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Harvick made NASCAR history beyond rookie season heroics

Harvick made NASCAR history beyond rookie season heroics

If Kevin Harvick had announced his retirement on Jan. 12, 2002 instead of Jan. 12, 2023, he would have already had a plenty strong-enough case for the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Thankfully, he didn’t then. He did now, dropping the news via social media on Thursday morning that the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season will be his last as a full-time racer.

In that video, the once-fresh-faced kid from Bakersfield, California, who once shouldered a load that no one should ever be asked to carry, was now a weathered-eyed grown man. And as he spoke the words that announced his retirement plans, he looked like someone who was excited to finally set that weight down. After all these years of chippiness, smart remarks and sarcasm, punctuated by winks, laughs and pearls of downright wisdom, the racer who was long ago ironically nicknamed Happy looked and sounded, well, happy.

All I could think of was a quote from the late Bobby Hamilton. It was at Martinsville in 2001, Harvick’s 30th Cup Series start. He’d had a run-in with Hamilton, then a 12-year series veteran, that ended his day penalized by NASCAR. The rookie shrugged it off on national TV. Hamilton responded, “The problem you have here is you have a young kid with a lot of talent trying to fill Dale Earnhardt‘s shoes and thinks he is Dale Earnhardt, and he wouldn’t make a scab on Dale Earnhardt’s butt right now. He just needs a little more time.”

He got that. More than two decades of it. Harvick used that word, “time,” a lot during the media rounds that followed his announcement.

“From a personal side, I’m just out of time. I need things to do where I have more options with my kids,” he said to Sirius XM’s NASCAR channel shortly after the announcement. He spoke of daughter Piper, 5, and son Keelan, 9, who now races karts. He expressed regret that he hadn’t been able to attend his son’s races as much as he would have liked last year. “I’ve always told you that when it started affecting my kids, it was probably going to be the deciding factor, and in the end that’s really what the deciding factor was.”

He turned 47 last month, a milestone that was celebrated one month after the close of his 22nd season racing at NASCAR’s highest level and his 13th with multiple race wins. His 60 victories are tied for 10th on the all-time wins…

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