Brash. Arrogant. Uncompromising. Emotional. Aggressive.
Few would dispute that the words listed above describe what Kevin Harvick was like when he first appeared on the NASCAR scene in the late 1990s as a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series competitor then in the early 2000s as a pilot of Richard Childress Racing Chevrolets on the NASCAR Xfinity Series. And he would carry many of those character traits to the NASCAR Cup Series when he was thrust into the role of a full-time driver at the sport’s top level following the death of seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt.
While he is still regarded as one of racing’s most fierce competitors and seems to be as strong-willed as ever, Harvick has mellowed to a degree over the years which now leads many to think of him as more of a statesman-like figure in NASCAR. The 47-year-old driver may still exhibit some of those characteristics at times but has learned the restrained often brought on by age and experience.
The Stewart-Haas Racing driver has announced his intentions to retire from full-time racing at the end of the 2023 season with the possible intention of expanding his broadcasting career with Fox Sports.
Harvick found himself in a difficult position when Earnhardt lost his life on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. RCR immediately promoted him to the unenviable task of filling the seat of one of NASCAR’s most legendary stars while, at the same time, learning his way as a relatively inexperienced driver.
“Dale’s passing changed our sport forever, and it changed my life forever and the direction it took,” Harvick explained in a press release announcing his retirement. “It took me a long time to really get comfortable to really even think about things that happened that day.”
Harvick won two Cup Series races that season while still competing as a full-time regular on the Xfinity Series. He earned five victories on the lower tour and captured the season-long championship.
“Looking back on it now, you realize the importance of getting in the Cup car, and then we wound up winning my first race at Atlanta in the 29 car after Dale’s death,” he recalled. “The significance and the importance of keeping that car on the racetrack and winning that race early at Atlanta – knowing now what it meant to the sport, and just that moment in general of being able to carry on, was so important.”
Harvick drove for RCR at the Cup Series level from 2001 through 2013 winning a total of 23 races including the 2007 Daytona 500. But he was never able to capture a championship trophy in the No. 29 Chevrolet.
The native of Bakersfield, California moved to Stewart-Haas at the beginning of the 2014 campaign and success came immediately. The new pairing won in only their second race in their time together at Phoenix then went on to earn the series title after claiming the final two contests of the year. Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers have combined to take 37 trips to victory lane.
“Rodney and I are pretty much the same age with very similar backgrounds, as far as racing goes,” Harvick pointed out. “But we’re kind of opposites in that he’s very calm, cool and quiet, and I’m kind of rambunctious and full of excitement. That pairing has brought a lot of respect just because I know his demeanor, he knows my demeanor, and it’s a good balance in the middle.”
Even being ‘kind of rambunctious and full of excitement’, Harvick has grown into somewhat of a statesman within the NASCAR garage area and in the media. He is often sought when an opinion is needed on whatever the issue of the day happens to be. Some rumors have him moving into the broadcast booth once his racing days are over, which he has already done on occasion during Xfinity Series airings.
But the 2023 season has not even begun yet and this driver and team who won two races near the end of the season last year will expect to contend for race wins as well as another championship.
SHR co-owner and former Harvick competitor Tony Stewart hopes his driver is not only successful but enjoys his final campaign.
“I want Kevin to savor every lap this season, to compete like hell and to take it all in,” Stewart declared. “He’s made all of us at Stewart-Haas Racing incredibly proud and we want to make his last season his best season.”
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Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.
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