas on Tuesday, married his wife, DeLana, on Wednesday, and was back in a racecar on Friday, competing in both the Xfinity Series and Cup Series events at Las Vegas. After finishing eighth on Sunday to score his first career top-10 in the Cup Series, Harvick headed to Atlanta where the first of his 58 career Cup Series wins was secured.
● Harvick is the leader among active NASCAR Cup Series drivers at Atlanta.
▬ He has a series-leading 31 career starts at Atlanta. Kurt Busch is next best with 30 starts.
▬ He is tied with Kurt Busch for the most wins at Atlanta (three).
▬ He has a series-leading nine top-fives at Atlanta. Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch are next best with seven top-fives apiece.
▬ He has the most top-10s at Atlanta (16). Kurt Busch is next best with 15 top-10s.
▬ He has led a series-high 1,348 laps at Atlanta. Kurt Busch is next best with only 804 laps led.
▬ He has completed a series-high 9,867 laps at Atlanta. Ryan Newman is next best with 9,228 laps completed.
● Who is the all-time leader at Atlanta? That’s none other than Richard Petty. They call him “The King” for a reason: 65 career NASCAR Cup Series starts at Atlanta with six wins, 22 top-fives, 33 top-10s and 1,827 laps led with 17,513 laps completed.
● Harvick is also incredibly good at Atlanta outside of the NASCAR Cup Series. He has five Xfinity Series wins at the track, including four in his last six starts at the 1.54-mile oval, the last of which ended in victory – February 2018 when he walloped the field, leading four times for a race-high 141 laps and cruising to the win with a 4.183 margin over second-place Joey Logano. In 17 career Xfinity Series start at Atlanta, Harvick has 11 top-fives and 13 top-10s with 973 laps led.
Kevin Harvick, Driver of the No. 4 Mobil 1 Summer Road Trip Ford Mustang
Your track record at Atlanta is incredibly strong. Performing well at Atlanta means managing your tires and taking care of your racecar. How do you do that when you’re still trying to outrun 39 other drivers?
“Atlanta has one of the most unique track surfaces. There are things about Atlanta that you manipulate your car with, and a lot of that has to do with rhythm. There are a lot of bumps, and a lot of things that go with the bumps are the brake pedal and the gas pedal, and all of those things combine to make a good lap at Atlanta. It’s just a fun racetrack to drive and we’ve been fortunate to have success really every year that we’ve gone there since I’ve been at Stewart-Haas Racing. It’s just a good racetrack for us. I feel like we should’ve won every race that we’ve raced at Atlanta, but we haven’t one way or another, but we’ve been fortunate to win a couple.”
Your race at Atlanta back in March was very atypical for you and the No. 4 Mobil 1 team. How much of it was the result of a broken valve stem that put you behind early in the race, and how much of it was not having the kind of lights-out car you typically have at Atlanta?
“Ryan Blaney won the race and we raced right with Blaney at the beginning of the race. The unfortunate part for us was two things – the untimely pit stop that we had to have because of the valve stem, and the 5 car (Kyle Larson) was extremely fast. So, every time we would pass cars, he would pass more cars and there just weren’t a lot of cautions and we never could get back to where we needed to be until the very end of the race. I really felt like we had a top-five car in that particular race. It wasn’t a car that was as fast as we’d like to have capable of winning the race and setting the pace, but it definitely put us behind and we never could make it up because of how fast the 5 car was.”
Explain how a setback – be it in the pits or on the racetrack – compounds itself when you’re racing in traffic, and how that is intensified at a track like Atlanta.
“It just starts to lose grip, and Atlanta’s a little bit different than most places just because the whole car comes out of the racetrack. And when the whole car comes out of the racetrack, the first thing that happens is that the front end doesn’t start to turn, and when the front end doesn’t turn, there’s basically a line that I like to run that is the fastest way around the racetrack and, when everybody’s trying to run that line, it just takes time. You have to basically be patient enough to wait for the guy in front of you to make a mistake and hope you didn’t make enough mistakes to be right on his bumper so you can capitalize on that mistake. And you have to take that approach with every single car. It’s just a methodical, timely approach that it takes to get back through traffic.”
Your race at Atlanta back in March notwithstanding, is Atlanta one of those tracks where you and crew chief Rodney Childers say, “Alright, we’re good here,” or are there still things to tweak in order to stay ahead of the curve?
“We’re 100 percent bought into the feel in the racecar at Atlanta, and we’re going to chase that feel and what we want, because we know that it’s just different than everywhere else that we go to. You’re looking for a different reaction out of the car that allows you to be able to run fast for a long time. It’s a different type of racetrack, but in the end those guys are bought into knowing that if we don’t win at Atlanta, it’s a letdown because of the expectations we have going in there.”
How much does Atlanta change from the relative cool of March to the heat and humidity of July?
“It’s going to be much different going back in the summer just because of the temperature and the surface. And when you have that temperature on that surface, it just has less grip. And when it’s hotter outside, you make less downforce and the cars just won’t drive as good. They never drive great at Atlanta, but going back in the summer, it’s going to be worse.”
NASCAR’s rulebook makes teams operate in a pretty small box. When it comes to a momentum track like Atlanta, how important is Mobil 1’s technology in the overall efficiency of your racecar, specifically in regard to reducing friction, heat and rolling resistance?
“Mobil 1 technology is a true difference maker, especially this year. There’s a development freeze on all the parts and pieces that go into the racecar as we get ready for the NextGen car in 2022. That means we have to maximize what we’ve got. Efficiency equals speed. The less friction, the less rolling resistance, the faster you’ll go. From the synthetic oil in the engine to all the lubricants throughout the car, it all adds up to a more efficient racecar, and that shows up on the stopwatch.”