Race Weekend Central

Kevin Harvick’s Farewell Tour Begins in North Wilkesboro

NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. – ( <— Hey, look at that!) “Alright, you guys good?” asked a NASCAR official coordinating the shot. “Everybody good? Everybody can go.”

The first NASCAR class photo at North Wilkesboro Speedway in 27 years was over, complete with Austin Cindric‘s bucket hat.

As the drivers began dispersing from the track’s frontstretch Friday afternoon (May 19), the crowd that had gathered behind them in the its old grandstands erupted in cheers.

Kevin Harvick, who had been kneeling in the front row, made a beeline toward the pit wall.

“Alright, nobody move!” the driver ordered media members gathered on the opposite side, all of whom had just captured the historic moment.

When the Stewart-Haas Racing veteran reached the pit wall, he repeated the order. The wheelman was then given a camera by one of the many photographers clustered against the pit wall.

Harvick then backed up along the start-finish line. A few moments later, he took his shot.

A few minutes after that, the scene had shifted to the track’s relatively new and very crowded media center.

Eventually, the 2014 Cup champion was asked why he felt the need to take a picture of the people whose job is to document him.

The answer was simple: Harvick did it for Dale.

“I think it’s important for you guys to be able to say you were here as well,” Harvick said. “But that was something that [Dale Earnhardt Sr.] used to do. Every time he won, he’d always take a picture of the photographers. Dale did that a little bit, so I thought it’d be cool, for him, to take that picture.

“I told [photographer] Harold [Hinson] to take that picture and send it to Dale. I know he’d like that.”

As he spoke, Earnhardt Sr. himself looked on from a mural of black-and-white pictures on a wall to Harvick’s right, including the 1996 class photo from North Wilkesboro’s last race. Earnhardt knelt on the front row, in between Ted Musgrave and Bill Elliott.

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A couple of hours later, Harvick climbed behind the wheel of his Cup car for the first time this weekend.

Instead of the No. 4 that’s he’s raced since 2014, Harvick will be identified one last time as the driver of the No. 29 car.

Thanks to a partnership between SHR and Richard Childress Racing, Harvick is throwing back to 2001, when he was unceremoniously promoted from the NASCAR Busch Series to the NASCAR Cup Series in the wake of Earnhardt’s death in the Daytona 500.

The Busch Light car Harvick will wheel around the .625-mile track has the paint scheme and number Harvick had when he won his first career Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway weeks later.

Fast-forwarding back to 2023, thirteen races have been run thus far, including Harvick’s last starts at Auto Club Speedway and Dover Motor Speedway. But in some ways, that memorable moment on the frontstretch – and this weekend’s All-Star Race – marks the emotional start to Harvick’s farewell tour from the NASCAR Cup Series.

“I think this is the first one where I was like, ‘Oh, man. This is a big moment,'” Harvick said. “Just with the [No.] 29 and seeing how excited Richard [Childress] is to see it on the track and all the things that come with those 14 years with RCR and being able to actually do this is a pretty big moment.”

While Harvick is “honored” to be competing at North Wilkesboro for the first time, for him the weekend is primarily about honoring the scenario that brought him to the national stage 22 years ago.

“I think the car fits the setting of the racetrack and everything that happens,” Harvick said. “But I guess, for me, it’s just a little bit different because of the moment and the impact and everything that came with the car that I’m driving.”

Harvick said the significance of seeing the No. 29 and its white-and-red scheme once again caught him off guard.

“I almost had to re-learn the importance and the impact of that particular moment in our sport because … there’s more to it than the paint scheme and the number,” he explained. “It’s really a moment in NASCAR that means something to people that aren’t even fans of yours or Earnhardt fans and everything that goes with it. 

“I know that car on the racetrack, one more time is important to a lot of fans, so it’s a great moment for the car and the track to do all of that together.”

Unlike most of the drivers in the field, this weekend isn’t the first time the 47-year-old Harvick has driven a Cup car in Wilkes County.

Back in 2010, Harvick piloted the No. 29 in a test session at the track that closed after its last points race in 1996.

“I came back in 2010 when they first cleaned the track up and were trying to get some momentum to do exactly what we’re doing today,” Harvick said. “But the timing was just not the same in 2010 as it is in 2023.”

Does that mean the timing now is exactly right? Harvick said he wouldn’t predict the kind of racing that will be witnessed Saturday and Sunday night.

“I always stick my foot in my mouth when I speculate, as you guys do as well, in case you were wondering,” said Harvick, getting in a friendly jab at the NASCAR media members. “It’s going to be fun, but I don’t know what that means as far as how the race is going to be.”

Follow @DanielMcFadin

About the author

Daniel McFadin is a 10-year veteran of the NASCAR media corp. He wrote for NBC Sports from 2015 to October 2020. He currently works full time for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and is lead reporter and an editor for Frontstretch. He is also host of the NASCAR podcast "Dropping the Hammer with Daniel McFadin" presented by Democrat-Gazette.

You can email him at danielmcfadin@gmail.com.

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