For Harvick, The ‘Right Moment’ Has Arrived

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, January 13 2023

Kevin Harvick will slide out of his Cup car for good after the 2023 season.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

It will be Happy Trails for “Happy” Harvick at the end of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season.

The 2014 Cup Series champion, Harvick announced Thursday in Kannapolis, N.C., that his 23rd season will be his last in NASCAR’s premier series as he will retire after the Playoffs finale at Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 5.

Also known as “The Closer,” Harvick is tied for ninth on the Cup Series’ all-time wins list with 60 point-paying victories. Harvick will head into the season-opening 65th annual Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway on Feb. 19 only 99 laps short of leading a staggering 16,000 laps in his career _ one of only 11 drivers in the history of the sport to do so.

A 47-year-old native of Bakersfield, Calif., Harvick will make his landmark 800th career Cup start on April 23 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.

“There is absolutely nothing else in the world that I enjoy doing more than going to the racetrack, and I’m genuinely looking forward to this season,” said Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Ford Mustang fielded by Stewart-Haas Racing. “But as I’ve gone through the years, I knew there would come a day where I had to make a decision. When would it be time to step away from the car?

“I’ve sought out people and picked their brains. When I asked them when they knew it was the right time, they said, ‘It’ll just happen, and you’ll realize that’s the right moment. You’ll make a plan and decide when it’s your last year.’

“It’s definitely been hard to understand when that ‘right moment’ is because we’ve been so fortunate to run well. But sometimes there are just other things going on that become more important and, for me, that time has come.”

Harvick’s decision to park his helmet is tied to seeking more family time. While Kevin and wife, DeLana, plan to continue to visit racetracks, Harvick won’t be wearing a fire suit. The couple’s 10-year-old son, Keelan, is an avid karter who races internationally. And 5-year-old daughter, Piper, is already following in the family’s tracks, wheeling a go-kart of her own.

“In the last year, I think I’ve seen Keelan race three times while he’s been in Europe,” Harvick said in an SHR news release. “I go to the go-kart track with Piper and she makes twice as many strides in a day while I’m there than she would in a day when I’m not there. It takes a lot of time to organize the level of racing they’re doing, and to be around that is important to me.”

Indeed, karting is where Harvick’s career began. He was 5-years-old when he started racing in and around Southern California. Twenty years later, after competing and winning on the NASCAR Southwest Tour, earning the 1998 NASCAR Winston West championship, advancing to the NASCAR Truck Series and then to the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Harvick was thrust into Cup.

“With championships across several NASCAR (touring) series and a NASCAR Cup Series win total that ranks in 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. “Beyond his success inside a race car, Kevin is a leader who truly cares about the health and the future of our sport _ a passion that will continue long after his driving days are complete.

“On behalf of the France Family and all of NASCAR, I congratulate Kevin on a remarkable career and wish him the best of luck in his final season.”

Harvick was 25 when he was shoved into the national spotlight and asked to do the impossible _ fill the void left by the racing death of seven-time Cup champion Dale Earnhardt. A crash on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500 took Earnhardt’s life, stunning NASCAR Nation and mainstream America. In the midst of great personal sorrow, team-owner Richard Childress needed to steady his organization. Childress chose Harvick _ who enjoyed a breakout season in 2000 by winning three races for his team in the second-tier Busch Series, known today as the Xfinity Series.

The famed No. 3 on Earnhardt’s black Chevrolet was changed to the No. 29 on a white Chevy for Harvick’s Cup Series debut on Feb. 25 at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham. Harvick started 36th that Sunday but rain washed over the track just 51 laps into the 393-lap race. The event resumed at 11 a.m. on Monday, with Harvick posting a solid 14th-place finish.

Harvick then traveled to Las Vegas on Tuesday, got married on Wednesday and was back in a race car on Friday, competing in both the Xfinity and Cup series events at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. After finishing eighth on Sunday to score his first career top-10 in Cup, Harvick and his RCR crew headed to Atlanta Motor Speedway. On March 11, 2001, an emotional Harvick drove to the first of his 60 Cup wins in just his third career start.

“Dale’s passing changed our sport forever, and it changed my life forever and the direction it took,” said Harvick, who typically has been reluctant to comment on Earnhardt’s death. “It took me a long time to really get comfortable to really even think about things that happened that day.

“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 No. 29 car after Dale’s death. 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.”

In addition to running the remainder of the Cup Series schedule and winning again on July 15 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., Harvick completed the entire Xfinity Series schedule, winning five races and cruising to the championship.

“We just found a way to make it work, and that’s what we did all year long,” said Harvick, who won a second Xfinity Series title in 2006, again running the full Cup and Xfinity schedules.

With his resume embellished, Harvick joined Stewart-Haas Racing in December 2013 after 14 seasons with Childress’ organization in Welcome, N.C. Teamed with crew chief Rodney Childers, Harvick began his SHR tenure with a dominating preseason test at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway and ended with a victory in the season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway that secured his long-coveted Cup Series championship.

Harvick and Childers currently are the longest-tenured active driver/crew chief pairing in Cup, a 10-year partnership that has netted 37 point-paying wins.

“Rodney and I are pretty much the same age with very similar backgrounds, as far as racing goes,” Harvick said. “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.

“We know each of us can do the job, and we believe in that and each other, and a lot of that comes down to conversations, being able to communicate. And when you’re wrong, understanding when you’re wrong and working through that and not have anybody’s feelings get hurt and start pointing fingers. That’s what’s made it work.”

Harvick’s demeanor inside and outside a race car was one of the reasons why Tony Stewart, co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, wanted Kevin in the organization.

“I competed against Kevin for a long time and I was so happy to finally have him a part of our race team,” said Stewart, a three-time Cup champion who co-owns Stewart-Haas Racing with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas. “Kevin is incredibly reliable _ consistent and calculated on the track with a drive to always be better. That’s what you want in a teammate. He knows what he needs to be successful, and his will to win helped elevate our entire company.”

Stewart retired as a NASCAR driver at the end of the 2016 season. His hope for Harvick’s final season is sanguine and straightforward. “I want Kevin to savor every lap this season, to compete like hell and to take it all in,” Stewart said. “He’s made all of us at Stewart-Haas Racing incredibly proud and we want to make his last season his best season.”

Harvick’s last hurrah season will kick-off with the non-point Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum Feb. 4-5 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before the official start of the 2023 campaign with the Daytona 500 on Feb. 19 at DIS.

NASCAR Cup Series regulars Kyle Busch, Austin Cindric and Tyler Reddick are scheduled to test tires for Goodyear Racing at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, beginning on Monday, Jan. 16.

A two-time Cup champion with Joe Gibbs Racing, Busch will be making his on-track Cup debut with Richard Childress Racing during a two-day test that is the first event of the 2023 season. Busch will wheel RCR’s No. 8 Chevrolet Camaro in 2023 after 15 seasons in the No. 18 Toyota Camry for JGR.

Reddick has moved to the No. 45 Toyota at 23Xi Racing after three full Cup seasons with RCR in the No. 8 that Busch has inherited. On Monday evening, Cindric _ the 2022 Cup Rookie of the Year with Team Penske _ and Reddick will select and customize cowboy hats at Maufrais in downtown Austin to their fashion styles.

Busch, a 37-year-old Las Vegas native, will be entering his 21st Cup season with 60 victories and 32 poles. “Rowdy’s” career victory total is tied for ninth in NASCAR history with Kevin Harvick, who announced Thursday he will retire at the end of the 2023 season.

Busch won his first Cup title in 2015 and repeated in 2019. In what became his final campaign with JGR last season, Busch won the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt race _ the highlight of his eight top-five finishes and 17 top-10s. Busch qualified for the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs and finished 13th in the series championship. In two career NASCAR starts at COTA, Kyle has a best finish of 10th in the inaugural 2021 event on the FIA-approved natural-terrain road-course.

Reddick, a 27-year-old Californian, is ready to begins his fourth full Cup season but first with 23Xi Racing in the No. 45 Toyota. Reddick spent the previous three seasons with RCR, including a breakout 2022 campaign. Reddick registered the first three Cup wins of his career _ at Road America, the Indy Grand Prix and Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. Reddick qualified for the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, where he finished 14th in the championship.

Reddick’s 2022 season also featured three poles, 10 top-five finishes and 15 top-10s. In 2021, he earned his first career Cup Series pole at COTA and went on to a ninth-place finish. He followed with a fifth-place effort at COTA last season.

Cindric shocked NASCAR Nation in 2022 by winning the season-opening Daytona 500 to jumpstart his rookie Cup season in the No. 2 Ford Mustang fielded by Team Penske. Cindric became the second-youngest Daytona 500 winner at 23-years-old and ninth driver to earn his first Cup victory in “The Great American Race.” Buoyed by the Daytona 500 win, a pole position, five top-five finishes and nine top-10s, Cindric was named Cup Rookie of the Year. The win also qualified Austin for the NASCAR Playoffs, where he finished 12th in the championship.

Circuit of The Americas will play host on March 24-26 to a NASCAR tripleheader for the third consecutive year. The weekend will include a doubleheader on Saturday, March 25, with the Craftsman Trucks Series XPEL 225 (12:30 p.m. CT) followed by the Xfinity Series 250 (4 p.m.). The weekend will culminate with the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix NASCAR Cup Series race on Sunday, March 26, at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are now on sale at NASCARatCOTA.com. Three-day weekend packages for adults, including the Darius Rucker pre-race concert, start at $99 and just $10 for children 12-and-under.

Austin Hill will return to Richard Childress Racing as driver of the No. 21 Chevrolet Camaro SS in a bid to win the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series championship. The 2022 Xfinity Rookie of the Year, Hill again will be teamed with Andy Street, who is entering his fourth year as an Xfinity crew chief. 

“My rookie season was a success, but I know that our No. 21 team can improve even more with our first year together under our belt,” Hill said in a team release from Welcome, N.C. “I’m very appreciative of the opportunity that Richard and everyone at RCR continues to give me. To not only be back with Andy and my crew guys, but to have our loyal partners return is a huge asset to our program.”

Bennett Family of Companies, Global Industrial, United Rentals and Alsco Uniforms will continue as partners for Hill’s sophomore campaign while long-standing RCR partner, Realtree, also joins the fold. Hill earned Rookie of the Year honors with two victories and a sixth-place finish in the driver point standings. Crew chief Street has overseen three Xfinity wins _ with Myatt Snider in 2021 and Hill in 2022 _ and two playoff berths during the past two seasons.

Hill will look to defend his season-opening victory when the NASCAR Xfinity Series opens at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday, Feb. 18. The green flag will wave at 5 p.m. (ET) with live television coverage on FOX Sports 1. Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90 also will carry the radio broadcast live. 


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, January 13 2023
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