Kevin Harvick Plans For His Final Season of NASCAR Racing

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Kevin Harvick received the same answer nearly every time he asked another athlete how they decided to retire: Harvick would just know it was time.

The driver thrust onto the global stage when he was named Dale Earnhardt’s replacement just days after Earnhardt’s fatal 2001 crash will make this 23rd season his last in NASCAR. The 2014 Cup champion heads into his final year tied for ninth on NASCAR’s all-time wins list with 60 career victories, 13 consecutive playoff appearances and he’s one of the final active drivers from the sport’s halcyon days.

“From talking to all the people I’ve talked to, it always came down to the same, ‘Oh, you’ll know, you’ll know it is time, you’ll know the right moment,’” Harvick said in an interview with The Associated Press ahead of his Thursday announcement.

“It’s great to be able to go out on your own terms and plan it how you want it to go, but the biggest thing that sticks out to me is my kids. Being home with them and seeing the impact that you have with them when you are home, being able to be part of that daily process and be that father figure, it’s just time.”

Harvick at the end of this season will turn his attention to Kevin Harvick Inc., his growing management business, the enjoyable time he’s spent in the television booth, some bucket list racing, and most important, his young racing family.

Harvick and his wife, DeLana, were adamant they would not raise racers but the slow early days of the COVID-19 pandemic gave father and son too much free time and 10-year-old Keelan is now karting on the international level. The young racer spent part of 2022 racing in Italy — sometimes traveling abroad without either parent — and Harvick figures he saw his son race only three times last year.

And then there’s Piper, his 5-year-old daughter who now wants Dad’s attention when she’s in her own go-kart.

“You know, Keelan, he needs that father figure in his life, especially as he goes down the racing route,” Harvick told the AP. “And then Piper probably asks to go to the go-kart track more than he does, and having to send her to the track by herself really frustrates me.

“You don’t want her not to have the opportunity to learn like he did. She makes twice as many strides in a day while I’m there than she would in a day when I’m not there. So there’s just a time when you have to ask yourself ‘What’s the most important thing for me and my time and my family right now?’”

Harvick had already overcome the NASCAR odds of breaking into the Southern-based sport from Bakersfield, California, when Richard Childress Racing said he’d be a Cup rookie alongside seven-time champion Earnhardt in 2002. But when Earnhardt was killed on the final lap of the 2001 season-opening Daytona 500, Harvick’s career was upended.

He was in the rebranded No. 29 Chevrolet five days after Earnhardt’s death — less than a week before the 25-year-old’s planned wedding to DeLana — and that hectic season in the spotlight was a blur. Harvick won in his third start, less than a month after Earnhardt’s death, and split his time between his new Cup ride and the Busch Series championship he was chasing.

Harvick competed in 69 NASCAR national races that season with a pair of Cup victories and five wins en route to the Busch title. He was busy but grew jaded by all the attention, the endless Earnhardt comparisons, and the pressure of replacing a superstar during a yearlong grieving period that had engulfed NASCAR.

Perhaps that is what made Harvick so tough.

He fought with his rivals often in his early career and was suspended for a Cup race in 2002 for his actions in a Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway a day earlier. That incident forged a relationship between Harvick and the late Jim Hunter, a NASCAR executive who helped Harvick navigate the politics of the sport.

But he never softened, not even after having children.

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