AVONDALE, Ariz. — Kevin Harvick took the lead.
That’s a statement that has now been said in 18 races at Phoenix Raceway after Harvick took the lead in the NASCAR Cup Series finale on Sunday evening (Nov. 5). Harvick led 23 laps en route to a seventh-place finish in his final start in the series.
The Cactus King has the most wins all time at the 1-mile track with nine.
It’s the track Harvick grew up going to races at, as it was the closest one at the time to his Bakersfield, Calif., home. So it only made sense that it would go on to be his best track, where he scored 21 consecutive top 10s to end his career.
“We’ve always been pretty good on the flat tracks and I think as you look at Phoenix, it’s always a little extra special coming here,” Harvick said. “And everybody knows how much it means to me to do good here. And a lot of these people have been coming here since the mid-’90s and watched me race. So you don’t want to come here and suck.
“I’m so fortunate to be competitive, win races. And really, my most competitive track has always been one that, as a West Coast racer, you always dream about racing at.”
It made even more sense that Phoenix would be the site of Harvick’s final Cup start. And he went out in style.
Harvick passed championship contender William Byron on lap 93 and led 23 of the next 24 laps. The sold-out Phoenix crowd erupted as the No. 4 took the lead.
“The fans have been great, wishing us well to do the best that we can on the racetrack,” Harvick said. “It’s been an up and down the year, but we’ve had some good runs, and we were at least competitive. We didn’t run around in the back.”
It looked like Harvick potentially had the fastest car on the long run. But then the sun went down and so did Harvick’s odds at a walk-off win.
“As the sun went down, we kept getting tighter in the corner,” Harvick said. “I knew when we lost a few spots on the pit stop and the cars were so even, you couldn’t really make it back up. We just got a little too tight. We were OK. We were right in the middle of where we needed to be, just on the wrong side of that front group.”
Harvick lost he lead to eventual winner Ross Chastain on lap 117 and continued to drop from there before settling on seventh.
Chastain detailed in his post-race press conference about how he got emotional when he was racing Harvick.
“Don’t feel sorry for him, go pass him,” Chastain said he thought to himself.
“Pretty cool to lead some laps in my last race,” Harvick said. “Just proud of everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing, everybody who works on this car.”
As Harvick climbed out of the No. 4 for the final time, he said, “What’s next?” Next year, Harvick will join the NASCAR on FOX TV booth as a color commentator as well as spend more time helping his son Keelan out in his racing career.
“Everything’s already in place with everything that we have going on with television and businesses and Keelan’s racing and school,” Harvick said. “We’ve got so many things in motion with plans that we want to do. We’re going to go back to work.
“I already have calls next week with the folks at FOX and starting to work on end-of-the-year things for what we want to do there. I still think the responsibility is just as big to go up there and try to give the fans as much information as possible and to do a good job with FOX and everybody in the sport to tell the best story that we can.”
Harvick was content about the result and satisfied with how his career ended.
“It really hasn’t been about wins and losses, but you never want to flop around,” Harvick said. “To be able to lead laps in the last race tells you how competitive we still are. And I think with some tweaks, adjustments to some of the things at Stewart-Haas, we could go right back out there and be where you need to be with everything going on.”
The 2014 champion was thrilled to do something very few drivers have been able to do: retire while they’re still competitive.
“I’d rather walk away competitive than walk around, looking for a paycheck,” Harvick said. “That’s always been one of my goals was to walk out as competitive in possible, and we did that. I wouldn’t change anything.”
No tears were shed by Harvick, but he and the team did a toast.
“I feel relieved now,” Harvick said. “The emotions are kind of over at this particular point. It was a tough week with everything going on.
“… Just happy that we got to this point and kind of closed the book on our own.”
Harvick wraps up his Cup career with 826 starts, 60 wins, 251 top fives, 444 top 10s and 31 career poles. The first race of his career, in 2001, was won by the Dale Earnhardt Inc., No. 1 car of Steve Park. His last race was won by the No. 1 Trackhouse Racing car of Chastain. Both teams had Ty Norris as their general manager.
“This whole year has been incredible with the fans and the garage and everybody for all the support,” Harvick said. “We wanted to tell a story for 30 years and I think we did a pretty good job.”
About the author
Michael Massie is a writer for Frontstretch. Massie, a Richmond, Va. native, has been a NASCAR superfan since childhood, when he frequented races at Richmond International Raceway. Massie is a lover of short track racing and travels around to the ones in his region. Outside of motorsports, the Virginia Tech grad can be seen cheering on his beloved Hokies.
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