Six past champions born in the '70s were a group of drivers that bridged the previous and future generations.
Denny Hamlin views Kevin Harvick as a “dying breed when it comes to racing style.”
Harvick also co-owns the CARS Tour with Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton, and Justin Marks.
When the sun set on Kevin Harvick’s 23-year NASCAR Cup career at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday, it marked the end of an era in the sport—the departure of the last of six champions who were born in the 1970s.
Gone from the sport before Harvick were seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, four-time Jeff Gordon, three-time Tony Stewart, and single titlists Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth. They were a group of drivers that bridged the previous and future generations, a time when the sport was “out of control with money” from a sponsorship standpoint.
“(We) came in at a great time because you got to race against the guys that were just ending their careers in the early 2000s or late ‘90s, and then you got to go through a new generation of guys that you came up with,” Harvick says. “A number of us went through almost 20 years together. To see all those changes in cars and tires and racers and styles of racing and we went from trial-and-error to simulators and simulation and iRacing and everything that comes with the sport now.
“It’s evolve or die because this is an evolution process that is never gonna end. You always have to keep your head up and your eyes open or you’re gonna miss something and get left behind.”
Harvick evolved. He developed a plan for his final season as a driver, but admitted the week headed to Phoenix was a difficult one because the reality of it being his final race had arrived.
Harvick’s TV analyst deal next year with Fox Sports is in place, he and wife Delana have a management company, golf cart stores and son Keelan is racing. Daughter Piper looks forward to having her dad watch her race, but “Keelan is terrified” because he knows his dad will be at more of his events. Harvick also co-owns the CARS Tour with Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton, and Justin Marks.
Still, Denny Hamlin views Harvick as a “dying breed when it comes to racing style.”
“He’s a unicorn type of talent that can perform and qualify well inside of the top 10 at whatever age he is,” Hamlin says. “He’s defying odds. You can only hope that your career can be that successful that far into it.”
Stewart describes Harvick as “probably the most well-rounded driver out there from the aspect that … he’s a great race car driver, but he knows how to build championship-winning teams and putting the right people in place.”
“He understands the business side of it. He understands the marketing side of it,” Stewart says. “I would challenge anybody to find somebody in the series as a driver that can do all those aspects as well as Kevin does.”
Even though Harvick understands the sport’s various aspects, he admits a driver gets in a rut.
“You get in this mode where you walk in the race track, you’ve got your head down, you walk to your hauler, you put your suit on, you walk from the hauler to the car and from the car to the hauler and from the hauler home,” Harvick says. “I can’t wait to walk in the race track with my head up and just look around because I have really never done that.”
For Harvick, that day starts in 2024 at Daytona.