Kevin Harvick is heading to Martinsville (Va.) Speedway for the First Data 500 for the first of three races of the Round of 8 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. He will have a crisp, cold new look with Busch NA on the hood of his No. 4 Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR).
Busch Beer’s non-alcoholic branding shows Busch’s commitment to promoting the responsible enjoyment of Busch products and encourages smart-drinking choices. Race fans attending Martinsville Speedway for the First Data 500 can enjoy Busch NA and other Busch family products at the midway and from select vendors throughout the track.
Harvick advanced to the Round of 8 following an eighth-place finish last Sunday at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City. The good news for Harvick is that his second-place qualifying effort at Kansas will carry over to Martinsville and allow the No. 4 team to claim a coveted, prime pit stall for this weekend during the enhanced, two-day format.
The .526-mile paperclip-shaped racetrack is the shortest on the NASCAR Cup Series circuit while its low banking and tight corners provide some of the closest and toughest competition on the schedule.
Due to the tight quarters, a racecar rarely finishes a race at Martinsville without a tire mark on the door or a few dents in the sheet metal.
What makes it maddening for competitors is that they can race to the front of the field and stay there throughout the majority of the event, only to get shuffled back on a late-race restart if they wind up in the outside lane.
Harvick and the No. 4 team suffered that very fate at Martinsville in April 2016, when he started 19th, raced to the front and led 72 laps before being stuck in the outside lane on consecutive late-race restarts, ultimately finishing 17th.
But the madness of Martinsville can work to a driver’s benefit, as well. Harvick found that out in April 2011, when he started ninth, led just six of 500 laps and beat runner-up Dale Earnhardt Jr. to the finish line by .727 of a second.
Martinsville is one of only three Cup Series venues where Harvick has yet to score a top-five finish since joining SHR in 2014 – Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway and Kentucky Speedway in Sparta are the other two. He may be looking for his first top-five at Martinsville since joining SHR, but he has shown speed and consistency at the Virginia short track with three top-10 finishes and 265 laps led in his seven Martinsville appearances since the start of 2014.
One of the most important things to watch for this weekend at Martinsville will be stage points, which can be scored early in the race. Harvick scored 41 stage points and two playoff points in the Round of 12 to help offset a 20th-place result at Talladega.
Martin Truex Jr. of Furniture Row Racing, the current points leader entering the Round of 8, holds a 52-point advantage over Harvick and Jimmie Johnson, who are tied for fifth in the standings. Kyle Busch has a 25-point cushion over the fifth position, and Brad Keselowski has a nine-point advantage.
While Harvick has raced up front and scored five stage wins this year, he is still in search of his first Cup Series race win at an oval track this season. A win this weekend at Martinsville would secure his position in the winner-take-all, Championship 4 round at Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway and give him a shot at his second Cup Series championship.