Harvick was a young racer with a bit of an edge when he first raced the Cup Series as the late Dale Earnhardt’s replacement at Richard Childress Racing in 2001. Harvick won in Atlanta just three weeks after Earnhardt’s fatal accident.
Back then, Harvick didn’t much care whether anyone on or off the track liked or admired him. He only wanted to win. “I wanted them to think about me all the time when I was in front of them, when I was behind them, when I walked into a room,” Harvick said with a grin.
Things are different these days. He’s grateful for another championship chance — Harvick’s tied for NASCAR’s lead with Denny Hamlin with 17 trips to the playoffs — and that he’s regarded as statesman of the sport who’s left a positive impact with younger competitors.
“I’m in heaven,” Harvick said. “And I think that’s what’s great about being where I’m at. I think that having those relationships with a lot of the other drivers and having the respect of your competitors in the garage is something that is hard to come by.”
This has not been the season Harvick anticipated when he mapped out his final drive around NASCAR last fall. He and his Stewart-Haas No. 4 team are winless and enter 15th among the 16 racers who’ll chase a title the next few months.
That doesn’t mean Harvick can’t be a threat to make some noise before he’s done.
Hamlin said on his podcast this week that while Harvick’s team hasn’t had the necessary speed to find Victory Lane this year, he and his crew chief Rodney Childers are both capable of surprises.
“That number four team, they’ll just find a way,” Hamlin said with awe.
Harvick hopes so. He’s had 10 top 10s this season, the best a second place at the Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway, where the NASCAR playoffs start Sunday night.
Harvick has three career victories at Darlington, the last coming at the Southern 500 in September 2020.
One of Harvick’s most unique and memorable wins came at the track “Too Tough To Tame” earlier that same year when NASCAR became the first professional sport to return to action after shutting down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Harvick won’t ever forget how amped up he was after crossing the final line, stepping out of his car and hearing silence as fans were not permitted in the stands for health reasons.
“Still one of the most empty and awkward feelings that I’ve ever had at a racetrack,” he said.
Weirder still was a quick celebration in the winner’s circle at the track where they took “three pictures and (me) carrying the trophy back to my motorhome myself,” he said.
Harvick believes his team has come close to success this season and he’s still chasing victory despite his short-timer status on track.
It’s “not the first time we’ve had performance struggles,” he said. “It’s all in how you overcome those things. And here we are again, right?”
Harvick said his planning on the front end of his final season has meant a more enjoyable experience. He’s appreciated the fans’ support and signs celebrating his achievements at many tracks this season.
“You know, I’m in a fortunate position to be able to say, ’Hey, this is it,” he said. “I get to go out on my own terms.”