Kevin Harvick is at the point in his life and career where he can finally take a moment to appreciate the important moments he has been a part of on the race track. As the 47-year-old racer races toward the finish line in his NASCAR Cup Series career, he is set to turn back the clock this weekend in the NASCAR All-Star Race.
While many are excited to see the NASCAR Cup Series race on the 0.625-mile North Wilkesboro Speedway for the first time in 27 years, Harvick included, the 2014 NASCAR Cup Series champion is even more excited about the look of his Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang this weekend.
"I think the car fits the setting of the racetrack and everything that happens, 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. It’s more the car than the track for me," Harvick explained.
Harvick is running a paint scheme and car number that is very near and dear to his heart and one that was pivotal to the healing process for fans and members of the NASCAR industry in the wake of the loss of Dale Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500.
Three races after Earnhardt, a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, was killed in a crash on the final lap of the Daytona 500, Harvick took a white and red No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo to victory in a thrilling photo finish over Jeff Gordon at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
It was the first NASCAR Cup Series win of Harvick's illustrious career. First wins are a big deal, no doubt, but Harvick's first win was important on so many more levels than the average first-career win for a driver. It was one of those moments that will forever be etched in time.
That moment is why, for Harvick, the look of his car this weekend overshadows the return of North Wilkesboro Speedway.
"I’m honored to be here and I think it’s a great event, but to understand and see how important this particular number and paint scheme, I mean it really caught me off guard too," Harvick said. "I almost had to re-learn the importance and the impact of that particular moment in our sport because, like I said earlier, there’s more to it than the paint scheme and the number. 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."
The special paint scheme was an idea that Harvick pitched to his team, which he was surprised wasn't shot down immediately. After his team was on board, Harvick took the idea to Richard Childress to get his blessing. Childress was overwhelmingly in favor of the idea, and Harvick was off to the races.
Now, he's back in the No. 29 car for one last run this weekend at North Wilkesboro Speedway.
Harvick started the weekend off by turning the eighth-fastest lap in practice for the NASCAR All-Star Race, but more importantly, Harvick ranked even better in average speed over the course of a longer run.
With North Wilkesboro Speedway sporting a 42-year-old surface, which is patched together and wearing away, tire management will play an important role in who wins Sunday's NASCAR All-Star Race.
In Friday's practice, lap times were falling off two to three seconds over a 30-lap run. That level of tire falloff should play into the hands of a cagey veteran like Harvick.
If Harvick is within striking distance, he could score yet another important win in a career that has been chock-full of them. But at the end of the day, win, lose, or draw, Harvick is just tickled pink to be in the No. 29 again, and he is happy to see NASCAR putting on a show at North Wilkesboro Speedway again.
"North Wilkesboro is a great facility, but there’s things that hit those hardcore fans differently, and I think North Wilkesboro is one of those things that moves the needle," Harvick stated, "and I think that is very similar to the [No.] 29 situation. It’s not really about the car or my name, it’s really about the moment for NASCAR and I think coming to North Wilkesboro is exactly the same. It’s a moment for NASCAR and I think that’s pretty neat.”
Harvick will start from the eighth position in the first NASCAR All-Star Heat Qualifying Race on Saturday at North Wilkesboro Speedway. Harvick's No. 29 pit crew ranked 24th in the Pit Crew Competition, which set the field for the Heat Races.
The 60-lap NASCAR All-Star Heat Races are set for Saturday evening at 7:00 PM ET with television coverage being provided by FS1.
Photo Credit: Will Bellamy, Racing America