Since Kevin Harvick announced his retirement following the 2023 season, I’ve been reflecting on his career. Harvick has meant so much more to NASCAR than some people realize.
Scroll back to the dark day at Daytona in 2001, when Dale Earnhardt Sr. was killed and the devastation we felt, along with the helplessness. Some fans refer to it as the day NASCAR died. How could we recover? Even fans who didn’t like Earnhardt were stunned.
Harvick was slated to run in the Xfinity Series for Richard Childress Racing when he got the news that he would have the biggest shoes in NASCAR to fill. He was young and yet he was ready for the task at hand. Feelings were still raw and I think he realized all eyes would be on him.
It was a few weeks later at Atlanta Motor Speedway when we all watched as the No. 29 rolled onto pit road. Many fans teared up at not seeing the familiar black No. 3 on the track.
Some of us were surprised to see him running up front, but no one expected what would happen next. Harvick was battling with Jeff Gordon for the win and somewhere along there, something changed, as we started to root for him. It would come down to a photo finish and young Harvick got his first career NASCAR Cup Series win.
As he took his cool-down lap, his hand came out of the window with three fingers held high. Fans held up three fingers as well. The Richard Childress team members were hugging each other and everyone watching had tears running down their faces, including myself. I believe that day Dale was looking down and smiling.
That one simple motion let the fans know that although it wasn’t the same, it was okay to move on. And, at every race that year, on the third lap, fans held up three fingers to pay homage to their fallen hero.
Since then, we’ve watched Harvick grow up, have a family, move to another team and became a Champion. As he gets in his car this year for his final season, he is more than just a driver. Fans will never forget his remarkable talent, or how he came through for us when we needed him most.
Thank you, Kevin Harvick, for all you’ve done for the fans and for NASCAR. We can’t wait to see what’s next.