Racing setups in video games all seem opaque to me. I know that, like a minute adjustment in a bowler’s slide or spin means a difference between the 180 everyone bowls and a league-quality 240, the right brake pressure or differential can turn my back-of-the-pack lap into a competitive one.
So it helps, more than any subreddit or setup guide, to have a NASCAR Cup Series champion on the phone when I need concrete pointers for my video game racing. PR for 704 Games put me in touch with Kevin Harvick (stock car racing’s 2014 champion) to talk about the upcoming NASCAR Heat 4, which launches in September and features him and his boss Tony Stewart on the cover. But what I really wanted to know was what I should be looking for in a race car during all those practice sessions I force myself to drive.
“Well, the [base] tire pressure is a little high in the game, and the wedge is a little high, too,” Harvick said, “those are two of the easier things to spot. I kind of feel like I already have an idea of where the car should be when I drive it. But the biggest thing is you definitely don’t want the understeer that is standard [to the base setup]. You need to loosen the car up.
“When my son gets into the game, we make it looser and turn better, because he wants to go flat out and [if they don’t] he’ll end up driving into the wall,” Harvick mused. “When we’re playing we turn it to light damage; you can kind of police yourself a little that way. But tire pressure and wedge [which will loosen the chassis and grip make it more responsive in cornering].”
Thus armed, I took his advice — to my F1 2019 season. Formula One cars don’t have wedge (but they do have rear suspension adjustments, which is what that is, generally), and tire pressure is a little different because those cars don’t drive counterclockwise for the whole race. But hey, Harvick’s advice still translates, and gives me something to fidget with purposefully when I feel like I have the turning radius of a destroyer — which is often.
Harvick genuinely sounded interested in helping another driver out. As a dad to a six-year-old, he’s constantly on that duty when his kid wants to race in the game. “We’ll go to Bristol one week, and the next day he’ll say to me, ‘Dad you want to run 15 [laps] at Bristol versus me?’” Harvick said, genuinely amused at the idea he was competing against his son, not the other way around. “He’ll tell you he thinks he can race because of this game,” Harvick said.
Hey, I get it, I think I can race because of these games, too, and I’m older than Harvick. The NASCAR Heat series has been something of a boutique product in sports video gaming, since Monster Games and and 704 resurrected the license in 2016. But where it has succeeded most is in its career mode iterations, which have steadily added features and things to do, like tuning a chassis around a very solid engine of gameplay and on-the-track action. Last year’s Heat 3 broadened the career mode into a kind of mogul setup, with the player able to perform driver/owner duties of racing in multiple series and developing and maintaining rides for them.
Harvick’s been there, owning a race team with entries in the Xfinity and Trucks series from 2004 to 2011. He now drives for Tony Stewart, who owns Eldora Speedway, the dirt track that’s appeared in NASCAR Heat since 2017. Dirt racing, in the form of the fictitious Xtreme Dirt Tour, will include the very real livery for Stewart’s No. 14 Late Model, according to a news release announcing NASCAR Heat 4’s September launch.
In the same announcement, 704 Games president Colin Smith said this year’s addition is again building off its players’ requests and suggestions, which drove a lot of the past two editions — trucks and split-screen racing in Heat 2, and the career revamps and dirt series from last year. “Over the years the NASCAR video game has built a large and passionate fan base, and when developing this game we made sure many of their voices were heard,” Smith said in the statement. “We have incorporated a number of features and improvements recommended by the NASCAR Heat community.”
That means players will be able to start their career driving in any of the four series (Xtreme Dirt, Camping World Trucks, Xfinity and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup) where in last year’s NASCAR Heat 3 they started on the lower rungs and worked their way up. That provided a realistic progression and more varied experience, particularly in career’s early goings, at the expense of a very long, somewhat grindy preamble to the bigtime.
NASCAR Heat 4 will also incorporate more granular, but noticeable details, like the Toyota Supra in the Xfinity Series and the night race at Martinsville (for offline racing only, until the 2020 season begins). There will also be different tire models for its track types, so drivers can get their scuffs or stickers on more suited to New Hampshire’s flat roller-skating rink or Charlotte’s super-high banked turns. Just remember to fool with the tire pressure, per Harvick’s advice, once you try out the new compounds.
704 did not mention a launch date more specific than the September window. It’ll return on PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One, and it’s available for preorder right now.