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Kevin Harvick Fittingly Emotional and Competitve in Final Race of NASCAR Cup Career

Tears were shed. Laps were led. And at the end of the day, Sunday at Phoenix, Kevin Harvick capped off his NASCAR Cup Series career with a very competitive seventh-place finish.


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826 starts, 60 wins, 251 top-5 finishes, 444 top-10s, 232,413 laps, 16,058 laps led, and a NASCAR Cup Series championship.

That is the final tally in the NASCAR Cup Series for what will without a doubt be a NASCAR Hall of Fame career for Kevin Harvick, who concluded his NASCAR Cup Series career with an impressive run and solid seventh-place finish in Sunday's Championship Race at Phoenix Raceway.

RELATED: Ryan Blaney Collects NASCAR Cup Series Championship With Runner-Up Effort at Phoenix

An already emotional day for Harvick began with a moment that choked the driver up after he climbed from the car at the end of the race. When asked about his children -- Keelan and Piper -- keying the team radio prior to the green flag of Sunday's race, Harvick said, "That's not normal. I know they probably loved that."

Harvick would try to fight back tears, but would become overcome with emotion and would have to have a few moments to compose himself.

Harvick then took a moment to share a toast with his family and his team.

The usually stoic Harvick, who had put up a facade of being the badass who doesn't cry for decades, finally cracked. He finally let everyone in. And it's understandable why. When you have a true love for something, letting it go is hard.

The California native clawed his way up the racing ladder the hard way. He cut his teeth in the West Coast regional racing scene and even spent a good amount of time living on the couch of Ron Hornaday as he chased his racing dreams.

He broke into the NASCAR National Series as a part-time NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series racer in 1995. By 1999, he was a part-time racer in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and little did he know the NASCAR Cup Series wasn't far away.

After the tragic passing of the legendary Dale Earnhardt on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, Harvick was unexpectedly thrust into a full-time NASCAR Cup Series role at Richard Childress Racing.

It was the ultimate fight or flight situation, and Harvick chose to fight -- sometimes literally in the early years of his career.

Over the next 23 years, Harvick would visit victory lane -- a lot, beginning with his third career start, which came at Atlanta Motor Speedway. On that day, Harvick scored a photo-finish win over Jeff Gordon, and in the process, he put goosebumps on the necks and arms of race fans everywhere.

With that win, the healing process after the loss of Earnhardt began.

After he found victory lane, Harvick would steadily improve his race craft to the point where he would compete for championships and crown jewel events -- a lot.

He won the 2014 NASCAR Cup Series season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway to become the NASCAR Cup Series champion. In addition to the NASCAR Cup Series title, Harvick also won the 2007 Daytona 500, again, in a photo finish, this time against Mark Martin.

Harvick also racked up three wins in the Brickyard 400, two in the Coca-Cola 600, and he captured victory in the Southern 500 twice.

The story of Harvick's racing career is truly an incredible tale of what you can accomplish if you want it bad enough.

Anyway, back to Sunday at Phoenix Raceway.

In the final race of his Cup Series career, Harvick started third in the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang, which was adorned with Harvick's last name in the primary sponsorship placements as a tribute from Harvick's longtime primary sponsorship partner Busch Light.

When the race went green, Harvick set the dial to kill, and he pursued a 61st-career win.

While the race didn't ultimately result in a win for Harvick, he muscled around Championship 4 contender William Byron for the race lead on Lap 93, and he led 19 laps. Harvick would take the lead for a second time on Lap 113 to bring his total on the day to 23 laps led.

As he remained among the contenders up front all race long, but as the Sun started to sink in the desert sky, the handle started to diminish on his race car.

"As the sun went down, we kept getting tighter in the corner. Then we lost a few spots on a pit stop, and the cars were so even, you couldn't really make it back up. We just got a little bit too tight. We were okay, we were right in the middle of where we needed to be, just on the wrong side."

Ultimately, Harvick would come home in the seventh position. It was a truly competitive day for Harvick, who made the Playoffs for the 14th consecutive season (dating back to the Chase era) in 2023. Retiring as a competitive racer was the ultimate goal for Harvick.

"You know, I'd rather walk away competitive than walk around looking for a paycheck," Harvick explained. "That's always been one of my goals was to walk out as competitive as possible. We did that. I wouldn't change anything. For me, it's -- we balanced a lot this year. To be able to balance all of that and still walk away at the last race and be competitive says a lot about the guys I have around me and the drive they have to do good."

That goal, like so many of the goals in Harvick's career, was accomplished on Sunday afternoon in Avondale, Arizona.

Photo Credit: James Gilbert, Getty Images

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