When Stewart-Haas Racing undertook the task of switching over from Chevrolet to Ford, the entire organization geared up for the challenge of a lifetime.
For Kevin Harvick, the 2014 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion, the challenge was one he accepted after competing with Chevrolet for over a decade. Though the transition to the blue oval had its rough patches during the 2017 season, the driver of the No. 4 machine is ready for the playoffs.
Frontstretch caught up with Harvick at an appearance in New York City, where he was joined by former NBA star Dikembe Mutombo as the two joined forces with Mobil 1. We sat down with Harvick, discussing the transition to Ford, his playoffs hopes, what he thinks about becoming an owner again and more.
Joseph Wolkin, Frontstretch.com: 2017 has been a solid season thus far for you guys after the move to Ford. How would you evaluate your year?
Kevin Harvick: I would give everybody a lot of props. It could’ve been a season to forget for sure, but we’ve been fortunate to be competitive. Obviously, we would always like to win more races, get into Victory Lane and being in contention by doing all the things we’ve done all year. It makes me realize and really proud of all the great people we have working at Stewart-Haas Racing. It’s a huge credit to Stewart-Haas and Ford for putting forth the effort that they have to maintain the elements and do the things we need to do to switch manufacturers, but to also race well at the same time is a huge challenge.
Wolkin: What are your expectations for the playoffs?
Harvick: Martin [Truex Jr.] has just had a phenomenal year. As you look at the things they’ve done, they’re definitely the car to beat and have been all year. We’ve been working hard to get our best stuff ready for the playoffs, and that’s kind of what it is. You have to go from there, race and see how it all shakes out. Definitely winning the championship in 2014, that’s the expectation. That’s what you want to go out and do.
Wolkin: What would it mean to you to win another championship?
Harvick: There are just a number of challenges that have been presented to us, like switching manufacturers. Coming into the year, I don’t know that anybody would have put us in the conversation for the championship just because of the work load and things that had gone into switching to so many unknowns. As the year has gone, we’ve developed that consistency that our team has been known for. For us as a team, it’s kind of a relief. That’s what we’re here for, and our goal is to win races and a championship. That’s definitely still the goal and a real possibility.
Wolkin: What are some of the difficulties SHR has faced in switching over from Chevy to Ford?
Harvick: I think it’s probably a lot of things that people don’t see. A lot of that comes from how engineering-based racing has become. Adding to our engineering department, taking on our own chassis shop, all of the little details of things from putting the motor in the car and having the motor mounts being in a different spot, the pulleys hitting the suspension parts, then having to make all new suspension parts.
It’s just kind of a domino-effect of all the things you had to change. It’s all the little things that you didn’t really think about. The big things weren’t really the problem. It all adds up to time. That’s really what you become short on is time because you only have a certain amount of people and they aren’t moving the races.
Wolkin: Having the F1 team near the NASCAR facility, how does that help you guys on the engineering side with how technical F1 is?
Harvick: It definitely gives you another outlook on the approach and how things are approached. As engineering-based as our sport has become, I don’t think a lot of people realize how engineer-based everything we do is. From the Formula 1 side, everything they do is based on engineering. It’s a much different style of racing and a much different approach to the things they do. It’s been good to see and have people look at it from a different view than what we had in the past.
Wolkin: Have you bothered Gene about running the Formula 1 car at all?
Harvick: Nah, I don’t have any interest. I love watching it. I love the fact that Gene is involved on the F1 side of things. He seems like he’s enjoying it. It’s fun to watch.
Wolkin: Silly season is absolutely crazy this year. How relieved are you that you aren’t in those talks?
Harvick: Well, I went through it last year. For a long time, I was headed to the [No.] 5 car and that really had no reality to it whatsoever. They can be distracting. I was fortunate to be able to tell my team exactly where everything was and keeping them informed, like my crew chief and from an ownership side of things. We knew where we were the whole time. It was just a timing thing. It takes time to get things worked out. At the end of every contract, everybody wants to position themselves in a different way to do different things. Sometimes, it just takes time. It’s definitely something you don’t want to drag on into the playoffs because it can be a distraction you don’t need at that particular time of the year.
Wolkin: You had KHI for so long and you did well for a while. Do you ever see yourself re-inserting yourself back into the ownership role?
Harvick: I don’t know that it would be something I would say no to. It would have to be the right situation to be part of something where we wouldn’t have a huge financial commitment. I wouldn’t mind being part of running the team and what happens with them on a weekly basis. But it’s just a different league of financial commitment. DeLana and I don’t want to insert ourselves in it again just because there is so much from that aspect of it. It would be fun to be part of a group and be part of the direction of how things work with a team.
Wolkin: What’s it like to have a sponsor willing to send you to New York City for a day to spread your brand?
Harvick: It’s really great to be part of the Mobil 1 brand just for the fact to see the advertising campaign for the launch of the Mobil 1 Annual Protection brand. To be a part of that is great for us as a team, and everybody is getting good exposure because of the campaign.
Wolkin: What’s the experience like working with the folks at Mobil 1?
Harvick: They’ve been a first-class group to work with. Obviously, you see the ad campaigns are a lot of fun, not only what they’ve done this year with myself and Dikembe [Mutumbo], but with Tony [Stewart] and Lewis Hamilton. All of the things they’ve done in the past have been light-hearted and fun to watch.
Wolkin: You’re working with Dikembe Mutumbo on marketing the Mobil 1 brand. What’s it like to work with him?
Harvick: It’s kind of the odd couple. I’m fortunate to have been at a couple of events with Dikembe now. He’s just a great guy. We’ve had a lot of fun doing the events together.
Wolkin: Why is it important for all of Stewart-Haas Racing to have a partner that’s not only dedicated to NASCAR, but the team specifically?
Harvick: You can see they’re the Official Fuel of NASCAR. They do a lot with Stewart-Haas Racing and all of the teams we have. For me, as a competitor, to have the oil in the car, I always tell everybody that when get to qualifying, dump all that oil in the engine, transmission and rear-end gears. It’s definitely a good advantage to have.