Harvick, winner of Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway, was the fastest of 48 drivers setting times during a special four-hour open test session Thursday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
NASCAR gave the Sprint Cup teams the extra practice to get their cars dialed into the fast 1.5-mile track in preparation of Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400. Las Vegas is the first of 11 Cup races on 1.5-mile circuits this season, and with a new aerodynamic package for the cars this year, the sanctioning body decided to give the teams a chance to test prior to racing.
That Harvick’s No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet topped the speed charts at 190.148 miles per hour was no surprise. Harvick was fast during winter testing and dominated last weekend’s race at the 1-mile Phoenix circuit.
The rest of the speed chart had plenty of surprises, though: Austin Dillon’s Richard Childress Racing No. 3 Chevy was second at 189.540 mph, followed by Trevor Bayne at 188.620 in the part-time No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford. Dillon’s teammate, Ryan Newman, was fourth ahead of Danica Patrick in a second SHR Chevy. Next was rookie Cole Whitt and AJ Allmendinger.
Some well-known names were further back: 2012 series champ Brad Keselowski was 17th, directly ahead of six-time series champ Jimmie Johnson and Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jeff Gordon was 28th, two spots ahead of Tony Stewart and five in front of Denny Hamlin. Las Vegas natives Kurt and Kyle Busch were 16th and 23rd, respectively.
The speeds were not necessarily indicative of how the cars will race on Sunday, as some teams made runs in qualifying trim, which is optimized for a single fast lap, while the majority of the cars testing ran in race trim only.
Harvick said he was pleased with his day.
"I thought it went really well," Harvick said. "We struggled in the beginning just to get the feel. It took us a couple of hours to kind of get everything situated and get the balance of the car right. Then we felt pretty good about it after that. Changed a lot of stuff and did a lot of different things to the car. Felt like we made good headway in the end, and hopefully we can progress on that (Friday) and make it even better."
Gene Stefanyshyn, NASCAR’s vice president of innovation and racing development, said chassis development for the teams remains a work in progress.
"I think the aero piece of it, it’s pretty much set," said Stefanyshyn. "It’s just a matter of getting the driver to find the limit and feeling comfortable with the aero, but the chassis, the engineers will play around with it for a while until that settles down. Then, the driver will begin to find the sweet spot and get comfortable. Probably it will take — probably we won’t have a good feeling where all this lands until we get about three (races) under our belt, and that would be the Texas race. That’s the way I’m feeling."