Kevin Harvick had a phenomenal 2020 season on the NASCAR Cup Series. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver led the series in wins(9), top-5 finishes(20), top-10 finishes(27), laps led(1531), lead lap finishes(33), and average finishing position(7.7). The only thing he didn’t do was win the championship after failing to make the Championship 4 during the final stretch run of the NASCAR Playoffs.
Title or not, however, the achievements of this driver and his team during the disjointed coronavirus-plagued 2020 season were quite remarkable. That is perhaps even more true when one looks back into NASCAR’s past and sees that many of the things this veteran star accomplished weren’t supposed to happen at all.
Harvick turned 45 years old following the conclusion of the 2020 season. History, and particularly recent history, tells us that a driver of his age is not supposed to be doing the things he is doing. Competitors in this sport are supposed to be slowing down after the age of 40, but instead, the Bakersfield, CA native appears to be speeding up.
Harvick reached age 40 just after the 2015 season ended. Since that time, he has amassed 27 first place finishes. That number accounts for almost half of his total of 58 career victories. In comparison, seven time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, who has a career total of 83 triumphs, won nine times after his 40th birthday.
Johnson, who is three months older than Harvick, ended his full-time NASCAR career this past season riding a three-year losing streak while the No. 4 Ford was finding victory lane on a regular basis.
To further make the point that the 2014 NASCAR Cup Series champion is achieving that which is rarely achieved, he ranks as tops among the drivers he has actually competed against when it comes to winning in what is supposed to be the twilight of a racing career. Jeff Gordon won his last race at age 43, Tony Stewart won at 45 but had suffered through a two-year losing streak prior to that final victory, and Matt Kenseth last won at age 45 but was not putting up the type of numbers Harvick is currently amassing.
To see similar numbers to those of Harvick at his current age, one has to look much further back into NASCAR history. Lee Petty was the all-time win producer after age 40 by taking 42 trips to victory lane while Bobby Allison won 38 times in his post-forty years and earned a championship at the age of 45. And like Harvick, Dale Earnhardt won 27 times after age 40.
So, how much longer can Kevin Harvick keep up this pace?
The reality of modern-day NASCAR is that factors such as the organization a driver works within and the relationship with his crew probably matter as much or more than anything else. Harvick and pit boss Rodney Childers obviously have the type of chemistry that works well in the current state of things.
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But one thing to keep in mind is that 2021 will be the final season in which the current style of car will be used. the NextGen machine will be rolled out, albeit a year late, at the beginning of 2022 so the old dogs in the sport, including Harvick, may have to learn a few new tricks in order to keep up with the pack.
Stewart-Haas Racing apparently believes that, at least in the case of their top driver, decades don’t matter as that Tony Stewart and Gene Haas-owned operation has him signed through the 2023 season according to the team page on Jayski.com. Time will obviously tell the tale of this driver who appears to be imitating fine wine as his career rolls on.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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