|● The EchoPark Texas Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas, is the second of a ground-breaking seven NASCAR Cup Series races to be held on road courses in 2021. From 1988 to 2017, there were only two road courses on the schedule – Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway and Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International. The Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway Roval was added in 2018, giving the series just three road-course venues. The initial 2021 schedule doubled that tally with COTA, Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course all being added. And when COVID-19 restrictions forced the cancellation of the series’ planned stop earlier this year at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, the road course at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway was put in its place, serving as the series’ second race of 2021. |
● Turning left and right. Going up and down through the gears. Hitting the apex of corners and, sometimes, riding the curb with such force that it puts the car on two wheels. It’s all a part of road-course racing, and it demands maximum performance from every part and piece on the racecar. Kevin Harvick has as added advantage with Mobil 1. Not only is the world’s leading synthetic motor oil brand the primary sponsor of his No. 4 Ford Mustang at COTA, 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.
● Starting this weekend at COTA, and each week through the rest of the season, one fan will win $1,000 or more if a NASCAR Cup Series driver who uses Mobil 1 takes the checkered flag. To celebrate the start of the sweepstakes, Harvick’s No. 4 Mobil 1 Ford Mustang is sporting a gold paint scheme at COTA with $100 bills incorporated into the design. Beyond the obvious monetary associations, the gold color was also inspired by the bottle design of Mobil 1 Extended Performance motor oil. The bright red Pegasus, an iconic part of Mobil 1 brand history, sits behind the rear tires under Mobil1Thousand.com, which is where fans can register to win. Beginning with the EchoPark Texas Grand Prix, one lucky winner will receive the first prize pot if a Mobil 1 driver crosses the finish line first. To ensure fans aren’t shortchanged by the six wins Mobil 1 drivers have already accumulated this year, Mobil 1 has added an extra $6,000 bonus to the prize pot, meaning the first winning fan could walk away with a huge $7,000 prize. If a driver using Mobil 1 lubricant technology doesn’t make it to victory lane on any given week, the $1,000 prize rolls over to the following week, with the amount accumulating until a Mobil 1 driver crosses the finish line in first place again.
● This weekend marks NASCAR’s first appearance at COTA. The 3.426-mile, 20-turn road course was constructed in 2011 and has been America’s home to Formula One since the global motorsports series returned to America with the 2012 United States Grand Prix. The United States Grand Prix dates back to 1950 when the Indianapolis 500 counted as a round of the world championship. Eleven times from 1950 to 1960, points scored at Indy were added to a Formula One driver’s season tally, and in 1959 America hosted two Formula One races when in addition to Indianapolis, the United States Grand Prix was held at Sebring (Fla.) International Raceway. It served as the ninth and final round of the 1959 season. In 1960, Formula One moved to Riverside (Calif.) International Raceway before finally settling down for a 20-year tenure at Watkins Glen from 1961 to 1980. From 1976 to 1980, Watkins Glen was joined by Long Beach, California, on the Formula One schedule, with the United States Grand Prix West taking place until 1983. After Watkins Glen fell off the calendar, Las Vegas took its place for two seasons (1981-1982) with the Caesars Palace Grand Prix being held on its hotel parking lot. In 1982, America hosted three Formula One races when in addition to Long Beach and Las Vegas, Detroit was added to the schedule. Detroit hosted Formula One on a bumpy street circuit for seven years, with its last grand prix coming in 1988. Dallas made a one-race appearance in 1984 when Fair Park was converted to a Formula One circuit for the Dallas Grand Prix. Phoenix was next up for Formula One from 1989 to 1991 before a nine-year absence of the sport from America’s shores. But then Indianapolis Motor Speedway built a road course within the confines of the historic 2.5-mile oval and Formula One returned with the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis from 2000 to 2007. Sadly, Formula One in America fell off the calendar again. It wasn’t until COTA was constructed, becoming the first purpose-built Formula One facility in the United States, that Formula One was able to return to America.
● Contrast best describes a lap around COTA. High speed and rapid changes of direction comprise the layout between turns two and 10, with this first sector akin to the Maggotts-Becketts-Chapel complex at the famed Silverstone Circuit in England. The end of the lap from turn 12 through turn 20 before hitting the frontstretch features low-speed combinations. The long backstraight, however, is where drivers want to retain as much speed as possible to either attack or defend through the tight turn 12. This corner, along with the uphill run to turn one and the hairpin in turn 11, provide good passing opportunities.
● Harvick has made a total of 43 NASCAR Cup Series starts on road courses. He has 19 starts apiece at Sonoma and Watkins Glen, three at the Charlotte Roval and two on the Daytona road course. He has scored two wins – Watkins Glen in 2006 and Sonoma in 2017 – along with 10 top-fives and 23 top-10s with 195 laps led.
● When Harvick scored his first road-course victory at Watkins Glen in 2006, he had to beat his current team owner to do it. Tony Stewart – the “Stewart” in Stewart-Haas Racing – had won the past two NASCAR Cup Series races at the seven-turn, 2.45-mile road course and was poised to capture a third straight win as he was leading Harvick with four laps to go in the 90-lap race. But Harvick, who had already led once for 24 laps, passed Stewart on lap 87 as the two drag-raced down the frontstretch and into turn one. Harvick held onto the lead despite Stewart in his rearview mirror, earning a margin of victory of .892 of a second.
● Harvick’s second career road-course win also had a connection to Stewart. When Harvick won at Sonoma in 2017, he gave Stewart-Haas Racing its second straight victory at the 10-turn, 1.99-mile road course. The winner in 2016? None other than Stewart. It ended up being his 49th and final NASCAR Cup Series victory as Stewart retired from NASCAR racing at the conclusion of the season.
● Harvick’s last road-course win was his first in a Ford. When Harvick won at Sonoma in 2017, he became the 83rd different driver to win a NASCAR Cup Series race behind the wheel of a Ford. Harvick has now won 23 Cup Series races with Ford, which makes him one of only 13 drivers to win 20 or more races with the manufacturer. He is currently tied with Rusty Wallace and Carl Edwards for 11th on the all-time Ford win list.
● Harvick has four road-course wins outside of the NASCAR Cup Series. Two came in the NASCAR Xfinity Series – Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal in 2007 and Watkins Glen in 2007 – and two were in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West – Sonoma in 1998 and Sonoma in 2017. Harvick’s K&N Series win at Sonoma in 1998 was three years before his Cup Series debut on Feb. 26, 2001 at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham.
|Kevin Harvick, Driver of the No. 4 Mobil 1 Ford Mustang|
| Have you been to Austin before and, if so, have you had the chance to turn any laps at COTA?“I have been to Austin, but I haven’t spent a lot of time there, and I’ve never been around the racetrack. I’ve been in the city for an appearance a couple of times, and I just had a good time walking around and checking everything out. I had some really good Mexican food and that was really the extent of it for me. I’m definitely excited to get the cars on the track. Obviously, I’ve watched the F1 stuff from events that have been there in the past, and it looks like a great facility. So, I’m excited and I’m looking forward to the Austin weekend.” |
When you’re preparing to race on a track you’ve never been to before, you get acclimated by using a simulator. How helpful is the simulator when you don’t have that seat-of-the-pants feel? “My big thing is just memorizing what’s next on the racetrack. You’re never going to get a good feel for the elevation, but I think the Ford simulator gives the best sense. You’re able to sit in your own seat and have your own steering wheel and you’re just in a more realistic surrounding. In iRacing, I spent a lot of time in the V8 Supercar just making laps and trying to make sure I knew the direction of the corners before I got to the simulator so I understood what I was getting into.”
Road-course racing has become more prevalent in NASCAR. Do you like it?“I enjoy the road courses. I enjoy the environment. I enjoy going to new places more than anything now, and I think that’s what the enthusiasm and excitement has brought with this year’s schedule, just because of the fact that we’re going to new markets. We’re going to exciting places and that’s good for our sport.”
There is a lot of newness in this year’s schedule. We first saw it back in March with a dirt race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and here we are again with a first-time venue in COTA. What are your thoughts on the schedule?“I think NASCAR has done a great job with the schedule. And really, it doesn’t matter if we’re going to a road course or an oval, just getting into the Nashville market, the Austin market, Road America having such great fans in that particular area that love racing and have showed up year after year for the Xfinity cars – it’s just great to mix things up. People like new, fresh, exciting ideas. You look at the Bristol dirt race, and we’ve raced at Bristol forever, and you show up at the dirt race and everybody wants to talk about the Bristol dirt race. ‘What did you think of the dirt race? I loved watching the dirt race.’ I think as you hear that, I hope people understand the importance of mixing the schedule up, going to new racetracks, going to new areas, going to new markets.”
Whether it’s a road course or a short track or any kind of track, you have an added advantage with Mobil 1 as a sponsor and technology partner. How advantageous has this relationship been? “The oil in the engine, the oil in the transmission, the oil in the rear gear and the things Mobil 1 provides us from a lubricant standpoint, it all adds up in the form of quicker lap times. On an oval, we can pick up a tenth-and-a-half or two-tenths of a second. On a road course, Mobil 1 helps with preservation, because we beat the heck out of our racecars – hitting curbs and shifting all the time. The level of technology and commitment to the things that go in our car, every piece of it adds up to a pretty big chunk of speed and an incredible amount of reliability.”