January 12, 2023
By Holly Cain/ Photo by Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images
NASCAR Wire Service
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Two decades of competition, 60 NASCAR Cup Series wins, the 2014 NASCAR Cup Series championship trophy and a pair of NASCAR Xfinity Series titles to his name, driver Kevin Harvick announced Thursday that he will retire from full-time NASCAR Cup Series competition at the end of the 2023 season, leaving an important and long-lasting impact on the sport that reaches well beyond the driver’s seat.
Harvick’s arrival into NASCAR’s big leagues in 2001 represented a huge career opportunity for the young Californian but came with the emotional and daunting responsibility to follow the late legend Dale Earnhardt at Richard Childress Racing. Then 25-year-old answered that big-time challenge winning his first NASCAR Cup Series race in Earnhardt’s car only three weeks after Earnhardt’s passing and Harvick being tabbed to drive the car (the team’s Chevrolet number changed from #3 to #29).
The effort and success under intense circumstances was a sign of things to come from the Bakersfield, Calif. native whose emotional and clutch performance that debut season came to characterize Harvick’s moxy throughout a decorated career. The 47-year-old has become known as “The Closer” for being at the right place at the right time – arguably both on-track and off-track as a vocal spokesman for competitors.
And now after 23 seasons, the driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford will close the pages on a remarkable, certain Hall of Fame career.
“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,” Harvick said. “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.”
NASCAR President Steve Phelps said of Harvick’s news Thursday, “With championships across several NASCAR 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.
“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 and his wife DeLana have two young children already aspiring to follow in their father’s footsteps. Son Keelan, 10, races karts internationally and daughter Piper, 5, drives a go-kart as well, seemingly eager to participate in the family’s decorated legacy as well.
Stepping away from his own racing schedule will allow Harvick the chance to travel and guide them. He leaves the sport eager to immerse himself in his young family’s priorities.
“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 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.”
Being able to help his children work their way through the ranks is important to Harvick. He grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Bakersfield, Calif. – a town that appreciated the sport of auto racing; although at the time it was a legitimate challenge to make it in the world of big-time stock car competition on the other side of the country.
Harvick was a hard-worker, however, with an uncommon focus and so much natural talent that he quickly found his way into the NASCAR rank-and-file 3,000 miles away.
After starring in NASCAR’s Southwest Tour and winning the 1998 ARCA Menards Series West championship, he raced in both the NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series (then called the Busch Series) before getting the call from Childress to take over Earnhardt’s seat.
In a span of three weeks in February-March 2001, Harvick was hired to drive in the NASCAR Cup Series, got married to his longtime love DeLana and then won his first NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in one of the most emotional and memorable moments in all of NASCAR history.
“Dale’s passing changed our sport forever and it changed my life forever and the direction it took,” Harvick said. “It took me a long time to really get comfortable to really even think about what that happened that day.
“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.”
Harvick won 23 races with Childress from 2001-2013 and two Xfinity Series title in that span (2001 and 2006) before moving to Stewart-Haas Racing where he made an immediate impact. Harvick earned the 2014 NASCAR Cup Series championship in his first year with the NASCAR Hall of Famer Stewart’s team. He would go on to win multiple races in all but one season, highlighted by a single-season career-high nine victories in 2020.
He also has 47 NASCAR Xfinity Series wins and 14 NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series victories – one of the few competitors to earn double-digit wins in all three premier NASCAR series.
“I competed against Kevin for a long time, and I was so happy to finally have him a part of our race team,” Stewart said. “He’s incredibly reliable – consistent and calculated on 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.”
It’s the kind of praise Harvick has heard throughout his career and bountifully so with Thursday’s news.
Rodney Childers has been Harvick’s crew chief their entire tenure at Stewart-Haas Racing – the duo earning 37 NASCAR Cup Series wins, 25 pole positions, 366 top 10s, a pair of Brickyard 400 wins, two Southern 500 trophies and an All-Star race victory. And Childers was understandably poignant upon Harvick’s announcement on Thursday.
“He gave me a chance of a lifetime,” Childers posted of Harvick on social media. “In that chance our relationship has never wavered. It’s been easy, every day. We’ve talked every day for 9 years. Our passion and push to be the best has never changed. And isn’t going to change. We still want to win every single week that we show up. …
“But most of all, we became brothers. Best friends. He taught me to be a better person, smarter, more intelligent. And most of all we learned what good people with the same goals can do if they really want it. Our team is our backbone, and they have believed from day one.
“…. This year is going to be fun, and we are going to race like hell.”
Harvick’s former teammate at Richard Childress Racing, Jeff Burton said, “From teammates to friends, Kevin Harvick and I have been through it all together.
“He scratched his way into this sport & proved himself as a leader and a champion. I’m looking to watching him in his final season & see where this next chapter takes him. Thank you for everything!”
Harvick’s final season begins with the Busch Light Clash at the L.A. Coliseum on Feb. 5 and his team owner Stewart has nothing but high hopes for “The Closer” to close out his championship career.
“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.”