If Kevin Harvick had introduced his retirement on Jan. 12, 2002 as a substitute of Jan. 12, 2023, he would have already had a lots strong-enough case for the NASCAR Corridor of Fame. Fortunately, he did not then. He did now, dropping the information by way of social media on Thursday morning that the 2023 NASCAR Cup Sequence season shall be his final as a full-time racer.
In that video, the once-fresh-faced child from Bakersfield, California, who as soon as shouldered a load that nobody ought to ever be requested to hold, was now a weathered-eyed grown man. And as he spoke the phrases that introduced his retirement plans, he seemed like somebody who was excited to lastly set that weight down. In any case these years of chippiness, sensible remarks and sarcasm, punctuated by winks, laughs and pearls of downright knowledge, the racer who was way back mockingly nicknamed Blissful seemed and sounded, nicely, completely happy.
All I might consider was a quote from the late Bobby Hamilton. It was at Martinsville in 2001, Harvick’s thirtieth Cup Sequence begin. He’d had a run-in with Hamilton, then a 12-year collection veteran, that ended his day penalized by NASCAR. The rookie shrugged it off on nationwide TV. Hamilton responded, “The issue you’ve gotten right here is you’ve gotten a younger child with loads of expertise making an attempt to fill Dale Earnhardt‘s footwear and thinks he’s Dale Earnhardt, and he would not make a scab on Dale Earnhardt’s butt proper now. He simply wants a little bit extra time.”
He acquired that. Greater than twenty years of it. Harvick used that phrase, “time,” lots in the course of the media rounds that adopted his announcement.
— Kevin Harvick (@KevinHarvick) January 12, 2023
“From a private aspect, I am simply out of time. I want issues to do the place I’ve extra choices with my youngsters,” he stated to Sirius XM’s NASCAR channel shortly after the announcement. He spoke of daughter Piper, 5, and son Keelan, 9, who now races karts. He expressed remorse that he hadn’t been in a position to attend his son’s races as a lot as he would have preferred final 12 months. “I’ve at all times instructed you that when it began affecting my youngsters, it was most likely going to be the deciding issue, and ultimately that is actually what the deciding issue was.”
He turned 47 final month, a milestone that was celebrated one month after the shut of his twenty second season racing at NASCAR’s highest degree and his thirteenth with a number of race wins. His 60 victories are tied for tenth on the all-time wins listing. Amongst these triumphs are three Brickyard 400s, two Coca-Cola 600s, a pair of Southern 500s, a NASCAR All-Star Race victory and one of many gutsiest last-lap dashes ever seen within the Daytona 500. Do your self a favor and enter an internet seek for “Kevin Harvick’s 2007 Daytona 500 Final Lap On-Board Digicam.”
He gained the Cup Sequence title in 2014, to go along with a pair of Busch (now Xfinity) Sequence championships, a NASCAR Winston West title and even an IROC championship. He ranks tenth all-time in Cup Sequence top-five finishes (245), fifth all-time in top-10s (430) and eleventh all-time in laps led (15,901). He has completed within the high 5 within the last season championship standings a shocking 13 occasions, together with eight of the previous ten years.
However not even all of these years and all of these wins and even that avalanche of trophies and statistics have been sufficient to overshadow what he did in 2001. Definitely not for these of us who witnessed it firsthand.
On the morning of Feb. 18, 2001, the day of the Daytona 500, he was identified solely because the California late-model racer who had been handpicked by Richard Childress to maybe someday slide into one in every of RCR’s two Cup Sequence Chevrolets. However first, he was to proceed to show himself within the Busch Sequence, the place he’d simply gained three races in his first 12 months with Childress. He was engaged to be married to DeLana Linville, the daughter of a North Carolina brief monitor legend. The stage was set for a really typical slow-burn ladder climb with the top objective of maybe turning into teammate to Earnhardt, the most important star within the sport.
By the point the solar had set that night time, although, Earnhardt was lifeless. 5 days later, in Rockingham, North Carolina, Harvick was behind the wheel of the Monte Carlo which were ready for The Intimidator. It was painted white as a substitute of black and the quantity on the door was 29 as a substitute of three. For the rest of that season, Harvick was requested to do the unimaginable. Not solely was he anticipated to drive NASCAR’s most well-known journey, he was to take action whereas being thrust into the roles of grief counselor and legacy defender.
He was 25.
By some means, he gained his third race in that automotive, a dramatic 0.006-second photograph end over Earnhardt’s final nice rival, Jeff Gordon. The picture of his pit crew — Earnhardt’s pit crew — weeping as he did a reverse victory lap with three fingers prolonged into the air, will at all times be one of many single most memorable moments within the 75-year historical past of NASCAR.
He backed that up with a second victory at brand-new Chicagoland Speedway that summer season. He completed the season ranked ninth within the standings and incomes Rookie of the Yr honors. All whereas successful 5 races and a championship in his Busch Sequence automotive. All of the whereas, he feuded with veterans and banged doorways together with his kids. See: 2002 Bristol, coming off the hood of Greg Biffle‘s automotive like Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka to land on Biffle’s head.
On the time, so many people agreed with Hamilton. The child was making an attempt too onerous to be Intimidator II, proper? The pressure of all of it had frayed his nerves and shredded his widespread sense, proper? There was no manner he might hold that type of depth turned as much as 11 with out burning out over the course of a profession, proper?
We have been fallacious, on all accounts. Even Hamilton corrected himself years later, laughing as he stated, “This appears to have labored out for him fairly nicely, hasn’t it?”
Harvick himself spent years dodging questions and conversations about that first 12 months. You could not blame him for that. Each racer needs to be remembered for what they did, not what they have been compelled to do within the shadow of those that got here earlier than. It’s why he in the end left Childress to drive for a fellow chip-on-his-shoulder kindred spirit in Tony Stewart, the place Harvick lastly gained that elusive championship.
Each racer additionally needs to be remembered for his or her legacy. For Harvick, that legacy is about all of these victories, however it is usually concerning the child who grew into the position of a pacesetter amongst his friends. All the time outspoken, at all times pointed, and searching again, just about at all times appropriate. When he hangs up his helmet in November at Phoenix Raceway, the place he has essentially the most wins all time with 9, he’ll develop into one in every of so many amongst his technology to have retired lately. Lastly ceding the storage to the kids whom he not so way back had a confrontation with over their failure to have actually earned the eye they have been receiving as superstars of the game.
The twist being that years in the past he began a sports activities administration enterprise to signify athletes all around the sports activities world, however particularly kids with potential. Now he’ll go to work hoping that his racing-obsessed son may someday be a kind of athletes.
However ultimately, it doesn’t matter what he has executed and it doesn’t matter what he may do sooner or later, we must always all take this 12 months, Harvick’s last 12 months, and thank him for that one 12 months so way back. When that child shouldered a lot on all of our behalf.