Mobil 1/Take 5 Racing: Kevin Harvick Darlington Advance

Stewart-Haas Racing

●  The NASCAR Playoffs begin Sunday with the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, and for the 17th time since the advent of the playoffs in 2004, Harvick is a part of it. Harvick qualified for this year’s playoffs on points, as he had an insurmountable 135-point margin over the playoff cutline ahead of the regular-season finale last Saturday night at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. In his 10-year tenure at Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), Harvick won the championship in 2014, scored a runner-up finish in the 2015 standings, earned third-place efforts in 2017, 2018 and 2019, and won the regular-season title in 2020.

●  Darlington is one of the 10 tracks that make up the NASCAR Playoffs, and of Harvick’s 60 career NASCAR Cup Series victories, 26 have come at playoff tracks. Three of those wins have been at Darlington, while Harvick also has three wins apiece at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. He has two wins at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and one win each at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, Homestead-Miami Speedway and Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. The remaining nine wins were earned at the most valuable playoff venue – Phoenix Raceway, home to the championship-deciding race. The only track where Harvick doesn’t have a win is the Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway Roval.

●  Darlington is known as “The Track Too Tough To Tame,” but Harvick has tamed the venerable 1.366-mile oval three times, the second-most of any active NASCAR Cup Series driver. The 47-year-old racer from Bakersfield, California, owns two Southern 500 victories (2014 and 2020) and one win in the track’s 400-mile race.

●  For a decade, Harvick has been a model of front-running consistency at Darlington. In the last 15 races at the track, he has finished among the top-five 12 times and outside of the top-10 only once. And in his last Darlington start in May, Harvick finished second. It was his eighth top-three finish at Darlington and his best result so far this season.

●  The 2023 season marks Darlington’s 73rd anniversary, with the egg-shaped oval having hosted 124 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 the 2020 Southern 500. His Ford Mustang logged 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 in 2020. 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 60, which puts him 10th on the Cup Series’ all-time win list.

●  Among active NASCAR Cup Series drivers, Harvick leads the following categories at Darlington:

    ●  Most starts: 31 (next best is Kyle Busch with 23)

    ​●  Most top-fives: 14 (next best is Denny Hamlin with 12)

    ​●  Most top-10s: 19 (next best is Hamlin with 16)

    ​●  Most laps led: 818 (next best is Hamlin with 801)

    ​●  Most laps completed: 10,232 (next best is Hamlin with 7,620)

    ​●  Note: Hamlin leads the series in wins at Darlington with four, while Harvick stands alone with three wins.

●  Who are the all-time leaders at Darlington? Check out these eye-popping statistics:

    ​●  Most starts: 65 by Richard Petty

    ​●  Most wins: 10 by David Pearson  

    ​●  Most top-fives: 25 by Petty

    ​●  Most top-10s: 34 by Petty

    ​●  Most laps led: 2,391 by Petty

    ​●  Most laps completed: 17,120 by Petty

    ​●  Note: The 17,120 laps completed by Petty translates to 23,434.11 miles, almost equal to the equatorial circumference of the Earth (24,901 miles).

●  Harvick has proven immensely consistent at Darlington outside of the NASCAR Cup Series. He has made 16 NASCAR Xfinity Series starts at Darlington, finishing among the top-10 nine times with a best result of third in September 2017. Harvick has also made two NASCAR Truck Series starts at Darlington with a best result of fourth in March 2002.

●  Mobil 1 has partnered with Take 5 Oil Change®, the quick-lube service that features a unique drive-thru concept that allows customers to never leave the comfort of their car. Mobil 1 is coming soon to Take 5 locations nationwide, and the expanded availability of Mobil 1’s range of products is being highlighted on Harvick’s No. 4 Mobil 1/Take 5 Ford Mustang during the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington.

●  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.

Kevin Harvick;

Ten races in the playoffs. Ten races left in your final season as a NASCAR Cup Series driver. What’s important at this stage in your career compared to when you first came into the Cup Series more than 20 years ago?

“I worry less about what I want to accomplish and just try to accomplish what I need to accomplish, and that is to engage with my team on a week-to-week basis to get the most out of our cars, and the responsibility that comes with being prepared and being a part of that process on a week-to-week basis. You want to do everything you can to try and take as much as you can out of every single week that you’re at the racetrack because, eventually, there won’t be a next week. It’ll be what you used to do, and you want to give it your all while you can.”

How do you balance the sentiment of these send-offs you’re getting at these tracks while still pursuing a championship?

“For me, when you look around and you see the 4EVER signs and you see the different things that each particular racetrack has done, you listen to the fans and you really get a great idea of just how important coming back and doing this last year and putting the 4EVER logo around it and going to each track and letting them do what they want to do and be a part of it all – that’s important. I may have thought it was silly when we started, and I think as you look back at it and I listened to those conversations with our group at SHR and the way that Tony Stewart did his and the way that he thought he should have done some things, those things are fun. It’s been fun, just because of the fact I don’t have to worry about what people think. You could just listen and realize that you’ve had a great impact on the sport and the fans appreciate the effort and the things that have gone into it, whether it be driving or off the track or showing the emotion of being mad or whatever the instance is – to hear all those stories and let people tell you about all those different situations and see the different pictures and things at the racetrack from all the success at certain tracks. For me, that’s not something I would ever do because I look at it as bragging, but at this particular point, it is what it is, right? It’s success at different places – we’ve been very fortunate to be successful and win races and have an impact. Being able to wrap my arms around all that and say, ‘OK, I’m good with this. Let’s enjoy it.’ It’s been enjoyable just because of the fact that some of the things and pictures and different things that I’ve seen, I forgot that we actually did – different moments or stuff that fans bring up or whatever the instance is, it’s been fun to be a part of it all and go back and think about all those things that were a part of that particular moment, so it’s been good. Marcus Smith (president and CEO of Speedway Motorsports) was a huge part of saying, ‘You’ve got to come back and do this this way for the tracks and for the fans and for the sport.’ I was like, ‘Oh, man. I don’t know.’ Now that we’ve gone through this part of the season and been through all the things that we’ve been through, it’s been a lot of fun to go back and reflect on so many things.”

This is your 17th year in the NASCAR Playoffs and it’s your 14th straight season of being a part of the playoffs. Do you have to find another gear to perform in the playoffs?

“When the Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus era was in full swing and they were both still together back in 2015, we had to make some decisions on how we wanted to race. We wanted to race like them, and that was championship mode every week so that you didn’t have to figure out how to do something different when you got to the playoffs and try to put on this new face or this new mindset, or we’re going to do this differently or that differently. You’ve got to have that figured out before you get there and rely on the ability of things that you’ve done in the past to just continue to be able to do that going forward, and hopefully the cars are better and you can rely on that extra speed as you go into the playoffs. We try to do the same things week after week. Rodney (Childers, crew chief) doesn’t have a demeanor change whether the sky is falling or if it’s cold or hot outside or fast or slow, he’s pretty much the same guy. That helps us all because he’s so even-keeled about everything that he does.”

The NASCAR Cup Series championship is decided in a 10-race elimination format where, in the season finale, four drivers compete in a winner-take-all title match. What are your thoughts on the way the championship is decided?

“Well, you don’t win them like Earnhardt did. I think as you look at what we do, it’s different. We’re definitely in the entertainment business to make things exciting, and as you look at the last race, there’s a lot that goes into it, but it definitely doesn’t reflect the whole year. I think our years are definitely proof of that just because of the fact in ’14 we won the right race. In ’15, we didn’t win the right race. In ’20, we didn’t win the right race. I guess as long as you’re in it enough, it cycles out and circles back, so I could see it both ways. I’m going to sit on the other side of the fence and want it exciting, but I think from a competitor’s standpoint – and I’ve raced it both ways – I think it’s a long season and there’s a lot to it to come down to one race.”

Do you like Darlington serving as the opening race of the 10-race playoffs?

“Well, Darlington just screams NASCAR. From a competitor’s standpoint, when you drive through the tunnel and you look at that racetrack, it looks the same as it did in 1960. From my standpoint, being able to race at a racetrack like that, whatever generation car I’m in, you can relate back to how it started. Darlington is narrow, it’s unique, and it’s just Darlington. You pull in the tunnel and you see the blue tarps and the tents and the people just hanging out in the infield – it’s just a great place to race and forever a part of NASCAR history that I will always enjoy.”

What stands out for you the most at Darlington?

“I know the characteristics of the racetrack, as far as having to respect it and racing the track. I know what that means, and I’ve definitely been in the wrong position and got carried away and had it bite me before. But it’s a place that I look forward to going to. It’s a place where I enjoy racing and love the challenges that go with it. I think over the last several years we’ve been fortunate to have some success there, and the expectation is to go there and have a chance to race up front and put yourself in contention. So that’ll be the expectation as we go back this time and, hopefully, we can do that and have some fun.”

Five hundred miles at Darlington, during the heat and humidity of Labor Day weekend, makes for a very demanding race. How do you approach it?

“No matter how hot it is, it’s just a mentally taxing race. It’s just you against the track and being able to have that mindset and know that every lap you have to be up on top of the wheel in order to keep yourself from rubbing up against the wall or doing something that’s detrimental to your car, but also pushing the car hard enough and keeping up with the tire fall-off and understanding all the things that are going on. There are just a lot of moving pieces at Darlington, but it’s really taxing, mentally.”

What skillsets are rewarded at Darlington?

“Darlington favors the guy who can be very disciplined and is able to push the car right to 99.9 percent of where that tire run is, and be able to put the car up against the wall and not overstep those boundaries. You have to be very disciplined there to get everything out of the car and keep up with the tire fall-off and not tear anything up – on your own, let alone being around everybody else.”

Is competing at Darlington about racing the track and your competitors, or is it more about managing your tires?

“You’ve got to know when to let somebody go, because you can make it a lot harder on somebody to pass than what it used to be with the things that go on aerodynamically with this particular car. The biggest thing that you have to do is get the restarts right and get yourself really singled out, and once you get singled out, then you can start making some different decisions on when to let somebody go, when to not let somebody go, how hard to fight somebody, and things like that. It just takes one moment there to slip up and the right-rear toe link will be knocked off the car. You can rub the car up against the wall, but if you clip that right-rear tire wrong, it’s going to be the end of your night.”

Running that line up against the wall is not the line you typically run. The “Kevin Harvick Line” is along the bottom. Which line is most advantageous, and when?

“With this particular car, you’ve just got to be careful with how much you abuse the tires because it drives off the right-rear tire so much that you have to think about that a little bit differently. It didn’t seem like that was 100 percent the preferred way to do it through (turns) three and four the last time. You’ve just got to be as easy as possible on the right-rear tire.”

How do you maximize your results every week to where you get the most out of your car, no matter what circumstances you’re facing?

“You have to keep the car rolling, and you have to be able to just grind away and make your car better throughout the day and stay in the game and be able to reset as a group to hope that every time you pit, and when things aren’t going right that the car is going to get better. I tell a lot of our young drivers this: They say, ‘Well, my car’s not good,’ and I’ll say, ‘Well, why? You’re a big part of that process.’ The driver is a big part of the process that really helps keep everything under control as far as the direction of the car. Is it tight for aero reasons, mechanical reasons and understanding how to push things forward to do that? For us, we just grind away and keep ourselves in contention and do as many little things right as possible, and I think that feedback between the driver and crew chief goes right back to that same conversation of making yourself useful as an asset inside the car to be able to give the information of what’s wrong with the car. Grinding away and just always believing that it’s going to get better after this adjustment and resetting and going again, that’s what you’ve got to do.”


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