GEARWRENCH Racing: Kevin Harvick Chicago Street Race Advance

Notes of Interest

 

●  “Hot Streets:” The inaugural Grant Park 220 on the streets of downtown Chicago will mark the first street-course race in the NASCAR Cup Series’ 75-year history. Drivers will speed past some of the city’s most renowned landmarks, from Michigan Avenue to South Lake Shore Drive, with the start/finish line near Buckingham Fountain.

 

●  “Street Player:” Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 GEARWRENCH® Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), comes into the Grant Park 220 with some street-race experience, albeit 24 years ago when he drove on the NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Tour. In 1998 and again in 1999, Harvick competed on a 1.1-mile street course layout around the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. He completed 116 of the 215 laps available, thwarted by mechanical issues in both races. But his 23rd-place finish in the 1999 race doesn’t tell the whole story. Harvick started fourth in that race and took the lead on lap 19 and paced the field for 34 laps before suffering a mechanical failure. 

 

●  “Saturday in the Park:” Qualifying for the Grant Park 220 takes place on Saturday, and it’s where Sunday’s 100-lap race around the 2.2-mile, 12-turn temporary street circuit could very well be won. Track position will be paramount, as those starting up front are far more likely to stay up front. The fewer cars ahead of a driver, the fewer drivers to pass and the fewer chances to get caught up in someone else’s mistake. Consider that in arguably the most recognized street race in all of motorsports – the Monaco Grand Prix on the streets of Monte Carlo – the race winner has come from the pole 31 times in the 72 editions of the race. Only 24 times has the Monaco Grand Prix been won from a driver not starting on the front row. The furthest back a driver has won the Monaco Grand Prix is 14th, when Olivier Panis won in 1996.

 

●  “Take Me Back to Chicago:” For 19 years, the NASCAR Cup Series competed 45 miles southwest of Chicago in Joliet, Illinois. Chicagoland Speedway, a 1.5-mile, D-shaped oval, debuted in 2001 and it was Harvick who won the inaugural race, beating second-place Robert Pressley by .649 of a second. Harvick came back the following year and successfully defended his victory, beating NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon by .812 of a second. Harvick competed in all 19 Cup Series races at Chicagoland, leading a total of 603 laps and finishing among the top-five 10 times.

 

●  “Just You ‘n’ Me:” While there is a lot of newness with NASCAR coming to the streets of Chicago, one thing remains the same – the pairing of Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers. The duo is the longest active-tenured driver/crew chief relationship in the NASCAR Cup Series garage. They joined forces in 2014 and promptly won the Cup Series championship. In their now decade-long partnership, Harvick and Childers have won 37 points-paying Cup Series races and qualified for the NASCAR Playoffs every year, advancing to the Championship 4 five times.

 

●  “In the Country:” Road courses are the most applicable style of venue to compare to a street circuit. The difference, however, is that road courses are purpose-built facilities designed with plenty of runoff area. These style of tracks comprise acres upon acres of land, which typically places them in more rural settings. Harvick has made a total of 57 NASCAR Cup Series starts on road courses. He has 22 starts at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, 21 at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International, five on the Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway Roval, three at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas, and two apiece at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 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.

 

●  “State of the Union:” The Grant Park 220 is the third of six races on the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series schedule where drivers will turn left and right. Harvick finished 13th in the first road-course race of the year March 26 at COTA and 11th on June 11 at Sonoma. After Chicago, the series heads to the Indianapolis road course on Aug. 13, Watkins Glen on Aug. 20 and the Charlotte Roval on Oct. 8.

 

●  “Old Days:” 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.

 

●  “Make Me Smile:” 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.

 

●  “You’re the Inspiration:” 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.

 

●  “Happy Man:” 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 – both at Sonoma, in 1998 and 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.

 

●  “Bigger Than Elvis:” GEARWRENCH is a premier mechanic hand-tool brand built for technicians who crave more. GEARWRENCH understands the environment techs work in because GEARWRENCH works side-by-side with them to learn about their frustrations firsthand to develop innovative, new hand tools that solve day-to-day problems. GEARWRENCH forges quality and innovation into everything it makes, so techs don’t have to settle for anything less than the highest professional quality. It started with a ratcheting wrench that changed the industry and it continues with a full lineup of mechanic hand tools, tool storage and automotive lifting equipment. These tools are built to help techs do their job on their terms, no matter what.

 

Kevin Harvick, Driver of the No. 4 GEARWRENCH Ford Mustang 

 

Racing on the streets of Chicago is a bold move for NASCAR. Even though the racing is an unknown, can you appreciate the scope and scale of the event?

“I look back at the Busch Clash last year at the L.A. Coliseum and, before we left for that race, everybody thought it was going to be a complete joke and we thought we were going to look like complete fools, but it was probably the best event of last year. When you look back at that and you remember how much fun you had in the car, and you see the way it was perceived and the way the racing was and everything that happened, it was a phenomenal way to kick off our season. Chicago’s obviously a huge market for anything with all the people and eyeballs, and I’m all for events, great events – I love great events – and Chicago is going to be an event. It’s in a great setting, and I think everybody’s looking forward to the challenge of the course and trying to do everything we need to do to put on a good show. Whether you have a good race or not, the event is almost made before you get started.”

 

Typically, a NASCAR Cup Series race is in a rural area, simply because the footprint of a NASCAR track is so big. The Chicago Street Race brings an event to the doorstep of a lot of new fans. How important is that to the growth of NASCAR?

“The race is going to be attended by a lot of new fans and really, for us, that’s what you want to do. This is an event that helps grow the sport and helps introduce new people to our sport and gives them an opportunity to see it in person. Really, once you get people to the racetrack in person, they’re not leaving because it’s a great experience. And when you can see the cars and hear the cars and take in all the smells of the engine and brakes and everything that goes with it, it’s much more intriguing in person. We get to show off our sport to a lot of people that probably wouldn’t necessarily drive all the way to Joliet or come to an event at another location. NASCAR has done a great job in creating an event, and with all the concerts and different things that are going on throughout the weekend, the amount of fans that show up should have a good time.”

 

When you’re preparing to race on a track you’ve never been to before, you get acclimated by using a simulator. How helpful is the simulator when you don’t have that seat-of-the-pants feel?

“For the most part, the simulator is basically for reference points and things that come with that particular racetrack. You’re able to sit in your own seat and have your own steering wheel and you’re just in a more realistic surrounding. It’s good for me just to get visuals of everything and be able to have everything memorized with the shift points before we get there.”

 

You’re one of the very few drivers with street-racing experience – granted, that was back in 1998 and 1999 when you made two starts on the Los Angeles Street Circuit as part of the NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Tour. What do you remember about those races, and how did you approach racing on a street circuit?

“I think the biggest thing that I remember about L.A. is one of the corners, you drove through a gutter and jumped out of it, and the crowns in the road and the unique nature of the way the track was laid out stood out. But it was unique and challenging all at the same time to try and do something that was different.”

 

Even with Chicago being an unknown, what are your expectations for the race?

“The racetrack is very narrow, and it’s going to evolve as the weekend goes just because you’re running on dirty asphalt. It’s really going to be a learning experience as we go through the weekend. The thing I love about races like this is they’re not just races, they’re events, and having an event like this in a great city like Chicago is something that I think will be great for our sport.”

 

What do you think is going to be the most challenging part of the course?

“All of it. It’s just narrow, and those 90-degree corners, and those long straightaways that lead into those 90-degree corners, those are really the two pieces that stick out to me. It’s a very challenging event for the car, and it will definitely test the braking system and the drivers to make sure they hit their marks. The passing will be difficult just because you’ll need to take some chances to put yourself in a position to make a move. It’s just trying to make sure that you keep yourself out of trouble, and qualifying will obviously be important. But as you go through the race, there’s just going to be things happening, and with the car being so forgiving, you can take chances and beat the car up some and not really have any penalties. Hopefully, that leads to excitement and we can put on a good show and have fun doing it.”

 

Those 90-degree corners you mentioned – what kind of challenge do they represent?

“The biggest challenge for the drivers is just going to be the reference points and not really knowing what’s on the other side if somebody gets spun out. The course is really narrow with walls on both sides, and most of us aren’t used to racing in that particular environment. There are some short straightaways, but there are a couple of really long straightaways that lead to those sharp corners and passing zones. There’s not a lot of runoff, so if you make a mistake, usually you’re going to hit something. It’ll be a challenge, but I think our guys will do a great job in adapting to the racetrack. Most of the time you talk about all the things that could go wrong and more things go right than go wrong just because we have a bunch of pros in the garage that work on the cars and drive the cars. We’ll figure it out and make it good.”

 

How important will qualifying be? Do you envision it being like Formula One, where Sunday’s race is often won on Saturday by whoever gets the pole?

“Qualifying is going to be important, but it’s definitely not going to be what it’s like in F1. There will be multiple yellow flags just with the type of course that it is, and with the pit stops and the strategy and everything that’ll go on, there will be opportunities to move up. I think with all the caution flags and the restarts and everything that’s going to happen, it’s going to get mixed up, so qualifying will still be important, but it won’t be F1-important.”

 

Even though the Chicago Street Race is new, you have a strong history at Chicago, albeit 45 miles southwest of the city at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois. You won the inaugural race there in 2001 and then successfully defended that win by taking the checkered flag again in 2002. Does that make Chicago a special place for you no matter where you race?

“For sure. That success at Chicago early in my career kind of established a fan base. We’ve always had a great following in Chicago, whether it’d be at the racetrack or with our fan club that we had through the years. Joliet was always a place that I enjoyed going to, and the racetrack evolved into this bumpy, kind of worn-out surface and we always had a lot of fun.”

 

You have 60 career NASCAR Cup Series wins in your 23-year career, and wins No. 2 and No. 3 came at Joliet. What do you remember about those victories?

“Chicago will be that special place because we won the inaugural race. And when we came back the second year, we had all kinds of drama. I think I spun out, and then we wound up on the right pit cycle, and wound up with the lead, and then we were able to keep the lead and beat Jeff Gordon at the end of the race. So Chicago’s always been a really good racetrack for me when we raced at the oval out in Joliet. I hope that trend continues and we can start off the inaugural street race with the same result. For me, that first particular race really kind of set the tone for the following and the fan base that I’ve been fortunate to have throughout the years in the Chicago area. Those fans have followed us all over. We’ve raced other vehicles throughout the Midwest and you see a lot of those people and they’ll come up and tell you that they were at those first races. We have a very loyal group of fans and I can’t wait to have this unique experience like we did way back in 2001 for the very first time.”

 

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