MOORESVILLE, N.C. — Kevin Harvick was a fresh face on the NASCAR scene when he strolled into the SPEED SPORT office during the late 1990s.
“The California Kid” made a name for himself racing on the West Coast with the NASCAR Southwest Tour and the NASCAR West division. He was competing in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series at the time and his star was clearly on the rise.
He was shy, soft-spoken and confident. With a contract in hand to advance to the NASCAR Xfinity Series with Richard Childress Racing, his future was indeed bright.
However, success and national recognition came sooner than anyone may have thought and a long, successful career ensued.
Still, it seems unfathomable that Harvick is now the elder statesman of the NASCAR Cup Series and at the age of 47, is preparing to retire at the end of the season.
Considering the way Harvick burst onto the NASCAR Cup Series scene in 2001, there is also plenty of irony regarding his plans to step away from full-time NASCAR racing.
Harvick had just begun his second season in the Xfinity Series when seven-time Cup Series champion Dale Earnhardt was killed in a crash on the final lap of the Daytona 500 at Daytona Int’l Speedway. Earnhardt was 50 years old and beginning his 27th Cup Series season.
Already driving for Richard Childress Racing in the Xfinity Series, Harvick was chosen to replace the irreplaceable beginning the next weekend at Rockingham (N.C.) Speedway. Harvick drove the No. 29 Chevrolet, with the car renumbered from the familiar No. 3 Earnhardt had wheeled for decades.
Despite the pressure of replacing a legend, Harvick proved he was the man for the job in only his second start, as he outran Jeff Gordon in a thrilling late-race battle to win his first Cup Series race two weeks later at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Racing in both the Cup and Xfinity Series that year, Harvick won the Xfinity Series title.
The Bakersfield, Calif., native was on his way.
Harvick remained with RCR for 13 seasons in the Cup Series and counted the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400 among his 23 victories.
Moving to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014, Harvick won the Cup Series title in his first season with the organization, claiming five victories aboard the No. 4 machine.
Harvick’s winningest season came in 2020 when he won nine times.
As he enters his 23rd Cup Series campaign, he’s won 60 races in the series, which ties him for ninth on the all-time list of Cup Series winners.
He’s also won 47 Xfinity Series races and 14 Camping World Truck Series events.
And off the track, he’s transitioned from being the quiet kid to the most outspoken driver in the series, one who is looked up to by his younger competitors and well-respected for his opinions on safety and other racing-related topics.
Now, as he begins his final season of Cup Series competition, Harvick is bringing things full circle.
Harvick was 5 years old when he started racing go-karts in California.
Now, both of his children are racing go-karts. Keelan, 10, is already racing regularly, including in Europe, while Harvick’s daughter, Piper, is 5 and just beginning down the racing path.
“With him (Keelan), gosh he races more than I do. That’s just the way that kids’ sports are now, and racing is no different,” Harvick said when announcing his pending retirement. “When you look at the time that it takes to plan and be in the right position for him, and he’s traveling internationally racing in Europe, there’s a lot that goes into it.
“I want Piper to have that same opportunity of whatever she does, to have the time to be able to explore, plan, and put her in the best position to be successful at whatever she does.”
Harvick looks forward to spending more time with his wife, DeLana, and helping the kids learn the tricks of the racing trade.
“In the last year, I think I’ve seen Keelan race three times while he’s been in Europe,” Harvick said. “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.”