● Kevin Harvick will make his 806th career NASCAR Cup Series start on Sunday when he takes the green flag for the Save Mart 350k at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, putting him ninth all-time in Cup Series starts in NASCAR’s 75-year history. The driver of the No. 4 Mobil 1 Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing will surpass NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon, who retired with 805 career Cup Series starts. Harvick is on track to finish the year with 826 career starts, which will put him eighth all-time. He’s part of an impressive lineup that includes just 10 drivers: Richard Petty (1,185 starts), Ricky Rudd (906), Terry Labonte (890), Dave Marcis (883), Mark Martin (882), Kyle Petty (829), Bill Elliott (828), Darrell Waltrip (809), Gordon and Harvick (805). At age 47, Harvick was the fifth-youngest driver to make 800 starts, a milestone he achieved April 23 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
● What has Harvick done in his 805 NASCAR Cup Series starts prior to Sonoma?
● He won the 2014 Cup Series championship.
● His 60 point-paying wins ranks 10th all-time.
● His 63 runner-up finishes ranks sixth all-time.
● His 249 top-five finishes ranks ninth all-time.
● His 437 top-10 finishes ranks fifth all-time.
● His 1,278 starts across NASCAR’s top-three series – Cup, Xfinity and Truck – is the most all-time (and 81 more than the next best driver in this category, Joe Nemechek, who has 1,197 starts).
● His 121 wins across NASCAR’s top-three series ranks third all-time.
● While these kind of statistics make Harvick an eventual first-ballot NASCAR Hall of Famer when he becomes eligible in 2026, the Bakersfield, California-native is set to become a member of the West Coast Stock Car/Motorsports Hall of Fame this Thursday night in a ceremony at Sonoma. Founded in 2001, the hall’s mission is to preserve the history and heritage of the important role West Coast motorsports figures have played in the sport’s development and continuation, with outstanding individuals and groups within the sport being recognized via annual enshrinement. The Class of 2023 includes Harvick, Kurt Busch (Las Vegas), Matt Crafton (Tulare, California), Brent Kaeding (Campbell, California) and Lyn St. James (Phoenix). Busch is the 2004 NASCAR Cup Series champion and owns 43 victories across NASCAR’s top-three national touring series – Cup, Xfinity and Truck. Crafton is a three-time Truck Series champion (2013, 2014 and 2019). Kaeding is a 13-time Northern Auto Racing Club (NARC) sprint car champion and a race winner in the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series. James owns two GTO class victories in the 24 Hours at Daytona (1987 and 1990) along with a GTO class win in the 1990 Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, and she was the first woman to earn the Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year award (1992).
● The Save Mart 350k Sunday at Sonoma is the second of six road-course races on the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series schedule. Harvick finished 13th in the first road-course race of the year March 26 at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas. After Sonoma, the series’ heads to a street course in downtown Chicago on July 2 before going to the road course within the confines of Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Aug. 13. A more traditional road course greets Cup Series drivers Aug. 20 at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International before the final road-course race of the season Oct. 8 at the Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway Roval.
● Harvick comes into Sonoma with four straight finishes of 11th or better, a run highlighted by a second-place drive May 14 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. He has scored seven top-10s in the 15 races runs this season.
● Harvick is on the cusp of 16,000 laps led in his NASCAR Cup Series career. With his 19 laps led May 29 in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, Harvick’s career tally is 15,999 laps led across 805 Cup Series starts. He is a single lap away from being one of just 11 drivers who have led 16,000 laps in their career. Harvick has led 11,584 laps since joining SHR in 2014 (72.4 percent).
● Harvick is one of four NASCAR Cup Series drivers competing in the Save Mart 350k who hail from California. Harvick is from Bakersfield, and the native Californians joining him on the grid at Sonoma include Kyle Larson (Elk Grove), Tyler Reddick (Corning) and AJ Allmendinger (Los Gatos).
● Harvick has made a total of 56 NASCAR Cup Series starts on road courses. He has 21 starts at Sonoma, 21 at Watkins Glen, five at the Charlotte Roval, three at COTA, and two apiece at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, Indianapolis and the road course at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. He has scored two road-course wins – Watkins Glen in 2006 and Sonoma in 2017 – along with 12 top-fives and 27 top-10s with 199 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 previous two NASCAR Cup Series races at The Glen 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 1.99-mile, 10-turn 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 25 Cup Series races with Ford, which makes him one of only 13 drivers to win 20 or more races with the manufacturer. He stands 10th on Ford’s all-time win list and is now only one win away from tying Brad Keselowski, Junior Johnson and Fred Lorenzen for ninth. Harvick has won more races driving a Mustang (15) than any other driver since the iconic muscle car became Ford’s flagship model in 2019.
● Harvick has four road-course wins outside of the NASCAR Cup Series. Two came in the NASCAR Xfinity Series – Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in 2007 and Watkins Glen in 2007 – and two were in the NASCAR Winston West/K&N Pro Series West – Sonoma in 1998 and Sonoma in 2017. Harvick’s Winston West win at Sonoma in 1998 was three years before his Cup Series debut on Feb. 26, 2001 at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham.
● 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. Harvick has an 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 Sonoma, 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.
● Featured on Harvick’s No. 4 Mobil 1 Ford Mustang this weekend at Sonoma are Mobil 1 Lube Express and Mobil 1 Car Care. These service centers flying the Mobil 1 flag are all independently owned and operated, and dedicated to providing their communities with high quality oil change and repair services, in line with the high quality motor oil they pour.
Sonoma marks your last NASCAR Cup Series race in your home state of California. Does that resonate with you to where you want to soak up every moment from the race weekend, or do you go in there with a more a business-like mindset of winning and everything else comes in second?
“I think you can do both. I’ve learned this year that you can take advantage of the year and get away with thinking both ways. For me, Sonoma is one of the places that I’ve raced at for so long and really spent a lot of time up there in my West Coast days with the Southwest Tour car and all the different things that I’ve been fortunate to race there. We’ve won a few races there and I think going up there and seeing all of the California fans for the last time is obviously something you’ve got to stop and pay attention to. I’m looking forward to that. I know the track has a lot of exciting things planned that week, along with the West Coast Hall of Fame and everything happening there. It’ll be a big week to take it all in.”
Are you relishing every “last” thing that happens this year?
“Fontana was the first place that I went to and was like, ‘Wow, this racetrack’s going to be gone – nobody’s going to race here again. You’re not ever going to set foot on that racetrack again.’ And for me, that’s one that’s obviously pretty close to home, growing up in California, and growing up at California Speedway on that racetrack. Phoenix was a little bit of the same way, but we get to go back there again, and that being the last race is obviously pretty fitting for me, personally. I’m at a point in my career where I’m just taking it all in.”
You’re getting inducted into the West Coast Stock Car/Motorsports Hall of Fame. As a kid from Bakersfield, California, who grew up watching and even idolizing other West Coast racers, is it a pinch-me moment to now be a part of that group?
“Well, I grew up a Rick Carelli fan, my dad worked for Carelli, and I grew up racing against Ron Hornaday, and later had him drive our stuff and won championships with him, and he’s in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. And Mike Chase, who’s still in the Cup Series garage building shocks and working on Cup cars, and you see so many people from the West Coast. So yeah, it is a little bit of ‘pinch me’ moment because we’ve been through two generations of racers – the guys I grew up idolizing and now myself. They’re old enough to be grandpas and I’m old enough to almost be a grandpa. It’s been a long period of time, but I think the great thing that it shows is the great amount of West Coast racers who have had success on multiple levels of the sport, and I’m honored to be a part of that group.”
You first competed at Sonoma back in 1995 on the NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Tour. For a then 19-year-old Kevin Harvick, what was it like to compete on the same weekend as the NASCAR Cup Series?
“I didn’t think about it like that at that particular time. We blew up three motors that weekend and we were trying to figure out how we were going to make it to the next race because of the fact that we didn’t really know what we were doing. I mean, we had the wrong oil tank in the car. But looking back, that whole weekend is a great experience for the grassroots racers. They’re a part of the show and everything that comes with the Sonoma weekend. It really allows those people to come into the garage and kind of interact with the highest end of our sport.”
Did racing at Sonoma when the NASCAR Cup Series was in town provide opportunities you might not have had otherwise?
“Sonoma and Phoenix were always the two biggest races of the year for the West Series and for the Southwest Tour. I ran my first race in the Southwest Tour at Sonoma in 1995 and ran it a few more times after that. I ran the West Series race there a few times and a few years back, as well. It’s always been a staple of regional, West Coast racing because of the fact that that’s where the Cup guys raced, and Phoenix was the same way. Just getting to do something at the highest level, at the same time and at the same venue as the Cup guys, was really cool for the grassroots racers. At one point, I was that grassroots racer that wanted to be in that environment for that particular weekend because it was just cool.”
Our last road-course race at COTA looked like a lot of road-course races of late – a lot of beating and banging with a lot of beat-up racecars. Why are we seeing so much of that on road courses?
“I think the car is so durable that everybody knows that they can take a chance with it. They depend on the car to take the brunt of the impact compared to what it would’ve been in the past. I think Sonoma is a little bit different because of the way turn one is. It goes right into the first corner, whereas COTA has a big straightaway that leads to a really sharp corner, and that leads to a lot of ramming each other with the car instead of trying to take care of the car. I think at Sonoma it gets spread out a little bit quicker just with the way the restart zone is and how the corners are laid out.”
Formula One world champion Jenson Button had his first NASCAR Cup Series start at COTA, and he was taken aback by how much contact there was out on the racetrack. He said he had never intentionally driven into anyone, but at COTA, he saw a lot of that and was the victim of some of that. Is that just a welcome-to-NASCAR moment or do his insights carry some weight in that maybe these road-course races could be cleaner?
“I think the road-course races could be a little bit cleaner on the restarts. After that, you definitely have to learn that NASCAR racing is a contact sport, and the way that the cars are allows you to take chances and do things without ending your race. I think there are two sides to that. The restart stuff at COTA is a little bit overboard, the rest of it is just NASCAR racing.”
There’s one spot at Sonoma that looks incredibly tight, at least to the TV viewer, and that’s the exit off turn four and down into “The Chute.” Cars go wide off turn four but then they have to funnel back into line to avoid hitting a wall that seems to jut out at the start of “The Chute.” Is that section of the track as tight as it seems on TV?
“You have to funnel back in just because the wall comes out all the way to the racetrack. It’s always interesting to see how our cars navigate the curb and then slam back down onto the ground when we cross that curb.”
If a guy is hung on the outside of you as that wall comes up, do you treat it like an exit ramp where you give him room to merge back into traffic, or is it more like, ‘Sorry, dude. You should’ve planned better’?
“It depends on where they are. It could be messy if you run them into that barrier, so you have to see how far alongside you they are.”
With the speed that you carry down through “The Chute,” what do you need to do to both maintain control and not scrub off speed as you exit turn seven and head through the esses?
“The trick to the exit of turn seven is just keeping the rear tires driving forward because, as the run goes, the car loses rear grip, and tire wear is obviously something that you have to keep track of. That exit off turn seven is older asphalt that kind of transitions to some newer asphalt as you get through the exit of that corner, so you just have to take care of the rear tires there, and it just gets worse as the day goes.”
What’s OK and what isn’t when you’re racing with someone else as you head into the hairpin in turn 11?
“I think a lot of that just takes care of itself. It’s a pretty straightforward corner as far as braking, and that’s really what it comes down to – just who can get in there the hardest on the brakes and be able to keep the car under control and still make the bottom of the corner.”