Rheem Racing: Kevin Harvick Las Vegas Advance

Stewart-Haas Racing

●  With Kevin Harvick now in his 23rd year of NASCAR Cup Series competition, a familiar name backs the driver of the No. 4 Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR). Rheem, America’s No. 1 water heating brand and major air conditioning and heating manufacturer, is in its 16th consecutive year as a NASCAR sponsor. It’s also the 16th year of the company’s friendship with Harvick – a bond that began in 2007 and one that Harvick quickly galvanized when he won the season-opening Daytona 500. It was a victory for the ages as Harvick beat NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin by .02 of a second in a frantic, green-white-checkered finish. It led to Rheem serving as a primary partner for Harvick’s NASCAR Xfinity Series team, Kevin Harvick Inc. (KHI), in 2008. Rheem’s debut with KHI came on May 2, 2008 at Richmond (Va.) Raceway where Harvick finished second in the Lipton Tea 250. Harvick delivered Rheem its very first victory as a primary sponsor 13 years ago on Feb. 27, 2010 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway when he took the checkered flag in the Sam’s Town 300. Rheem aligned as a primary partner with Harvick in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2011 and remained with him until Harvick joined SHR in 2014. Rheem reunited with Harvick in 2022 and is back for another three-race slate in 2023, beginning this weekend at Las Vegas and reappearing July 30 at Richmond and Oct. 8 at the Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway Roval. Rheem will be hosting large groups of customers at all three of its Harvick Legacy Events in honor of the 2014 NASCAR Cup Series champion, his Hall of Fame-worthy career, and his loyal support of Rheem.  

●  DYK? Las Vegas Motor Speedway has been hosting races since 1996 and in its 27-year existence, Harvick has competed at the track every single year. His first race at the 1.5-mile oval north of the Las Vegas Strip was a NASCAR Winston West Series race on Nov. 2, 1996. Driving for Wayne and Connie Spears, Harvick started fourth and finished 13th. Ken Schrader won, Michael Waltrip finished third, Butch Gilliland finished sixth and Hershel McGriff finished 21st. How is Harvick connected to those four individuals?

    ●  Ken Schrader: It was at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, on May 2, 1998 where Harvick raced Schrader for the win in the NASCAR Winston West Series race. Schrader prevailed, but Harvick made his mark by starting second and finishing second and leading 32 laps in between. Schrader took the win by 1.314 seconds, but veteran NASCAR team owner Richard Childress took note of the then 22-year-old Harvick. In Harvick’s Winston West return to Fontana on July 18, he one-upped his performance from two months prior. He started from the pole and ended with the win, taking the checkered flag by 1.15 seconds over Austin Cameron. He led 52 of the race’s 100 laps. Those victories were part of a five-win campaign that led Harvick to the 1998 Winston West championship and, ultimately, a 14-year career with Richard Childress Racing, with the team signing Harvick to race in the Xfinity Series in 2000.

    ●  Michael Waltrip: This time next year, Harvick will be a teammate to Waltrip – not on a race team, but in the broadcast booth. Harvick will transition from a firesuit to a suit and tie in 2024 where he will join Waltrip on the FOX broadcast team.

    ●  Butch Gilliland: Harvick has raced against three generations of Gillilands, beginning with patriarch Butch Gilliland (they first raced together on April 21, 1996 in the Truck Series at Phoenix Raceway), and then Butch’s son David Gilliland (in both Xfinity and Cup Series races from 2004-2018) and finally David’s son Todd Gilliland, who was a Cup Series rookie last year and remains in the series.

    ●  Hershel McGriff: McGriff was recently inducted into the 2023 NASCAR Hall of Fame and he is known for his unsurpassed longevity in the sport. His first race was the 1950 Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway when he was a 22-year-old competing in NASCAR’s sophomore season. His final race was the 2018 Port of Tucson Twin 100s where, as a 90-year-old, McGriff drove in the first of two 100-lap NASCAR West Series races at Tucson (Ariz.) Speedway. Harvick and McGriff competed against each other in Winston West from 1996 through 1998.

●  Harvick has made a total of 45 starts across four NASCAR divisions at Las Vegas:

    ●  NASCAR Winston West Series starts (1996-1998): Best result – won from the pole in 1998 Cactus Clash, leading 89 of the race’s 100 laps.

    ●  3 NASCAR Truck Series starts (1997-1999); Best result – eighth in 1997 Carquest Auto Parts 420k.

    ●  11 NASCAR Xfinity Series starts (2000-2011): Best result – first, earned twice (2004 Sam’s Town 300 and 2010 Sam’s Town 300).

    ●  27 NASCAR Cup Series starts (2001-present); Best result – first, earned twice (2015 Las Vegas 400 and 2018 Las Vegas 400).

●  Since joining SHR in 2014, Harvick has finished among the top-10 in eight of the 14 NASCAR Cup Series races contested at Las Vegas. In that span, the driver of the No. 4 Rheem Ford Mustang has led 621 laps and won twice – March 2015 and March 2018. Harvick finished 12th in each of the Cup Series races last year at the 1.5-mile oval.

●  Harvick has led a total of 679 laps in the NASCAR Cup Series at Las Vegas, the most of any Cup Series driver in the history of the track. Next best in this category is seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson with 595 laps led. All but 58 of Harvick’s laps led at Las Vegas have come in his nine previous years with SHR.

●  Harvick’s win at Las Vegas in March 2018 was his 100th career victory across NASCAR’s top-three national touring series – Cup, Xfinity and Truck. He has since scored 21 more Cup wins to bring his record to 121 total victories – 60 in Cup, 47 in Xfinity and 14 in Truck. Only three other drivers in NASCAR history have surpassed 100 wins across NASCAR’s top-three series: Kyle Busch (225 wins), Richard Petty (200 wins) and David Pearson (106 wins).

●  There have been 30 NASCAR Cup Series races contested at Las Vegas, including its inaugural race on March 1, 1998. Harvick has started 27 of those races, the most of any driver, past or present.

You’ve represented Rheem since 2007 when you won their debut race – the Daytona 500. Talk about your longevity with Rheem.

“I think the biggest thing about Rheem is they really utilize the sport in ways that it was utilized 20 years ago. With their hospitality program and the amount of dealers and people they bring to the racetrack, it’s really kind of the way I was brought up in the sport and how you maximize a sponsorship. It’s a relationship that goes back a long way, and having a lot of the same people involved makes that a lot of fun to be able to go through this part of my career and have them on the car and realize the commitment they’ve made to the sport. A lot of the same people who were with me in victory lane at Las Vegas back in 2010 when we first won with Rheem are still there today. Their customers have continued to show up and they’ve continued to support it and that makes you feel valuable. Rheem sees the value in NASCAR and they continue to use that to their benefit.” 

This is your 23rd year in the NASCAR Cup Series. How valuable is that kind of experience in this sport?

“Today’s sport is so engineering-minded that the simple, everyday things sometimes get forgotten. It’s very important to do all the little things right, and you have to execute the simple things right, too. Don’t overcomplicate it, because sometimes overcomplicating results in a worse result than just say, ‘OK, today we finished fifth and next week we’re going to try to do two or three things to finish first, not 20 or 30 things and finish 30th.’ Keeping the simplicity of our process in the middle of our engineering-minded process is very important. It used to be trial-and-error when you tested. Nowadays, it’s try it and prove it or debunk it, so that it’s either right or wrong. But there are going to be a lot of decisions that we’re going to have to make this year that are just going to be simple-minded, common-sense decisions in order to just get the best out of what you have.”

You’ve won at Las Vegas twice and have finished among the top-10 five times in your last eight races at the track. What do you need to be quick there?

“Las Vegas has a lot of tire fall off, so it’s important to have a good-handling racecar. It’s also a track where you’re constantly moving around trying to find the right grip.”

Now that we’re in more of a routine, what are your expectations for you and the No. 4 team this season?

“For me, my expectations and our expectations as a team are probably the same as they’ve always been, and that is to go out and try to be as competitive as you can every week. On the bad weeks, try to get the best finish that you can, and on the good weeks, hopefully you can capitalize on some situations to put yourself in victory lane. As you look back on 2022, you realize the need to win a race so you can put yourself in the playoffs. There were so many people who won last year, and the way that you race and the things that happen in the race are so much different than years before because of the fact that it’s just more aggressive. You wreck more, you spin out more, it seems like the strategy gets mixed up more, and it seems like there are way more variables than there were in the past. So on the days when you’re in position to win, you need to figure out how to capitalize on those moments because there are probably going to be less of them for everybody. You’re probably going to have fewer top-fives, fewer top-10s than you did just because of the fact that the racing has changed.”

What is the No. 4 team’s competitive advantage?

“The biggest thing that always is a little bit of an advantage for us is we can lean on our experience together. I think that’s important because practice is so short, and especially now that we’ve had some time to be able to understand the car and be in a little better place as far as things to do, not do, tendencies of the car. We can apply that experience a little bit more just in being able to have good conversations and understanding and looking at each other and hearing the tone of each other’s voice and really knowing whether it’s extreme, middle of the road, just a little bit, and what that means as far as adjustments to the car. Experience has always been something that has helped us over the last several years.”

The March race at Las Vegas coincides with your wedding anniversary. You had a lot going on in 2001. Walk us through it.

“So, 2001 was, obviously, a much different year than you can even wrap your arms and your mind around because of the fact that DeLana and I had planned to get married in 2001 in Las Vegas. It was a neutral site for the families, an easy place for everybody to get to. Then everything happened with Dale (Earnhardt) and I was driving the 29 car, which was not supposed to happen until the next year. So, it was just supposed to be a calm Busch Series fulltime season, seven Cup races in 2001, and then obviously it was fulltime Busch racing, fulltime Cup racing, testing, everything that went with both series. In the midst of all that, we had a wedding that had already been planned for the third week of the season in Las Vegas. So, I ran my first Cup Series race the second weekend at Rockingham (North Carolina). The race got rained out and got delayed until Monday, and you can only imagine the freak-outs that are happening with your soon-to-be wife who has planned a wedding a couple thousand miles away and you’re rained out, so you’re racing on a Monday. After the race, it was the first time we’d ever flown on a helicopter. We get on the helicopter, we go to the wrong airport, we get back on the helicopter, we go back to the racetrack, we get on the right helicopter, we go to the right airport, and then everything probably calmed down at that particular point. We got married on a Wednesday night and, really, in the midst of everything that had gone on with Dale and the team, the wedding was kind of a blessing because we were able to plan something in the middle of a tragic event that had happened with Dale, it was really all planned out for the team and our friends and family to be there and bring everybody together. We got married on Wednesday night, and then we went to the racetrack and we rented a Winnebago that couldn’t have been more than 24 feet long. It was very small, but our friend, Michael Gaughan, decided he was going to send his chef and everybody from the kitchen, to cook for us. Little did he know that we would have them cooking outside because our motorhome wasn’t big enough for anybody else to come inside. So, we had a great Michael’s restaurant right in the middle of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway parking lot outside of a 24-foot Winnebago. That was our wedding dinner at the racetrack. It was a great time.”

(Note: Dale Earnhardt died in a crash on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. 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 Motor Speedway where the first of his 60 career NASCAR Cup Series wins was secured.)


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