HOMESTEAD SATURDAY NOTEBOOK: Harvick maintains blistering speed in Saturday’s first practice

By Reid Spencer NASCAR Wire Service

HOMESTEAD, Fla.—The fastest car in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this season asserted its superiority immediately in Saturday’s first practice at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Driving the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet that has carried him to four victories and 2,083 laps led this year, Kevin Harvick jumped to the top of the speed chart as soon as the noon practice began—and stayed there.

Running 175.069 mph in race trim, Harvick was .007 seconds faster than Jeff Gordon (175.029 mph). No one else posted a lap within a 10th of a second of Harvick in preparation for Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 (3 p.m. ET on ESPN), the race that will decide the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship among four drivers—Harvick, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman.

In final practice, Harvick was eighth fastest in his first run but cut it short because of issues with the handling of his car. An adjustment didn’t help.

“We’ve got to do something different,” Harvick radioed to crew chief Rodney Childers with roughly 28 minutes left in the 50-minute session. “Bringing it to you.”

Harvick returned to the garage, climbed out of his car and studied the data on a computer perched above the team’s tool box.

Childers made additional adjustments and put new tires on Harvick’s car for the final practice run. Afterwards, Harvick gave his verdict.

“Too loose on exit,” Harvick said. “I got my rhythm down in (Turns) 3 and 4 pretty good. Good on entry and in the center (of the corners). Loose late center and exit on both ends.” 

Harvick ended the session where he began, in eighth, with a top speed of 173.099 mph. Of the Championship 4, Logano was quickest, seventh on the speed chart at 173.127 mph but significantly off leader Jimmie Johnson’s 175.200.

“Yeah, we struggled getting the balance right,” Harvick said after the session. “And I don’t think we’ve really hit it exactly where we need it to be yet.

“So, we’ll go back through the stuff that everybody did on our cars and definitely try to improve for tomorrow.”

THE VALUE OF WINNING

In NASCAR’s Championship 4, the four drivers competing for the Sprint Cup championship on Sunday, all three manufacturers are represented—Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota—as well as four different engine builders: Hendrick Motorsports (Kevin Harvick), Earnhardt Childress Racing Engines (Ryan Newman), Roush-Yates Engines (Joey Logano) and Toyota Racing Development (Denny Hamlin).

In the Homestead-Miami Speedway media center on Saturday, executives representing each of the car makers shared their perspectives on the value of one of their drivers winning the title on Sunday.

Ford’s success this season, with 14 victories in 35 Cup races, already has spurred interest in the brand, according to Jamie Allison, director of Ford Racing.

“We have generated 570,000 leads yet this year, up 60 percent from a year ago,” Allison said. “We track sales, match to leads generated from on track activation, and our sales are up 90 percent versus a year ago. These are gigantic swings in engagement, gigantic swings in fan affinity, and it translates all the way down from awareness down to conservation to shopping to intention to buy. So success on the track translates into fan consideration and purchase intention.

“At the end of the day, we are here because of our fans, our fans of Ford, and what we race on the track increasing with relevance to what's being shown in the showroom as well as what's in people’s driveway—there's that direct correlation. Whoever said ‘Win on Sunday, sell on Monday,’ it's absolutely true, because we're seeing it in the evidence of the data that we have.”

Jim Campbell, Chevrolet vice president of performance vehicles and motorsports, says the manufacturer starts each season with the same objectives.

“For Chevrolet that's one of our goals every year is to help our teams win a driver's championship and collectively giving our teams the best opportunity to win enough races for us to win the manufacturer's championship,” Campbell said.

 “We have two opportunities out of the four (on Sunday), and if you look over the past number of years, eight of the last nine driver's champions have been Chevrolet drivers. We do see a lift in opinion, and when you get a lift of opinion on a brand, great things happen. Customers put you on their shopping list more quickly. It's a fact. So that's big.”

On Sunday, Hamlin could become the first driver to deliver a championship to Toyota in NASCAR’s premier series.

“For Toyota, it would simply be historic and unprecedented,” said David Wilson, president and general manager of Toyota Racing Development USA. “We're still the new guys, so to speak, in the series. This is our… celebrating our 10th anniversary in NASCAR in their national series. We've won championships, multiple championships in the Camping World Truck Series, in the Nationwide Series. 

“Cup, the Sprint Cup Series, that box hasn't been checked yet, so for Toyota it would be huge. It would be significant, I think, for the sport. It would be huge for TRD. Certainly Toyota, our engagement model is a little bit different than my colleagues', and I have 250 people that work their butts off, and they have for years and years, so it would be very emotional.”

SHORT STROKES

In Saturday’s first practice session, Ryan Newman's No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet ran over debris on the track and dislodged the bead blower (the fan that cools the edge of the tire that sits on the wheel). Repairing the problem and changing the splitter, which had sustained slight damage, cost Newman approximately 10 minutes of practice time.

“We caught something on the splitter and it came underneath the car and took out one of the fans which made a pretty good racket,” Newman said. “That’s why I slowed down and came in. I didn’t know what it was. 

“If it were the race, I would have kept going, but it never popped the tire or anything, it just made a racket. I could hear something metal bouncing off of the frame rails and the bars and the chassis so I knew that we hit something or something happened. Brought it in and the guys assessed it and figured out what it was.”

Newman nevertheless was 12th fastest in Saturday’s first session, an improvement in race trim over his 21st-place starting position. Newman also was 12th fastest in final practice…

Championship 4 driver Joey Logano was rim-riding throughout Happy Hour and brushed the wall with the right rear corner of his No. 22 Team Penske Ford. The damage was cosmetic, and Logano soon returned to the track…

NASCAR isn’t likely to make a penalty determination about the rear suspension parts confiscated from the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. until Tuesday at the earliest. The car failed Sprint Cup pre-qualifying inspection on Friday…

QUOTES OF THE DAY

 “Mind games don’t make that car go any faster.”—Denny Hamlin, when asked whether Kevin Harvick was trying to get into the heads of Championship 4 competitors Joey Logano and Ryan Newman.

Asked what he would do to prepare for Sunday’s championship race, Kevin Harvick said, “Eat!”

 

Comments powered by Disqus