In the midst of this year’s NASCAR Cup Series championship battle that was won by Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick displayed a strong, competitive performance before finishing in seventh place in the final start of his illustrious NASCAR career during the season-finale NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday, November 5.
The 2014 Cup Series champion from Bakersfield, California, rolled off the starting grid for the final time in his career in third place, but quickly made his presence at the front known as he navigated his No. 4 Busch Light Harvick Ford Mustang into the runner-up spot, where he closely trailed title contender William Byron after the first stage period. Then after restarting on the front row during the start of the second stage period on Lap 68, Harvick led the first time on Lap 93 after muscling his way past Byron. He would then lead the next 23 laps until he was overtaken by Ross Chastain during the start of another restart period on Lap 116.
Finishing in third place at the conclusion of the second stage period and restarting in the top 10 at the start of the final stage period with 119 laps remaining, Harvick would spend the remainder of the event running in the top 10 on the track before claiming his final checkered flag in seventh place, which marked his 14th top-10 result of the 2023 Cup Series season and his first top-10 result since finishing sixth at Texas Motor Speedway in September.
Despite concluding his final Cup season winless, Harvick tallied a total of one stage victory, six top-five results, 14 top-10 results, 157 laps led and an average-finishing result of 14.7 throughout the 36-race schedule, which were enough for him to end up in 13th place in the final standings with 2,241 points.
Amid the strong result, Harvick, who received a standing ovation and shared a photo with his family, team and every Cup Series competitor on the field prior to the event before sharing tears, laughs and a toast with his crew, teammates and friends at the event’s conclusion, took a moment to reflect on the illustrious and eventful journey he experienced throughout his 23-year career as a competitor in NASCAR’s premier series that started in the early stages of the 2001 season when he took over the ride that was piloted by the late seven-time Cup Series champion Dale Earnhardt.
“It’s been an emotional roller coaster, for sure,” Harvick said on NBC. “I think as you look at this last week, this really means a lot to me just because I love driving the race car, I love being around the people more. I love our sport. It’s giving our family so much through the years to be thankful for and proud of. I can’t wait to be able to walk in that tunnel with my head up and look around and just look at all the really cool things that are NASCAR racing in every venue that we go to with great fans and people all over the place. I think for me for the last 23 years in Cup, you walk into that tunnel laser just focused on how do you make your car go faster and communicate with your team the best that you car. Sometimes you don’t see everything that’s around you. I’m fortunate to be able to kind of close this. I opened this chapter unexpectedly in 2001, and closed it in 2023 how we wanted to. That was to be competitive. The thing that means the most is having the respect of the drivers and competitors and the crew chiefs, my team, organization, all the past people that I worked for or worked with. There’s been so many great stories and things that have happened over this year, but especially this week.”
Scoring his first Cup Series career victory in his third series start at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March 2001 after edging four-time champion Jeff Gordon by 0.006 seconds, Harvick’s career blossomed as he would achieve 22 additional victories from 2001 to 2013 while driving for Richard Childress Racing. Among his early accomplishments included winning the 2001 Rookie-of-the-Year title, the 2003 Brickyard 400, five race victories in 2006, winning the 2007 Daytona 500 after edging Hall of Famer Mark Martin by 0.020 seconds, the 2007 All-Star Race, three Daytona Shootout victories in 2009, 2010 and 2013, two Coca-Cola 600 victories in 2011 and 2013 and finishing third place in the final standings in 2010, 2011 and 2013.
Then in 2014, a new chapter presented itself for Harvick, who departed Richard Childress Racing to join forces with Stewart-Haas Racing to pilot the No. 4 entry for his longtime friend Tony Stewart and owner Gene Haas while Rodney Childers served as his crew chief. The move resulted in the Californian achieving a career year in NASCAR as he would win his first Cup Series championship in a season where he notched five victories, including the season-finale event at Homestead-Miami Speedway and during the current Playoff’s elimination-style format as Harvick transferred through all three rounds to contend for the title in the finale.
Harvick would record an additional 32 victories from 2015 to 2022 as a driver for Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 4 entry, which were enough for him to tally 60 career wins in NASCAR’s premier series as he currently sits in 10th place on NASCAR’s all-time wins list. To coincide with his Cup title in 2014, Harvick’s top achievements as an SHR competitor include winning the Southern 500 in 2014 and 2020, notching a career-high nine victories in 2020, winning the 2018 All-Star Race and adding two consecutive Brickyard 400 victories to his resume in 2019 and 2020. His final Cup victory occurred at Richmond Raceway in August 2022. Since the start of the Playoffs in 2004, Harvick made 17 appearances in the Playoffs, including this season, and five in the Championship 4 round.
Overall, Harvick concludes his 23-year career as a Cup Series competitor with a total of 60 victories, 31 poles, 251 top-five results, 444 top-10 results, 16,058 laps led and an average-finishing result of 12.8 through 826 career starts. Through 2023, Harvick has also achieved 47 Xfinity Series career victories and two championships through 349 series’ starts and 14 Craftsman Truck Series starts through 124 series’ starts.
Named one of NASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers earlier this season, Harvick departs from full-time NASCAR competition with hopes that he will be recognized for giving it his all both on and off the track since his first laps to his final ride. He also took the moment to applaud and express his gratitude for the memories he cherished and shared with his fellow competitors and current/former team owners, crew chiefs and crew members.
“I think for me, we gave it all we had, right?” Harvick added. “Every lap, every week in some way, shape or form, we touched every aspect of this race car. I care about how everything looks, whether it’s the color of the car, the stickers. I sit in the sponsorship meetings, the marketing meetings, the team meetings, and there’s just not any piece of it that I don’t’ feel like we are a part of in some way, shape or form. We built a team here at Stewart-Haas Racing. We built a team at [Kevin Harvick Inc.]. We built a management company. We built so many things from the bottom up. I think the hard work is something that people recognize, but as you guys have seen through the week, I’m a pretty emotional person. I’ve just done a really good job of hiding that through the years, to make you think I’m super tough, but I’m really not. I love people, I care about people and it’s been a lot of fun to get to know a lot of the drivers, crew chiefs, just people in NASCAR racing and it’s just been so much fun to tell a story about the last 30 years of my career this year. I think everybody’s done a great job and I can’t thank them enough.”
With his full-time racing career in NASCAR concluded, Harvick is set to join the FOX Sports broadcast booth to call the Cup Series action alongside Mike Joy, Stewart and Bowyer. Meanwhile, Harvick’s No. 4 entry will be taken over by Josh Berry, who graduates to the Cup circuit following a two-year run in the Xfinity Series with JR Motorsports and will contend for the 2024 Cup Series’ Rookie-of-the-Year title, as Rodney Childers will continue to work as the crew chief for the team.
The NASCAR Cup Series competitors and teams enter an off-season period before returning to action at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the Busch Light Clash on February 4, 2024, with the event’s broadcast time to occur at 8 p.m. ET on FOX. This event will be followed by the 66th annual running of the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway, which will occur on February 18, 2024, and officially commence a new season of Cup Series competition. The Daytona 500’s broadcast time is slated to occur at 2:30 p.m. ET on FOX.