Kevin Harvick at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. (HHP/ Harold Hinson)

One More Round For ‘Happy’ Harvick

A whopping 23 years and 825 races after his first NASCAR Cup Series start in 2001, Kevin Harvick’s final race in NASCAR’s highest division comes at a fitting place — Phoenix Raceway.

As the winningest driver in Phoenix history (nine wins), Harvick will take on the one-mile oval for the scheduled 312 laps before hanging up his helmet and entering the FOX television booth next season. 

Harvick’s track record at Phoenix is second to none. 

Along with nine victories, the 47-year-old has an average finish of 8.6 in 41 starts at the one-mile track. He boasts 30 top-10 finishes in that timespan, including 20 straight that dates back to 2013.

Needless to say, any Harvick fan who wanted to see their driver do well were sure to line up at the ticket booths in Phoenix. 

He’s been that good. 

As a California native growing up on the West Coast, the allure of Phoenix loomed large at the beginning of his career. 

Kevin Harvick burns it down in 2018 at Phoenix Raceway. (Ford Performance Photo)

“That was really the facility that you wanted to win at the most because we always had our biggest Southwest Tour races there,” Harvick recalled. “And in the Winston West Series, they actually had provisionals that would get you into the Cup Series race at that particular time, so you had a lot of Winston West guys who would go over and try to participate in the Cup race.”

Ironically, Harvick’s relationship with the Arizona-based race track wasn’t smooth sailing at first. 

“I think I wrecked in ’94 and ’95, in ’96 we didn’t race, ’97 we did OK, ’98 was OK, and we always just kind of did OK with everything that we had,” Harvick said.

Though it eventually clicked for Harvick at the track supplanted in the Valley of the Sun. All it took was experience. 

“We’ve probably dominated Phoenix because we spent so much time there learning and tearing stuff up and doing the things you’re not supposed to do at the race track,” Harvick said. “But flat tracks, in general, have always been pretty good for us, just because of the fact that I grew up on so many flat tracks. I’ve spent a lot of time at Phoenix. 

“I know the configuration has changed over the years, but it’s a big part of why the flat-track results have been so good throughout the years because it’s a race track that I spent a lot of time on growing up in the early part of my career. It’s a racetrack that we put a lot of emphasis on throughout the years because of the fact that we felt like some of our best race tracks were the flat tracks, and Phoenix was one of those,” Harvick continued. 

“And for me, it was always kind of a sense of pride to go there and run well because I know I have a lot of fans and friends that come to that race track. It’s always fun to tell war stories about Phoenix and the things that you did wrong after you’ve won a race in modern time.”

Saying Goodbye

Under a new set of circumstances, Harvick is soaking up what he describes as a rare moment where he’s felt like he’s “made it” in the Cup Series after 23 seasons of competition.  

“That’s really one of the things I’m most proud of. Somebody asked me when did I ever feel like I’ve made it,” Harvick began. “This is really the only time that I’ve ever felt like I’ve made it because I got to choose how I ended it. I know that that’s rare, and as you look at it, I got to plan my last year and say this was it, and then we were still competitive, and then we went out and did what we were supposed to do. 

“It’s really the first time I felt comfortable saying that I’ve made it.”

That comfort in going out his way is overflowing into his perspective at the track. 

Over the years, Harvick’s been known to be a fierce competitor who won’t back down from a challenge. He’s spoken his mind plenty of times through the years and let plenty of drivers know it. 

This season, however, has been a shift in mindset for Harvick.

Harvick’s special No. 29 Ford at North Wilkesboro Speedway. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

A more subdued and relaxed Harvick has been on display as he cherishes the moment at hand. 

“For me, going into this year knowing that you could just let your guard down, to where it didn’t matter if somebody saw you having fun, it didn’t matter if somebody saw you hugging your daughter, it didn’t matter if somebody saw you giving your son a high-five,” Harvick reflected. 

“It’s been fun to go out and compete and not be this really uptight, ‘I’m going to knock you out’ type of personality and instead be able to just let that guard down and go out and race hard and not have to worry about the show as much as you have in the past.”

While this season hasn’t been a banner year for the 2014 Cup Series champion, there have been plenty of memorable moments.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver reached a milestone of 800 Cup Series starts, which makes him one of only 10 drivers to reach that mark. 

During NASCAR’s hallowed return to North Wilkesboro Speedway for the All-Star Race in May, Harvick wheeled the iconic No. 29 one last time. The paint scheme he ran was nearly identical to the car he won his first Cup Series race with at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 2001 for Richard Childress Racing.

A nod to his Cup Series title in 2014 was seen on the No. 4 three weeks ago with the famed Budweiser brand covering his Ford Mustang, replicating his championship-winning paint scheme. 

Countless signs and tributes have been staples during the first 35 races of the season.

While nothing has been surprising during his farewell tour, Harvick has enjoyed the ride.

“The surprise to me has been just how much I’ve actually enjoyed it,” Harvick admitted. “Knowing that you announced your retirement before the season started, and then worked through the season and were competitive, and now here we are at the end of the season, and I know how excited I am for everything that I have going on in the future.”

Harvick’s legacy is more than worthy of being a sure-fire first ballot Hall of Famer. With his storied career coming to a close, it’s been a special final 10 months of NASCAR racing that Harvick and his family have cherished. 

“This year, whether it’s a celebration of the success that you’ve had at a race track, or hearing the fans’ stories, or bringing your kids to the race track and letting them see the #4EVER signs on the turn-four walls, or the banners and murals and different things that have been at each particular race track, it’s been fun for us as a family,” Harvick concluded.