Stewart-Haas Racing

Harvick takes hot streak to Kentucky, one of his last winless tracks

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For the last two months, things have been going very well for Kevin Harvick.

In the 12 races since the Cup Series returned to competition on May 17 – with Harvick’s win at Darlington – the Stewart-Haas Racing driver has accumulated four victories, seven top fives and an additional three top 10s.

This year marks the eighth time Harvick has reached or exceeded four wins in a season. The only other time he’s had four wins prior to race No. 17 was 2018 when he had five. It was also in 2018 that Harvick went on to win a career-best eight races in a season.

Among his victories this year was his June 27 win at Pocono Raceway, his first on the three-turn speedway.

That left only two active Cup tracks the 44-year-old driver has yet to win on – Kentucky Speedway and the Charlotte Roval.

Harvick gets his 10th attempt to win at Kentucky on Sunday (2:30 p.m. ET on FS1).

Through nine starts, the 1.5-mile track hasn’t been too kind to Harvick.

In fact, while he’s led 128 laps there, those all came in the 2016 race. He trails only Jimmie Johnson (206 laps led) among active lap leaders who have not won at Kentucky.

He goes into Sunday’s race with just one Kentucky top-five finish (2018) and five top 10s.

Working in Harvick’s favor now is his 1.5-mile program. He’s led the most laps in four of the last seven races on 1.5-mile tracks.

In the five races at 1.5-mile tracks this season he’s led a total of 306 laps, including 151 in his win at Atlanta.

Following his win Sunday in the Brickyard 400, his second in a row and third overall there, Harvick was asked what it felt like to be competing at such a high level this season.

“I think when you look at the root of the equation, it’s the team, right?” Harvick said. “It’s the crew chief (Rodney Childers) and the driver that have been together, the engineer. We had one engineer move on, but we’ve had the same engineer with Dax (Gerringer). You keep adding little pieces to keep making that puzzle come together and fit together well. But experience plays a big role in this.

“I think for us, when we come to the racetrack, I know I have to be prepared. I know every guy on my team is going to be prepared and has done everything he can during that week leading up to that race to do 100% of his job. If you’re not prepared, you’ve let every person down because that’s the type of team we’ve been fortunate to put together over the last seven years.

“Everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing allowed us to do that from the beginning. It keeps progressing. You keep getting more and more details out of things because you keep the people together, and everybody believes in what I just said. If you don’t do 100% of your job during the week, you have let the rest of the team down because they have.”

Chase Briscoe: Austin Cindric has been ‘mentor’ in NASCAR rise

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Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric had a tall order in store for them when the 2020 Xfinity Series season began.

A year after struggling to find success against the onslaught of the “Big 3” of Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell and Cole Custer, they had a chance grab more of the spotlight.

But Briscoe, in his second full-time year with Stewart-Haas Racing, and Cindric, in his second full year with Team Penske, had to do it as the only Ford drivers in the field.

It’s worked out so far.

Ahead of the doubleheader races at Kentucky Speedway this week, Briscoe has a series-leading five wins – four more than in his last two seasons. Meanwhile, Cindric is winless but he’s fourth in the points after posting seven top fives in addition to two top 10s.

Their resilience against the competition is helped in part by the defacto Ford teammates having been joined at the hip in their rise through the racing ranks.

“We drive for different race teams, but we’re the only two Fords in the series and as soon as I came to pavement (from dirt racing), Austin’s really been by my side throughout that whole thing,” Briscoe said Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “On Track.” “When I was driving in ARCA for (Briggs) Cunningham, he came in and ran a limited schedule. The next year we’re teammates in the Truck Series full-time (at Brad Keselowski Racing). Then following year in 2018 we’re teammates at Roush (Fenway Racing) and do an IMSA stuff together. Austin really has been my mentor throughout all the road course racing stuff.”

Austin Cindric and Chase Briscoe were teammates at Brad Keselowski Racing in 2017 and at Roush Fenway Racing in 2018. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Briscoe said when they first started in IMSA, he was four to five seconds off Cindric’s pace. On Saturday, he topped Cindric and road-course ace AJ Allmendinger to win the inaugural race on the Indianapolis road course.

“(Cindric) was there to coach me along the way and teach me all the little things he knows,” Briscoe told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Now even in the Xfinity car, every time we go to a road course, even at Indy, the day of the race I talked to him, we went and had lunch together. I’m asking him questions that truthfully I’m probably not expecting him to give the honest answer. But I know he’ll shoot me straight just because that’s the kind of guy he is.”

Even though they’re the closest thing they have to teammates, Briscoe believes “no matter what, me and Austin are always going to be really hard competitors against each other for winning races. But we still want to see each other succeed. If I can’t win, I want to see Austin win. I know he’s the same way with me. So it’s really nice when you can have that camaraderie.”

Of Briscoe’s five wins this season, two have been on 1.5-mile tracks. Thursday’s race (7:30 p.m. ET on FS1) will be his fourth overall start at Kentucky Speedway and his second in Xfinity. The 25-year-old driver isn’t too fond of the track in Sparta, Kentucky.

“Statistically, I’ve always been terrible at Kentucky for whatever reason that is,” Briscoe said. “I haven’t had the best luck there.”

However, backed by his five wins, Briscoe is confident he’ll have a good car for the doubleheader. He also notes his former Xfinity teammate at Stewart-Haas Racing, Cole Custer, was “really good” there last year, when he led 88 laps and won. Briscoe finished fifth.

“I feel like from an experience standpoint and a confidence standpoint, I’ll be way better this year,” Briscoe told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I’m looking forward to going there and trying to get two wins.

“Normally if you have a bad race you gotta wait a whole ‘nother week to get back behind the wheel. And we’re fortunate to have another chance the next day. It kind of goes back to Homestead this year. Saturday, we had an issue and felt like we were the best car but we were able to redeem ourselves Sunday. Hopefully you’re there this week and get two wins.”

Winners and losers at Indy

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WINNERS

Kevin HarvickWins Indy for the second year in a row and third time overall. He’s only one Indy victory behind his hero, Rick Mears, who won the Indianapolis 500 four times.

Stewart-Haas Racing — Placed three cars in the top five for the first time this season and fourth time in team history. Kevin Harvick won, Aric Almirola finished third and rookie Cole Custer was fifth. For Almirola, it was his fifth consecutive top-five finish. For Custer, it was his best Cup finish. Don’t forget about Chase Briscoe. He won the Xfinity race for the organization the day before on Indy’s road course.

Matt KensethWhile he had to settle for his fourth career runner-up finish at Indy, it was his best result since returning to the series and driving the No. 42 car for Chip Ganassi Racing. Also of note, the two oldest drivers in the field finished 1-2.

Brad Keselowski — Finished fourth for his third top-four finish at Indy in the last four years. 

Michael McDowellHis seventh-place finish was his best Indy finish and his second top-10 in the last three Cup races this season.

 

 

LOSERS

All those involved in the pit road crash — Brennan  Poole, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Justin Allgaier, Martin Truex Jr., Corey LaJoie and Ryan Preece were all eventually eliminated because of damage they suffered in a crash on pit road early in the race. Poole’s car hit Zach Price, a rear tire changer for Ryan Blaney’s team. The team stated that Price was treated and released from Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis but did not disclose any injuries.

Those who suffered tire problems — Denny Hamlin, Erik Jones, William Byron, Ryan Newman and Alex Bowman all hit the wall after tires went down. Hamlin crashed while leading with eight laps to go.

Aric Almirola’s team ‘has been on it’ amid top-five steak

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While Kevin Harvick got all the glory with his win Sunday in the Brickyard 400, he wasn’t the only member of Stewart-Haas Racing who left the track with something to smile about.

Harvick led a team effort that saw three SHR cars finish in the top five for the first time this year and for the fourth time in team history.

Finishing third was Aric Almirola, who overcame an early unscheduled pit stop for a tire vibration that briefly sent him a lap down. He scored his fifth consecutive top-five finish. Almirola entered this season having never earned consecutive top fives in his Cup career.

“We had such a fast race car and we kept getting behind the eight-ball because we kept having to pit for vibrations, but so proud of (crew chief) Mike Bugarewicz and this whole race team,” Almirola told NBC. “Just really proud of our race team. Five top fives in a row. We’re so consistent and when you run that consistently in the top five we’ll win races. … We just ran five top fives in a row at racetracks that are probably my worst racetracks statistically (Miami, Talladega, Pocono and Indianapolis). We’re going to some racetracks that are really good for me — Kentucky, Loudon, Bristol for the All-Star Race, so I’m excited for these next stretch of races. This team has been on it.”

Rounding out the top five was rookie Cole Custer, who earned his first Cup Series top five in his 19th start.

His previous best finish this season was ninth at Phoenix.

“It is awesome to have all of SHR running well here at Indy,” Custer told NBC. “It is (co-owner) Tony’s (Stewart) backyard so it is a huge race for us. For us, our team, this package has been exactly the opposite of what I am used to driving. For it to all come together today means a lot. … I am psyched. I am really happy we finally had it all come together.”

Why are things starting to come together for Custer through 16 races in his rookie season?

“I think it is just that I am getting better with the cars and knowing what to expect when we go to the track and getting better at what to bring in the cars to the track,” Custer said. “It is a work in progress and having no practice doesn’t help that. I think it is all starting to come to us.”

On the overtime restart to end the race, Custer restarted in the second row behind Harvick and helped push him to the lead.

“Cole had a great restart, got attached to my bumper,” Harvick said. “We were clear before we got to Turn 1. At that point you have clean air, and those guys were side‑by‑side. We were able to break away right there. Definitely Cole was a huge part of helping us win this race at the end.”

Almirola said he was “really proud” of Custer.

“I think he’s been learning the ropes,” Almirola said. “He’s figured out that the jump from Xfinity to Cup is a big jump. He’s doing a great job. He’s learning. He’s bringing cars home in one piece. He’s continuing to build and get better.”

Sunday’s performance by SHR and Harvick’s win capped off a memorable doubleheader weekend for the team. On Saturday, Chase Briscoe won the inaugural Xfinity Series race on the Indy road course for his fifth win of the year.

Long: No fans mutes Indy soundtrack, but Chase Briscoe still relishes win

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INDIANAPOLIS — Mimicking what his hero Tony Stewart twice did at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Chase Briscoe climbed the fence after winning Saturday’s Xfinity Series race on the road course.

But unlike Stewart, who looked out to a sea of fans bathing him in cheers, Briscoe saw only empty gray bleachers and heard only the shouts of his crew members who joined him on the ascent.

The culmination of a historic doubleheader with the NTT IndyCar Series and the Xfinity Series also meant the end of a day — and a July 4 at that — unlike any other at the famed speedway.

No fans at NASCAR races have become common during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the sight — and lack of sound — at Indy was stark.

Sunday’s Cup race will not have fans. It also will not have seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who announced Friday he and his wife have contracted the coronavirus.

Johnson says he is asymptomatic but admits he has more questions than answers about how he and his wife got the virus and when he’ll be able to return to racing. Sunday was to have been his final Cup start in a race he’s won four times.

Johnson will be missed. So will be the fans. Just as they were Saturday.

The fans provide a soundtrack to any event, even a race where engine noise dominates. There was no roar from the crowd when the command to start engines was made. No cheers for the winner when he emerged from his car in victory lane. No oohs and ahhs when the top four cars in the Xfinity race sailed down the long front straightaway into a sharp right-hand turn with two laps left, dueling for the win.

The only sound came from the engines echoing off the canyon of empty seats.

Even in the smallest settings, interactions were missed. When Scott Dixon won the IndyCar race earlier in the day, his crew, unable to be in victory lane because of protocols, stood on a stairwell 20 feet above him and clapped.

When Briscoe won, there was no family to greet him. Two years ago his father had tears seeing Briscoe drive at Indy. One could only imagine what his reaction would have been Saturday.

My family is probably crying at home,” said Briscoe, an Indiana native. “I was thinking about that the last couple of laps. That is tough. I wish they could have been here to experience it. It is something that may not ever happen again. It is definitely bittersweet to win without them here.”

If he wins again at Indy, good chance it could be with Stewart-Haas Racing. Greg Zipadelli, SHR’s competition director, served as Briscoe’s interim crew chief because Richard Boswell was serving the final race of a four-race suspension and voiced his support for Briscoe.

“I think he is still young and has a lot to learn, but I am very, very impressed with how quick he is learning how to race these stock cars,” Zipadelli said. “I hope he is a part of Stewart-Haas for a long period of time.”

What makes Briscoe — only the second driver to win five of the first 13 races of a season in the Xfinity Series — stand out?

“He is able to dig deep,” Zipadelli said. “There are some people that when it is time to close, I see that a lot in him, he finds a little bit extra. He has a lot of confidence but isn’t getting cocky, which I love. Most of all he is just a good race car driver.”

While IndyCar had run on this course, this was new for Xfinity Series. Briscoe had prepared since February for this race, spending time weekly on the Ford simulator driving the 14-turn, 2.439-mile course. The training came through as Briscoe battled AJ Allmendinger, Austin Cindric and Justin Haley for the lead late. 

Even though Haley finished second to Briscoe, he still enjoyed the afternoon.

“I have zero complaints about the Indy road course,” Haley said. “I thought it was an amazing day

“When the fans are back, I think it’s going to be better.”

Briscoe said he can’t wait for fans to be back at this track and elsewhere.

“They are the reason you celebrate and the last couple of times I didn’t really celebrate because without the fans I don’t get hyped up,” he said. “Here I was obviously excited. I wish there were fans here.”

Even so, Briscoe would still have a celebration.

A former dirt track racer, Briscoe planned to visit a dirt track Saturday night within an hour’s drive of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“My little sister has decided she wants to try to drive a race car,” Briscoe said. “At the end of the night she is going to drive a mini-sprint around there for 20 or 30 laps. I am going to head there and see a lot of my friends I don’t get to see anymore and hang out with my dad and family.”

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