Winning Early Helps Late
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Sept. 12, 2014) – Jimmy John’s final race of the Sprint Cup Series season as a primary sponsor of the No. 4 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) will help Kevin Harvick kick off his bid to win his first Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship this weekend during Sunday’s MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois.
Jimmy John’s, founded in 1983 by 19-year old Jimmy John Liautaud approximately 163 miles from Chicagoland Speedway in Charleston, Illinois, serves up ridiculously fresh sandwiches quicker than you can say “Turkey Tom,” a customer-favorite which, ironically, is No. 4 on the menu. Jimmy John’s is all about the freshest ingredients, the fastest service and “Freaky Fast” delivery. While most people are more than impressed with the quality of Jimmy John’s sandwiches, it’s the speed with which they are prepared and delivered that really puts the now Champaign, Illinois-based chain ahead of the rest.
Harvick is hoping to use the same principles to deliver a freaky fast win early in each three-race round of the 10-race Chase to help him advance to the final four and win his first Sprint Cup championship.
Harvick qualified for the 10-race Chase by virtue of his two wins at Phoenix International Raceway and Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. His two regular-season victories were each worth three bonus points. Harvick carries his six bonus points into the Chase to slot sixth among the 16 drivers. He finished seventh in the regular-season standings with 788 points. This is his fifth consecutive playoff appearance and his eighth since the inception of the Chase in 2004. He finished fourth in his Chase debut in 2006, 10th in 2007, fourth in 2008, third in 2010, third in 2011, eighth in 2012 and third in 2013.
Harvick’s freaky fast win at Phoenix in March virtually secured his position in the 16-driver Chase field under NASCAR’s new “win and you’re in” format. His second win of the season at Darlington in April gave the team additional Chase security and an additional three bonus points. The early wins helped to ease the pressure on the newly assembled No. 4 Jimmy John’s team, allowing them to focus on building for the future and to work on eliminating unnecessary errors for later in the season.
The early season wins also allowed the Jimmy John’s team to save its four NASCAR-sanctioned test dates until later in the year to focus on winning in the Chase. SHR used the first of its four tests on Aug. 25 and 26 at Chicagoland to prepare for Sunday’s race. While rain plagued both days of the test, the team still was able to get some time on the track to learn as much as it could to put it in position to not only contend for but to win the first race of the Chase.
Harvick already has two wins at Chicagoland in both the NASCAR Sprint Cup and NASCAR Nationwide Series. He won the inaugural Sprint Cup race there on July 15, 2001, and made it back-to-back Chicagoland wins as he reached victory lane again on July 14, 2002. He also has two Nationwide Series wins – September 2005, when he won from the fifth position and led 20 laps, and July 2007, when he started eighth and led 27 laps.
The Bakersfield, California native is doing double duty this weekend and will get additional seat time behind the wheel of the No. 5 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet Camaro for JR Motorsports in Saturday’s Jimmy John’s Freaky Fast 300 Nationwide Series race. Harvick already has three Nationwide Series wins driving for JR Motorsports in 2014 – at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway in April, Kentucky Speedway in Sparta in June and Atlanta Motor Speedway in August.
The No. 4 Jimmy John’s team is hoping it can continue its approach of winning early and apply it to each round of the Chase. A win in the 16-driver Challenger round, consisting of the races at Chicago, New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon and Dover (Del.) International Speedway, would automatically advance a team to the 12-team Contender round. A win in the Contender round, consisting of races at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway and Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, guarantees a spot in the eight-team Eliminator round. A win in the Eliminator round, consisting of races at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth and Phoenix International Raceway, guarantees a spot in the four-team Championship finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Harvick is looking to win races early in each round to ride his “freaky fast” Jimmy John’s Chevrolet all the way to his first Sprint Cup Series championship.
KEVIN HARVICK, Driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
As we look at the beginning of the Chase and the new format, how much have you played around in your mind with the new format as you and the team prepare?
“I think you have to prepare like you would for any other format. You just have to take it one week at a time. Obviously, we want to win and you want to advance to each round, but you have to take it one weekend at a time. We went to Chicago to test and we went to Loudon to test. Hopefully, we can put some things to bed that we’ve had in our minds and get good setups for those two racetracks. Really, this is our first testing all year. That’s encouraging and hopefully we’ll learn something from it.”
How did getting a win early and securing a spot in the Chase affect your team?
“Winning early was definitely a positive for our team since we were building a new team. Not having to worry about points and knowing that we had a lot to lean on, the mistakes weren’t so catastrophic that we couldn’t overcome them and it didn’t detour the team from being in a positive frame of mind. So, having that win and the way the process is, it really allowed us to build our team and not have to worry about the points. And if something went wrong, you could fix the problem, move on and know that if you have it fixed when you get to Chicago, you’re in good shape.”
Did winning early give your team a chance to prepare the cars a lot more for the Chase than people who weren’t in it, already?
“There were definitely two approaches within our own shop, let alone the rest of the teams. You had two cars trying to get into the Chase still that were basically throwing everything they had at it to make something happen, and then you had the No. 41 and the No. 4 teams who were preparing for Chicago and you still wanted to win, but you had to make sure your best stuff is ready to go when you get to Chicago.”
What have the biggest challenges been for your team so far this year?
“I think the biggest challenge for our team in particular has been just building the team. Knowing that everything we had coming into the year was brand new, obviously the speed of the cars hasn’t been the thing that we’ve worked on the most – it’s been getting to know each other and fixing the little problems we’ve had along the way and addressing those as we’ve gone throughout the year. The unique part of that has been that we’ve had to do it in front of the world as we’re running up front and racing with fast cars. That’s a good problem to have. I think right now we’re as good as we’ve been all year, just for the fact we’ve fixed a lot of problems, we’ve gotten to know each other better, and I feel like we function better as a team.”
You’ve worked with Jimmy John’s for a few years. What makes Jimmy John’s unique?
“I’ve known Jimmy since 2009 and I’ve personally seen how driven he is and how his work ethic is embraced by Jimmy John’s franchisees. He wants to be the best, period. And he’ll outwork everyone to be the best. That’s the same mindset we have in racing.”