Even so, a victory in the 2023 season finale at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday did not appear out of the realm of possibility.
Harvick was fastest in the first round of qualifying on Saturday and eventually qualified third for the race and he remained competitive throughout the 312-lap event, dueling with the four drivers contending for the series title.
The fans in the grandstands almost stood and cheered in unison when Harvick’s No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford swept past championship contender William Byron on lap 93 to take the lead for the first time.
He remained out front until a caution for Christopher Bell’s wreck sent everyone down pit road tires and fuel. He led briefly for four laps after the restart but would never challenge for the top spot again.
Harvick eventually finished seventh, which extended his streak of consecutive top-10 finishes to a remarkable 21 races.
“It’s kind of a relief, to be honest with you,” Harvick said of his final start. “There was just so much going on before the race and this week, but it was pretty cool to lead some laps there in the last race.
“I’m just proud of everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing, everybody that works on this car and has worked on this car for a long time. I’ve just got to thank all the fans and NASCAR and my family and everybody for all of their support.
“It’s been a great ride, and I can’t complain.”
Harvick, 47, was thrust into his Cup career in 2001 with the death of Dale Earnhardt in a last-lap crash in the Daytona 500 and took over driving Earnhardt’s rebranded team at Richard Childress Racing the following week.
Three races later, he captured his first series win after a side-by-side, photo finish battle with Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon at Atlanta and his place in NASCAR lore was secured.
Photo by: NASCAR Media
Kevin Harvick takes the checkred flag ahead of Jeff Gordon
Unlike many of today’s up-and-coming Cup stars, however, Harvick seemed to excel in the twilight of his career, winning his first Cup title in 2014 at the age of 38 and securing 32 of his 60 Cup wins since then.
Among his 60 wins, Harvick owns victories in the “crown-jewel” races of the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600, Brickyard 400 and Southern 500. The only other drivers in NASCAR history to accomplish this feat are Earnhardt, Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.
While Harvick went without a win in his final full-time season, he still remained competitive. He was the only SHR…