Kevin Harvick is racing the final NASCAR season in 2023

Kevin Harvick He received roughly the same answer every time he asked other athletes how they decided to retire: Harvick would know it was time.

The driver was catapulted onto the world stage when he was named the replacement for Dale Earnhardt just days after Earnhardt’s fatal 2001 crash would make this his 23rd season and his last in NASCAR. The 2014 Cup champ is heading into his final year as he is tied for ninth on the NASCAR career victories list with 60 race victories, has a 13-game playoff streak and is one of the final active drivers from the sport’s days.

Harvick told the Associated Press before participating Thursday announcement. “Being home with them and seeing the impact you have with them when you’re home, being able to be part of that daily process and be a father figure, it’s time.”

Harvick will turn his attention to Kevin Harvick Inc. , his growing management business, fun time spent in the TV booth, some bucket list racing, and most importantly, his young racing family.

He and his wife, Dilana, were adamant about not thrilling the racers, but the slow early days of the COVID-19 pandemic gave father and son plenty of free time, and 10-year-old Kellan now goes karting internationally. The young rider spent part of the 2022 race in Italy — sometimes traveling abroad without a parent — and Harvick’s numbers saw his son race just three times last year.

Then there’s Piper, their 5-year-old daughter who now wants daddy’s attention when she’s in her shopping cart.

“You know, Kellan, he needs a father figure in his life, especially when he’s going racing,” Harvick told the AP. And then Piper probably asks to go to the go-kart track more than he does, and having to send her to the track alone really frustrates me.

“You don’t want her not to have the opportunity to learn like he did. She takes twice as many steps in a day when I’m there than she does on a day I’m not there. So there’s only a time when you have to ask yourself, ‘What’s most important to you?'” me, my time, and my family now?”

Harvick was already beating the NASCAR odds to break into the sport based south of Bakersfield, California, when Richard Childress Racing said he would be a Cup rookie alongside seven-time champion Earnhardt in 2002. But when Earnhardt was killed on the last lap of the in The season-opening Daytona 500 in 2001 turned Harvick’s career upside down.

He was in the brand’s No. 29 Chevrolet five days after Earnhardt’s death — less than a week before the 25-year-old’s wedding to Dillana — and this frantic season in the spotlight has been a blur. Harvick won in his third start while splitting time between his new Cup ride and the Busch Series championship he was chasing.

Harvick competed in 69 NASCAR Nationals this season with a pair of Cup victories and five wins on his way to the Busch title. He was busy but became jaded by all the attention, the endless Earnhardt comparisons and the pressure of replacing a star during a year-long grieving period that engulfed NASCAR.

Perhaps this is what made Harvick so difficult.

He often fought with his rivals early in his career and was suspended for Cup racing in 2002 due to his actions in the Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway the day before. That incident formed a relationship between Harvick and Jim Hunter, an executive at NASCAR who helped him navigate the sport’s politics.

But Harvick never relented, not even after having children.

After a 2014 playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway where Harvick was a spectator in a pit road row between Jeff Gordon and Brad KeselowskiHarvick Keselowski shoved Gordon and Gordon’s crew, leading to a melee.

For several days Harvick refused to discuss his role in the altercation, only relenting when he finally accepted that Kellan needed to hear him accept responsibility – though Harvick had no remorse.

He doesn’t know if his courage developed from those early difficult years after Earnhardt’s death, but Harvick acknowledged an inner pressure to do things his own way and the legacy of his own legacy that really intensified around 2006. Some of Earnhardt’s sponsors started pulling out of the car, and Harvick had to stand on his own. and prove its worth.

“We had a tough few years going from what Dale liked to what I loved, and through all those fights and conversations I just laid guard and became an idiot,” Harvick told the AP. “Looking back now, you can see you could have approached things differently, but it was a dig in my butt thinking, ‘I want to do this my way now,’ and that caused some tension. But I wouldn’t trade anything.” Other than Dale dying because all of those things that happened in the next five years were part of surviving and being successful and building something and learning what was right and wrong.”

His approach led to strained relationships, including a seven-time stint with the NASCAR champion Jimmy Johnson. They both came to North Carolina from California, and both crashed on Hall of Famer Ron Hornaday Jr.’s couch.

But as Johnson rose to title after titles and Harvick fought through his lean years with RCR, the relationship broke and Harvick pushed Johnson in the chest after a 2015 playoff race when Johnson tried to talk him out of an on-track accident.

“We had issues, we were great, we had friendship, we’ve all been through it,” Johnson told the AP. “I think there’s a great deal of respect between us. I really admire his trajectory and what he’s overcome. Coming from the West Coast as a go-getter, climbing the ranks, we’re losing Dale as he progresses to this position… There’s a lot of layers there, and I respect his work ethic, his dedication and his life.” professional.”

Harvick, who added his second Busch title in 2006, counts the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600, Brickyard 400 and Southern 500 among his crown jewel wins. He also won his first NASCAR race again during the pandemic, held in front of empty stands at Darlington Raceway in May 2020, when NASCAR became the first major sport to return to competition.

“With championships across multiple NASCAR series and a NASCAR Cup Series win total that ranks within the top 10, Kevin Harvick’s legacy as one of the all-time great drivers is secure,” NASCAR President Steve Phelps said in a statement. “In addition to his success inside a race car, Kevin is a leader who genuinely cares about the health and future of our sport – a passion that will continue long after his driving days are over.”

Harvick told the AP that his handling of the 2013 parting with Richard Childress — in the works for an entire year before moving on to Stuart Haase in 2014 — is the biggest regret of his career, and he said he’s grateful the relationship was. repaired.

Harvick has built a strong relationship at SHR with co-owner Tony Stewart, crew chief Rodney Childers and his entire No. 4 team. Harvick and Childers are the longest driver-crew pairing in the Cup Series in 10 years. Their 37 double-winners last season broke a 65-race winning streak—the second longest of Harvick’s career.

It was Stewart, a three-time Trophy champion and Hall of Famer, who encouraged Harvick to announce early that he was retiring and enjoying his senior year. Stewart avoided all send-offs and recognitions in his final season, something Harvick told the Associated Press Stewart now regrets.

Harvick opens the season early next month with the Clash Showcase at the Coliseum in Los Angeles, followed by the season finale opener at the Daytona 500 on February 19.

“I want Kevin to savor every lap this season, to compete like hell and get the most out of everything,” said Stewart. “He made all of us at Stewart-Haas Racing incredibly proud, and we want to make his last season his best season.”

Harvick has said for certain that he will not be racing in the Cup Series after this year, but he has also said that he is not completely done racing. He already has plans for the late model he plans to prepare for himself the day Kellan is old enough to race against his father.

“He’s a cocky 10-year-old now who thinks he can beat anyone,” Harvick told the Associated Press. “We’ll see when the time comes.”

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