By JENNA FRYER Associated Press
CHARLOTTE, NC — Kevin Harvick received pretty much the same answer every time he asked another athlete how they decided to retire: Harvick knew 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 heads into his final year as he is tied for ninth on the all-time NASCAR victories list with 60 career victories and 13 straight playoff appearances and is one of the final active drivers from the sport’s days.
“From speaking to all the people I’ve spoken to, it’s always been like, ‘Oh, you’ll know, you’ll know it’s time, you’ll know the right moment,'” Harvick said.
“It’s great being able to come up on your own terms and plan it the way you want, but the most important thing to me is my kids. Being home with them and seeing the impact you have with them when you’re home, being able to be part of that day-to-day process and be Father figure, the time has come.”
People also read…
Harvick will turn his attention towards the end of this season 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.
Harvick 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, his 5-year-old daughter who now wants dad’s attention when she’s in her shopping cart.
“You know, Kellan, he needs that father figure in his life, especially when he’s on the racetrack,” Harvick said. “And then maybe Piper demands to go-kart more than he needs, and having to send her to the track herself 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 while I’m there than she does on a day when I’m not there. So there comes a time when you have to ask yourself ‘what is most important to me, my time and my family’.” right 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 at Daytona 500 that opened the 2001 season turned Harvick’s career upside down.
He was in the renamed No. 29 Chevrolet five days after Earnhardt’s death — less than a week before the 25-year-old’s wedding to Dylana — and this frantic season in the spotlight has been a blur. Harvick won in his third start, less than a month after Earnhardt’s death, splitting his time between a new Cup run 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’s been busy but has become jaded by all the attention, the endless Earnhardt comparisons, and the pressure of replacing a star during a year-long grieving period that has 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. This incident led to the formation of a relationship between Harvick and the late Jim Hunter, a NASCAR executive who helped Harvick navigate the sport’s politics.
But he 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 dispute between Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski, Harvick pushed Keselowski into Gordon and Gordon’s crew to start a brawl.
For several days Harvick refused to discuss his part in the altercation, relenting only when he finally accepted that Kellan’s son needed to hear him accept responsibility – though Harvick had no remorse.
Harvick doesn’t know if his courage developed from those early difficult years after Earnhardt’s death, but he admits an internal pressure to do things his own way and the legacy of his own that really intensified around 2006. Some of Earnhardt’s sponsors began to withdraw from Carr and Harvick now had to stand on his own. and prove its worth.
“We went through tough years going from what Dale liked to what I liked, and through all those fights and conversations, you just put your guard down and get stupid,” Harvick said. “Looking back now, you can see you could have handled things differently, but it was a digging in my butt thinking ‘I need to do this my way now’ and that created some tensions. But I wouldn’t trade anything other than a death.” Dale because all of those things that came in the next five years were part of surviving and being successful and building something and learning what was right and what was wrong.”
His approach led to strained relationships, including a stint with seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson. They both came to North Carolina from California and crashed on Hall of Famer Ron Hornaday Jr.’s couch.
But as Johnson rose to title after titles, and Harvick battled 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’ve had problems, we’ve been great, we’ve had friendship, we’ve been through everything,” Johnson said. “I think there’s a great deal of respect between us. I really admire his path and what he’s overcome. Coming from the West Coast as a springboard, climbing through the ranks, we lost Dale and pushed to the position… There’s a lot of layers there and I respect his work ethic and his dedication and his life.” professional.”
Harvick, who added a second Busch title in 2006, counts the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600, Brickyard 400 and Southern 500 among his crown jewel wins. Harvick 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.
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’s grateful to fix the relationship.
He has forged a strong bond at SHR with co-owner Tony Stewart, crew chief Rodney Childers and his entire No. 4 team. Harvick and Childers are currently the longest active driver crew chief pairing in the Cup Series at 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 Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, followed by the season finale opener at the Daytona 500 on February 19.
Stewart said, “I want Kevin to savor every lap this season, race like hell and take it all in. He made all of us at Stewart-Haas Racing very proud and we want to make his last season his best season.”
Harvick said for sure that he will not compete in the Cup Series after this year but he is not completely done racing. In fact, he already has plans for the late model that he plans to brew 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 anybody,” Harvick said. “We’ll see when the time comes.”