After over two decades in the Cup Series, Kevin Harvick will retire after the 2023 season. Let’s look at his most memorable moments so far.
On February 19th, the NASCAR Cup Series will open another season at the Daytona 500. In addition to being the 75th season of NASCAR, 2023 will also be the last for NASCAR legend Kevin Harvick.
His career resume speaks for itself. Across 22 full-time seasons spent between Richard Childress Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing, Harvick has 60 wins, which is 10th all-time in NASCAR history. Included in these wins are three Brickyard 400s, two Coke 600s, two Southern 500s, and one Daytona 500. And, of course, his 2014 Cup Series championship.
Harvick also won the 2001 and 2006 Xfinity Series championships. His 47 wins in NASCAR’s second-tier division rank third all-time behind only Kyle Busch and Mark Martin.
In addition to his on-track success, Harvick became known for his brash personality off the track. With hundreds of memorable quotes and a number of NASCAR’s best fights, Harvick has always been one of the most entertaining drivers in the garage. Although his style often rubbed some the wrong way, nobody can deny Harvick’s talent and the excitement he brought to NASCAR.
With all his success on the track and all of his theatrics off of it, Harvick left an indelible mark on the sport of NASCAR. Here are Harvick’s top five moments of his career.
#5: Kevin Harvick’s Phoenix Domination
Very few drivers have as much success at a single track as Harvick does at Phoenix Raceway. In 38 starts, Harvick has an average finish of 8.8, the best amongst active drivers. He also has a record nine wins at the track and an unfathomable 23% winning percentage.
In 2022, Harvick broke Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt’s record for most consecutive top tens on a single track. His fifth-place finish at the Championship Race in November marked his nineteenth straight finish inside the top ten at Phoenix. He has not finished outside the top ten at Phoenix since 2013.
Of his nine wins at the track, Harvick’s most memorable occurred in 2014. In the second-to-last race of the year, Harvick needed a win to make it to the Championship 4. He rose to the occasion, leading 264 laps to earn the victory. One week later, Harvick won his first championship at Homestead-Miami. Without his dominance at Phoenix, Harvick may never have won a title and his resume would be incomplete.
Michigan was another track Harvick thrived at during his career and deserves an honorable mention. Over 42 starts, Harvick has recorded six wins in the Irish Hills of Michigan. He has also won five of the last seven races at MIS, including the last event in 2022.
Harvick and Phoenix went together like peanut butter and jelly during his two decades in NASCAR. It would be impossible to not think about his success at the track when remembering Harvick’s illustrious career.
Despite being nicknamed “Happy,” Harvick often had run-ins with several drivers on and off the track. With so many fights to choose from, it is impossible to pick one to include on this list.
During the early years of his career, Harvick choked Greg Biffle after an on-track incident. Shortly thereafter, he then hopped onto Ricky Rudd’s roof to choke him as well. Each of these incidents were in response to Harvick being on the receiving end of some aggressive racing. Over the next few years, Harvick got into shoving matches with Carl Edwards, Joey Logano, Juan Pablo Montoya, Ty Dillon, Jimmie Johnson, and Brad Keselowski.
Harvick vs. Busch
Perhaps his most memorable altercation occurred in 2011 when Harvick battled with another hot-tempered NASCAR driver in Kyle Busch. The two exchanged blows during the Southern 500, resulting in Harvick getting out of his car post-race to talk with Busch. With Harvick in his window yelling at him, Busch decided to turn Harvick’s car into the wall and drive away. Later that season, the two had another, slightly less intense run-in at Pocono. The incidents, along with the two’s comments to the media, forced NASCAR to step in and speak with both drivers to squash the beef.
A Fire Reborn
Although most of his altercations happened in the first half of his career, Harvick reminded fans of his fire by going after Chase Elliott in 2021. After the two made contact racing for the lead, Elliott cut a tire and was forced to pit. Despite being laps down, an infuriated Elliott sped in front of Harvick and slowed down. This impeded Harvick’s progress and allowed Kyle Larson to take the lead.
After Larson won the race, Harvick got in Elliott’s face and yelled at him. He then smashed his helmet on the roof of his car before telling NBC that Elliott’s move was “chicken s**t” and that he was ready to rip somebody’s head off. If fans forgot about Harvick’s aggression, they sure were reminded about it after Bristol.
Aggressive, but a mentor
As entertaining and memorable as each of these fights were, it is impressive how Harvick managed to earn the respect of nearly everyone in the garage. Several drivers have been outspoken on how Harvick has helped them in their careers and been a leader for them. Even Kyle Busch has stated how Harvick helped him get his Truck Series team started and has been a great source of advice for him through the years.
“Happy” Harvick may have made some enemies along the way. Yet, his leadership in the garage will be remembered just as much as him choking Greg Biffle or punching Jimmie Johnson.
#3: 2007 Daytona 500
Harvick’s Daytona 500 victory still stands as one of the best moments in the history of the Great American Race. Although it happened over a decade ago, Harvick beating Mark Martin to the finish line for the win is still shown in nearly every NASCAR advertisement. At the time, Harvick’s 0.020-second margin of victory was the closest in Daytona 500 history. It has since been passed by Denny Hamlin in 2016 (0.010) and 2020 (0.014).
Holding the title for one of the closest wins in the history of NASCAR’s biggest race is memorable enough, but that is not even the most impressive part of Harvick’s Daytona win. With about 20 laps to go, Harvick was buried in 26th. However, he dodged a few wrecks and methodically moved his way through the field. Still, he was only able to reach 5th place as Martin led the field down the backstretch for the final time. A huge push from Matt Kenseth got Harvick side-by-side with Martin, then Harvick side-drafted Martin for the win.
It is easy to forget now, but Harvick was known exclusively for being the bad boy of NASCAR before this win. While he had success and won races prior to 2007, his antics off the track often overshadowed his talent. Winning on NASCAR’s biggest stage, however, legitimized Harvick as one of the most talented drivers in the garage. It also was the dawn of “The Closer,” a nickname Harvick earned for his ability to come out of nowhere and win races in the clutch.
#2: 2001 Cracker Barrel Old Country Store 500
Following Dale Earnhardt’s death at the 2001 Daytona 500, Harvick was given the impossible task of replacing the NASCAR legend for Richard Childress Racing. Earnhardt’s iconic black #3 was rebranded to a white #29 for Harvick. However, it was still the same team that Earnhardt had raced with for decades.
Most drivers in Harvick’s position likely would have collapsed under the pressure. What did Harvick do? He won in dramatic fashion at Atlanta in just his third start.
Similar to his triumph at Daytona in 2007, his Atlanta victory was one of the closest races in NASCAR history. With Jeff Gordon closing in on him in the final laps, Harvick was able to side-draft and hold him off for the win. Harvick won by 0.006 seconds, the sixth-closest margin of victory in the history of the sport.
The post-race celebration was just as memorable as the win itself. With crew members crying and fans raising Earnhardt flags, Harvick drove around the track making the #3 with his hands. The clip of the win and ensuing celebration are still shown in promotional material for nearly every Atlanta race.
For a grieving sport and fanbase, Harvick gave them a much-needed sense of relief and happiness. If it were not for the win at Atlanta, NASCAR may have not been able to move forward as well as it did following Earnhardt’s death.
#1: 2014 Cup Series Championship at Homestead-Miami
It is hard not to pick his title-sealing win at Homestead in 2014 for the top of this list. Championships define careers and Harvick’s may not look as illustrious if he had not become a NASCAR champion.
In a back-and-forth contest, Harvick moved through the field and took the lead with seven laps to go. He held off fellow Championship 4 contender Ryan Newman to win his first and only title. Despite taking the lead for the final time with only a few laps remaining, Harvick led a respectable 54 laps in the race.
Harvick’s 2014 title was not a fluke either. In his first season with Stewart-Haas Racing, he had five wins, 20 top tens, and a whopping 2,137 laps led. He may have had more dramatic wins, but Harvick’s title-winning race in 2014 cemented his legacy as one of NASCAR’s all-time greats.