Relating to Daytona 500 finishes, Kevin Harvick’s 2007 duel to the stripe with Mark Martin is undoubtedly among the finest ever. Harvick gained by zero.02s, the second-closest end within the Nice American Race’s historical past. Behind them, an enormous wreck kicked off, resulting in Clint Bowyer somersaulting throughout the end line in flames. Fortunately, he clambered out unharmed.
This weekend, Harvick will begin his final Daytona 500, because the analytical but often-outspoken Californian retires from full-time racing to hitch Bowyer (a zany Kansan) within the TV sales space at FOX Sports activities subsequent yr. And whereas Harvick went on to win a Cup title, and have become a senior determine among the many drivers, it’s that victory that he’ll be most remembered for.
“Racing in opposition to Mark Martin and beating one of many sport’s greats again to the end line, that’s a second in time that can at all times be particular, not solely in my profession, however the sport, generally,” displays Harvick. “I’d at all times heard that whenever you win the Daytona 500, it’ll be like no different race, and it truly is.
“You win more cash, and also you’re at all times launched because the Daytona 500 champion from that exact yr. If you begin the yr off by successful the Daytona 500, your season’s just about made.”
And like all nice victories, it had a serious backstory…
Harvick entered the Cup degree in its hottest seat – changing Dale Earnhardt at Richard Childress Racing after the NASCAR legend was killed on the last nook of the 2001 Daytona 500. The #three might need modified to #29, however Harvick – a Cup rookie on the time – was thrust into filling a void left by greatness.
“For me and my profession, numerous issues occurred backward, in all probability the alternative of the best way they need to have,” he says. “My first season in Cup, I ran each race however the Daytona 500 due to Dale Earnhardt’s demise and changing him within the automotive. Coming again to the Daytona 500 in 2002 was in all probability one of many greater moments in my profession simply due to all of the hype and anticipation from 2001.”
Harvick changed Earnhardt at RCR in 2001 and virtually instantly scored his first win at Atlanta within the re-numbered #29 Chevrolet
Photograph by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images
The hype was actual, although: Harvick gained his maiden Cup race in Atlanta simply three weeks after Earnhardt’s demise, repeating the feat later within the season at Chicagoland Speedway. He additionally gained the Busch Sequence (now Nationwide) that yr, in a mammoth 69-race season.
He began from the entrance row for his first Daytona 500 in 2002 however ended his day inflicting an 18-car wreck whereas working second.
“The Daytona 500 can get your feelings and twist them the other way up and make you simply loopy,” Harvick muses. “And wish to do issues that you understand you shouldn’t do, and take dangers that you understand you shouldn’t take and aren’t going to work, however you’ll do them anyway simply due to it being the Daytona 500.
“If you have a look at the names which can be on it, you perceive its significance – the way it’s migrated from the seaside to the largest single race in our sport” Kevin Harvick
“The Daytona 500 is the largest race you’ll ever be part of, and it’s the largest win you’ll ever have. It’s undoubtedly the center of NASCAR and what we do.”
His sole 500 win was a basic by way of wild fortunes: his Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS suffered overheating, dropping him means again, however the crew managed to rectify the problem – and with 4 recent tyres fitted on the last pitstop, he was again in rivalry. Definitely up in opposition to Martin, who had solely taken two.
“With 12 or 15 laps to go, we had been 30-somethingth – a good distance from the entrance,” he recollects. “These final a number of laps, whenever you return and watch the in-car video, you see all of the passes and us scraping the fence and yellows and restarts, after which the push down the again straightaway from Matt Kenseth, which actually is what helped us win that race.
“Then it was only a side-drafting recreation off Flip four again to the end line, and we had been in a very good place to be on the fitting aspect of that. It was an thrilling final 12 or 15 laps whenever you look again at it.”
Harvick’s victory consigned veteran Martin’s profession to one in all being a perennial bridesmaid at Cup degree however included a tinge of controversy because the timing of the yellow flag for the large wreck did trigger some consternation. Nevertheless, NASCAR decreed that the yellow solely flew after Harvick had nudged his means forward, and his victory was confirmed.
Harvick sidedrafted Martin and beat him to the road within the 2007 Daytona 500
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In claiming it, Harvick feels prefer it elevated his place within the sport and got here as one thing of a aid: “I feel you place so much much less strain on your self simply because whenever you’re round this sport for a very long time, you perceive the significance of getting that Harley J. Earl trophy and having your identify on it. If you have a look at the names which can be on it, you perceive its significance – the way it’s migrated from the seaside to the largest single race in our sport.”
It took Harvick one other seven years to say his one and solely Cup title, a season after a much-needed transfer away from Childress’s Chevys to Tony Stewart’s and Gene Haas’s Ford squad – a feat he virtually repeated a yr later however simply got here up brief on Kyle Busch. He’s twice completed runner-up within the 500 too, in addition to successful the summer time race at Daytona in 2010, amongst his 43 Cup races on the Floridian superspeedway.
“The superspeedways, generally, are troublesome to have all the pieces line as much as get a win out of the weekend,” he says. “For the Daytona 500, it’s our greatest race of the yr nevertheless it’s additionally the one race a yr that you’ve months to organize for. Each crew within the storage has their most ready automotive that reveals up on the Daytona 500.
“On high of that, you’ve gotten essentially the most aggression and enthusiasm to attempt to take dangers and do issues that you simply usually wouldn’t do to win races as a result of the Daytona 500 solely comes yearly, and it may possibly additionally make a profession out of successful that race. I feel it’s simply completely different than another and it turns into troublesome to win due to all of the risk-taking that you simply don’t see on a weekly foundation.”
So what’s the key to being profitable within the 500? Right here is how Harvick appears to be like at it: “Controlling these feelings and controlling these expectations – controlling the week, actually – is necessary.
“It was once 12, 14 days of the build-up to the occasion – it’s a a lot shorter period of time, now – however the plot goes in all places. You’ve got a very good qualifying race, unhealthy qualifying race. PR day, PR tales, no matter, there’s simply numerous hype and build-up that goes into the race and you may’t get caught up in it.
“As you undergo the week, it’s that evolution of the keenness ramping up as you get nearer to the Daytona 500. It’s a must to keep a fairly even-keeled method to issues simply due to the truth that you don’t wish to be so jacked up and make a silly transfer and tear up your automotive earlier than you even get to the Daytona 500.
Harvick has additionally recognized loads of disappointment on the 500, together with an early crash within the 2013 occasion
Photograph by: Russell LaBounty / NKP / Motorsport Images
“You additionally wish to get all the pieces which you can since you wish to get the perfect beginning place you possibly can and the perfect pit choice which you can for the 500. It’s a distinct mentality than another week since you apply and race and apply and race once more.
“But it surely’s not only a race. It’s the Daytona 500. So, it’s a distinct sort of enthusiasm headed for the inexperienced flag.”
Harvick gained his nickname ‘The Nearer’ as a result of that’s what he does finest. Simply ask Mark Martin
Talking of motivation, Harvick claims his method to his last yr of full-time racing won’t deviate from what has gone earlier than.
“My mentality heading into our final Cup season is to do the very same issues we’ve performed for the final 22 years,” he reckons. “That’s be aggressive and make it possible for each week you present up on the racetrack and do all that you are able to do in your team-mates. We’ll be ready similar to we’d be, as a result of that’s our job.”
Harvick gained his nickname ‘The Nearer’ as a result of that’s what he does finest. Simply ask Mark Martin.
Harvick stresses that his mindset isn’t any completely different than earlier than as he heads into his last season of racing
Photograph by: Gavin Baker / NKP / Motorsport Images