News and notes from each week of NASCAR racing using a Las Vegas oddsmaking perspective
Wednesday, September 1, 2021
Kevin Harvick is 8/1 to win 2021 Southern 500 at Darlington
No. 4 Busch Light Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing
● Event: Cook Out Southern 500 (Round 27 of 36)
● Time/Date: 6 p.m. ET on Sunday, Sept. 5
● Location: Darlington (S.C) Raceway
● Layout: 1.366-mile oval
● Laps/Miles: 367 laps/501.3 miles
● Stage Lengths: Stage 1: 115 laps / Stage 2: 115 laps / Final Stage: 137 laps
● TV/Radio: NBCSN / MRN / SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Notes of Interest
● Kevin Harvick is running a fan-inspired paint scheme in the Cook Out Southern 500 NASCAR Cup Series race Sunday night at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. Scott MacDonald, a NASCAR fan since 1977 who witnessed Busch’s entry into NASCAR when the brand sponsored driver Cale Yarborough in 1979, was chosen by Busch to influence the design of Harvick’s No. 4 Busch Light Ford Mustang. MacDonald has been a Harvick fan since 2007 when he watched him win the Daytona 500 by just .020 of a second over Mark Martin. MacDonald caught the racing bug as a 6-year-old growing up in Haddonfield, New Jersey. He became a regular visitor to his two nearest Cup Series venues – Dover (Del.) International Speedway and Pocono (Pa.) Raceway – and has since been a part of the NASCAR Fan Council. “To have the opportunity to design a car for a driver like Kevin Harvick is a dream come true,” MacDonald said. “Plus, to have it run at the Southern 500 – a crown-jewel race – I can’t stop smiling. Stewart-Haas Racing and Anheuser-Busch have given me the opportunity to become a part of NASCAR history. Nothing can compare to that! When anyone watches this race again, they’ll see my design, especially when Kevin wins!” When the 50-year-old MacDonald was asked which will be more satisfying – seeing the car he inspired out on the racetrack or bragging to his friends and co-workers that he was behind the look of Harvick’s Busch Light Ford, MacDonald said, “Oh, I’ve already started bragging, but I think when I see that car out on the racetrack, that will definitely be more satisfying.”
● The NASCAR Playoffs begin Sunday at Darlington and for the 15th time in his career, Harvick is a part of it. Harvick qualified for the playoffs by virtue of his ninth-place finish in the regular-season standings. This is his 12th consecutive playoff appearance. Harvick won the championship in 2014.
● There’s a sense of déjà vu in this year’s playoffs. Despite going winless in this season’s first 26 races, Harvick pointed his way into the playoffs by finishing ninth in the regular-season standings. Back in 2011, Tony Stewart – the “Stewart” in Stewart-Haas Racing – went winless in the season’s first 26 races and pointed his way into the playoffs by finishing ninth in the regular-season standings. Despite declaring that he was “wasting” a spot prior to the first race of the 10-race playoffs, Stewart went on to win that race and four more, including the season finale where he beat Carl Edwards for the championship by virtue of a tiebreaker, as Stewart’s five victories trumped Edwards’ lone win. Harvick seeks to emulate the championship run Stewart performed 10 years ago.
● Harvick is the defending winner of the Southern 500. In last year’s race, the driver of the No. 4 Busch Light Ford Mustang led three times for 32 laps, including the final 13, to beat second-place Austin Dillon by .343 of a second. It was Harvick’s eighth win of 2020. He would go on to win one more race – the Sept. 19 Bass Pro Shops/NRA Night Race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. His nine wins in a single season were a series-best and career-best, all in Harvick’s 20th year of NASCAR Cup Series racing.
● Darlington is known as “The Track Too Tough To Tame” but Harvick has tamed the venerable 1.366-mile oval three times. The 45-year-old racer from Bakersfield, California, owns two Southern 500 victories (2014 and 2020) and one win in the track’s 400-mile race. In fact, Harvick enters Darlington with an impressive record – he hasn’t finished outside the top-10 since 2012. How long ago was that? “Gangnam Style” and its music video by South Korean singer Psy went viral in 2012, four years before the social media app TikTok became reality.
● That’s a long time, but not nearly as long as Darlington has been around. The 2021 season marks the track’s 71st anniversary, with the egg-shaped oval having hosted 120 NASCAR Cup Series races. The first came on Sept. 4, 1950 and it was the first 500-mile race in NASCAR history and the first on asphalt. Johnny Mantz drove his Plymouth to the win with an average speed of 75.250 mph and the race took 6 hours, 38 minutes and 40 seconds to complete. Juxtapose that with Harvick’s win in last September’s Southern 500. His Ford Mustang had an average speed of 132.256 mph and the race finished in 3 hours, 47 minutes and 26 seconds.
● COVID-19 stopped racing in its tracks last year. After the checkered flag dropped March 8 at Phoenix Raceway, NASCAR went on a 10-week hiatus as the world grappled with the scale of a pandemic not seen since the Spanish Flu of 1918-1919. NASCAR had to navigate a brave new world, and the sport was one of the first to return to action when racing resumed May 17 at Darlington. It was a welcome surprise, as one version of NASCAR’s hypothetical return featured a start date of Oct. 25 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with a stretch of 30 races in 64 days that would wrap with three straight races at Phoenix… on Jan. 1-3 of 2021. In a time of great uncertainty, seeing sports’ return with NASCAR pacing the field proved both prideful and poignant. Harvick never let off the gas even as the season ground to a halt. He focused on all the little details that go into wheeling a 3,400-pound racecar around tracks faster than 39 of his competitors. The result? After finishing second March 8 at Phoenix, Harvick one-upped that result by winning in NASCAR’s return to racing May 17 at Darlington.
● That win on May 17, 2020 at Darlington was Harvick’s milestone 50th career NASCAR Cup Series victory. Harvick led 159 of the race’s 293 laps to secure his 11th straight season as a Cup Series winner. His career win total now stands at 58, which puts him 10th on the all-time Cup Series win list. Next on the all-time win list is Kyle Busch with 59 victories.
Kevin Harvick, Driver of the No. 4 Busch Light Ford Mustang
What are your expectations as you enter the playoffs?
“Well, you have to be in it to win it. Our guys have done a great job of navigating through the year. Obviously, we would’ve loved to win all the races and win as many races as we have in the past, but those things weren’t in the cards this year. Our team has done an absolutely phenomenal job of getting the most out of every weekend, so if you look at that and the guys and everything we’ve had to do, I think the people are on point. Our cars have run well for the last month and a half or so. We’ve had a little bad luck over the last two weeks with some accidents, but as you look at the speed, that’s been there. Now, we just have to go out and race the first few weeks and see where it falls after that.”
Have you had to reset your expectations going into the playoffs compared to previous years?
“I don’t think so. I think you do the exact same things that you’ve done in previous years. You look back at 2014, for us, obviously that was a championship year that didn’t have the year that 2015 or 2019 had and you end up winning the championship. There’s not a recalculation of anything. The expectations are still the same. You might have a different route to get there, but we haven’t even run a race, yet. So, right now the expectations are the same as they always have been.”
You say you’re not going to change your approach, despite not scoring a win yet this season. Is it hard to stick with what got you to the playoffs, or is this where your experience comes into play?
“You can pull something apart a whole lot faster than you can build it. As you look through the years, it’s very easy to sit back and just chime in and jump all over people. That’s really easy. Obviously, there are still times that you need to do that, but the thing I’ve learned is the fact that you’ve got a group of people around that you know can win and do the things that you need to do, but sometimes you’re just off. The problem solving in our world is difficult, and sometimes it’s a whole bunch of small things, and trying to push something – and I’ve done it a couple of times this year on the racetrack – you try to push something a little bit further than it can go and you wind up with the fenders torn off and you make bad worse. There’s no reason to make the problem worse than it needs to be. You have to be part of the process and the solution in order to solve the equation. Obviously, we all want to win and run better and do the things that we need to do, but Saturday night (at Daytona) kind of sums up the way it’s gone this year. You think you’re in a good position and don’t make it through the last corner. That’s just kind of the way that it’s gone. You ride the wave down just like you ride the wave up. You just hope that your wave down is shorter than most people’s and you can ride that wave back up when it’s right.”
Your car owner, Tony Stewart, won his third and final championship after going winless during the regular season. Do you draw any inspiration from his championship run in 2011?
“The only thing I remember about 2011 is that Tony won the championship. I know he won half the races, but I don’t know what happened in the other five because there was still a tie at the end. So I think that explains the extreme ups and downs that come with playoff racing because if he won five races and they were still tied at the end of Homestead, there was some bad side to that, too. Quite a feat, obviously, coming out on top, winning the championship. Doesn’t say how he got there, it just says he won. Hopefully, we can do something like that. There’s nothing that says we can’t right now, so we’ll go with that.”
The playoffs start with one of the toughest races on the schedule. What is your mindset as you kick off the playoffs with 500 miles at Darlington?
“Darlington, from a preparation standpoint with the team and things with the car, those will be business as usual. From a physical and mental preparation standpoint, you just have to be able to put yourself in a good spot because Darlington is a super-long race. It’s a very difficult racetrack to keep yourself out of trouble, and you just have to keep yourself on the lead lap and not bang up against the wall and not miss pit road and get yourself into the pit box with no mistakes. And if you can do that for 400 miles, then you’re probably going to be somewhere toward the front of the field and have a chance. It’s a really long race and it’s a very difficult racetrack, and you have to be prepared for that, mentally.”
Is Darlington a good track to start the playoffs?
“The Southern 500 has always been one of our sport’s best races so I think it’s a great place to kick off the playoffs. There’s no other place that we go to that just screams the history that Darlington does just because of the fact that the track layout is the same, the surface is unique and worn out – obviously turn two is newly repaved, but I think that just adds more character to what Darlington already has. There’s just nowhere else on the schedule where you can go that has the same, unique feel that Darlington does. It’s just a great place to race.”
You have three wins at Darlington and 792 laps led in 27 career starts. How satisfying it to have that kind of success at a track that’s so notoriously difficult its nickname is “The Track Too Tough To Tame”?
“It’s been a lot of fun to have been able to win there a few times now. As you look at the last Southern 500 and being able to go back to victory lane and celebrate in front of some fans was different from the first time of dead silence. Darlington is one of those historic racetracks that everybody loves going to because of the fact that it’s forever tied to the guys that used to race there with the same shape of the racetrack. It may be a different surface, but it’s the same racetrack that they raced on in the 1950s. It’s a unique place to go race and a place that has so much history in our sport.”
Is there a particular key to your success at Darlington?