otes of Interest
● Back on Jan. 12, Kevin Harvick announced that 2023 would be his final year in the NASCAR Cup Series. The driver of the No. 4 Busch Light Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing will retire after the checkered flag waves at the season finale Nov. 5 at Phoenix Raceway. When that day comes, Harvick will have had a 23-year run in the Cup Series – one of the longest tenures in recent memory. A championship in 2014 and 60 points-paying victories ensures Harvick is set for his golden years. Busch Light wants to help one lucky Harvick fan with his or her own swansong by contributing toward his or her retirement, along with other big prizes. Fans just need to follow @BuschBeer and turn on notifications to find out how to win leading into the Daytona 500. The 65th Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway gets underway at 2:30 p.m. EST on Sunday, Feb. 19, with live coverage on FOX.
● The Daytona 500 will be Kevin Harvick’s 22nd career start in The Great American Race. His first Daytona 500 came 21 years ago on Feb. 17, 2002. He started second in that race and finished 36th after getting collected in a multicar accident on lap 150.
● Of the 43 drivers who competed in the 2002 Daytona 500, only one is entered in this year’s race – Harvick. The 65th Daytona 500 will be his 791st career NASCAR Cup Series start. In terms of career starts, the next closest driver to Harvick is Kyle Busch. He will make his 643rd career Cup Series start in the Daytona 500.
● In the 2002 Daytona 500, three of the drivers Harvick competed against were Bill Elliott, Jeff Burton and Dave Blaney. In the 2023 Daytona 500, Harvick will compete against their sons, as Chase Elliott, Harrison Burton and Ryan Blaney follow in the footsteps of their fathers.
● Trivia Time! How many NASCAR Hall of Famers competed in the 2002 Daytona 500? Answer: 10. They are Mark Martin (finished sixth), Jeff Gordon (finished ninth), Elliott (finished 11th), Dale Jarrett (finished 14th), Rusty Wallace (finished 18th), Terry Labonte (finished 20th), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (finished 29th), Matt Kenseth (finished 33rd), Bobby Labonte (finished 34th) and Tony Stewart (finished 43rd). Who won the race? Answer: Ward Burton by .193 of a second over Elliott Sadler. It was the fourth of his five career NASCAR Cup Series victories. (FYI: Ward Burton is Jeff Burton’s brother and Harrison Burton’s uncle.)
● Five years and one day after Harvick’s Daytona 500 debut, he won the 2007 Daytona 500. He edged the aforementioned Martin for the victory by .02 of a second in a frantic green-white-checkered finish. It is the second-closest finish in Daytona 500 history, trailing only Denny Hamlin’s .01-of-a-second advantage over Martin Truex Jr., in 2016.
● To earn a spot in this year’s Daytona 500, drivers must first compete in the Bluegreen Vacations Duel – twin 150-mile qualifying races that set the 40-car field for the Daytona 500. Harvick has won his Duel race twice (2013 and 2019). The driver of the No. 4 Busch Light Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing is currently on a run of eight straight top-10 finishes in the Duel, and he has finished among the top-five in six of his last seven Duel races.
● Before drivers compete in the Duel, they race the clock in single-lap qualifying. The two fastest cars are locked into the field while the rest of the drivers are split into the Duel. Qualifiers in odd-numbered positions are in the first Duel and qualifiers in even-numbered positions are in the second Duel. Harvick has never started on the pole for the Daytona 500, but he did take the outside pole once – 2002 in his first Daytona 500. Harvick lapped the 2.5-mile oval in 48.447 seconds at 185.770 mph, just .016 of a second off the pole-winning time of Jimmie Johnson.
● The 2023 season marks Harvick’s 23rd year in the NASCAR Cup Series. Of his 790 career, points-paying starts, 43 of them have come on Daytona’s 2.5-mile oval. In addition to his 2017 Daytona 500 victory, Harvick won the 2010 Coke Zero 400. He has 11 top-fives and 16 top-10s on the Daytona oval. The 65th Daytona 500 will be his 44th points-paying start on the Daytona oval.
● Outside of the NASCAR Cup Series, Harvick has made 19 career NASCAR Xfinity Series starts at Daytona and three IROC starts. Of Harvick’s 47 Xfinity Series wins, only one is at Daytona – the 2007 season opener. And Harvick’s best IROC finish at Daytona is seventh, earned twice (2003 and 2004). Harvick is a two-time Xfinity Series champion (2001 and 2006) and the 2002 IROC champion.
Kevin Harvick, Driver of the No. 4 Busch Light #Busch401K Ford Mustang
What is your mindset as you begin your final season in the NASCAR Cup Series?
“My mentality heading into our last Cup season is to do the exact same things we’ve done for the last 22 years. That’s be competitive and make sure that every week you show up at the racetrack and do all that you can do for your teammates. I know my guys on our Busch Light Ford Mustang show up every week at 100 percent, and you know if you’re not 100 percent, you’re letting the rest of that team down because they’re locked, loaded and ready with the details that it takes to be competitive. And if we’re not competitive, we have access to a group of people who can communicate and do the things needed to figure it out. I want to do whatever we have to do to get back to victory lane and be competitive. I love going to the racetrack with the guys that I have on our car, and everybody at Stewart-Haas has been so great. From the very beginning, they let us go out and hire Rodney (Childers, crew chief) and let him build a group of guys around our No. 4 car, and I think the success speaks for itself. It’s going to be a fun year with a lot of stories and things that we’ve done and remember when we came here for the first time nine years ago. We’re going to laugh and pat each other on the back and tell each other how much we’ve enjoyed the beginning days all the way through to the end. Everybody knows that we’re going to show up and do the same things that we’ve done and be prepared just like we would be, because that’s our job.”
You ran your first Daytona 500 21 years ago. What was that experience like?
“For me and my career, a lot of things happened backward, probably the opposite of the way they should have. My first season in Cup (2001), I ran every race but the Daytona 500 because of Dale Earnhardt’s death and replacing him in the car. Coming back to the Daytona 500 in 2002 was probably one of the bigger moments in my career just because of all the hype and anticipation from 2001 that led into the Daytona 500. I think I wound up at the front of a 23-car pileup, so it was definitely one of those moments where you wish you could’ve done it a little bit differently and had the outcome be a little bit better. But the Daytona 500 can get your emotions and twist them upside down and make you just crazy and want to do things that you know you shouldn’t do and take risks that you know you shouldn’t take and aren’t going to work, but you’ll do them anyway just because of it being the Daytona 500. Controlling those emotions and controlling those expectations – controlling the week, really – is important. It used to be 12, 14 days of the buildup to the event – we still have the buildup, it’s a much shorter amount of time – but the plot goes everywhere. You have a good qualifying race, bad qualifying race. You used to have the Clash at Daytona – good Clash, bad Clash. PR day, PR stories, whatever, there’s just a lot of hype and buildup that goes into the race and you can’t get caught up in it.”
What is it like to compete in the Daytona 500?
“There’s nothing like coming to the green flag at the Daytona 500. The reason is hard to explain unless you’ve done it. There’s no other race like the Daytona 500, and I realized that when I won the Daytona 500 in 2007. You look at the names on that trophy and you go back and look at the history of our sport, and a lot of it has been made at Daytona. Whether it’s from the beach or the big track, it’s the who’s who of NASCAR. The Daytona 500 is the biggest race you’ll ever be a part of, and it’s the biggest win you’ll ever have. It’s definitely the heart of NASCAR and what we do.”
You’re often asked about your strategy in a superspeedway race. But what strategy is there for the entire week of Daytona, where you want to show speed, but also keep a clean car through qualifying, the Duel and then, finally, the Daytona 500?
“As you go through the week, it’s that evolution of the enthusiasm ramping up as you get closer to the Daytona 500. You have to maintain a pretty even-keeled approach to things just because of the fact that you don’t want to be so jacked up and make a stupid move and tear up your car before you even get to the Daytona 500. But you also want to get everything that you can because you want to get the best starting position you can and the best pit selection that you can for the 500. It’s a different mentality than any other week because you practice and race and practice and race again. But it’s not just a race. It’s the Daytona 500. So, it’s a different type of enthusiasm headed for the green flag.”
What does it take to win the Daytona 500?
“The superspeedways, in general, are difficult to have everything line up to get a win out of the weekend. For the Daytona 500, it’s our biggest race of the year, but it’s also the one race a year that you have months to prepare for. Every team in the garage has their most prepared car that shows up at the Daytona 500. On top of that, you have the most aggression and enthusiasm to try to take risks and do things that you normally wouldn’t do to win races because the Daytona 500 only comes once a year, and it can make a year and it can also make a career out of winning that race. I think as you look at the Daytona 500, it’s just different than any other race and it becomes difficult to win because of all the risk-taking that you don’t see on a weekly basis.”
How does a Daytona 500 win impact your career?
“I’d always heard that when you win the Daytona 500, it’ll be like no other race, and it really is. You win more money, and you’re always introduced as the Daytona 500 champion from that particular year. When you start the year off by winning the Daytona 500, your season’s pretty much made. Racing against Mark Martin and beating one of the sport’s greats back to the finish line, that’s a moment in time that will always be special, not only in my career, but the sport, in general.”
When you won the 2007 Daytona 500, you beat Mark Martin by .02 of a second in a frantic green-white-checkered finish. Take us through that final lap.
“A lot of things that people overlook about that race is that it really wasn’t about the final lap. With 12 or 15 laps to go, we were 30-something – a long way from the front. Those last several laps, when you go back and watch the in-car video, you see all the passes and us scraping the fence and yellows and restarts, and then the push down the back straightaway from Matt Kenseth, which really is what helped us win that race. When I go back and look at that last lap, I think pulling out of line and seeing Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton back there and not really knowing if Matt would pull out. The thought process at that particular time was, if I pulled out, Matt would know that Jeff was going to pull out, and it all kind of played out and Matt just gave us a huge push down the back straightaway. Then it was just a side-drafting game off turn four back to the start-finish line, and we were in good position to be on the right side of that. It was an exciting last 12 or 15 laps when you look back at it. I think the pit box was closed and covered and everybody was probably taking things back to the hauler. I don’t even think all the guys were still in the pit box. Best I can remember it was crew chief, engineer, car chief and DeLana sitting on the pit wall waiting for the race to end just because they thought it was over. It wasn’t over, and that’s been the case a lot of times. That Daytona 500 sticks out because of the fact that it’s our sport’s biggest race and it puts you in a position to be on that Harley J. Earl trophy next to some of the biggest names in our sport.”
Did going back to Daytona feel different after you had become a Daytona 500 champion?
“Well, I think you put a lot less pressure on yourself just because when you’re around this sport for a long time, you understand the importance of having that Harley J. Earl trophy and having your name on it. When you look at the names that are on it, you understand its significance – how it’s migrated from the beach to the biggest single race in our sport.”