Harvick was all smiles even before he nosed out Mark Martin to win this year’s Daytona 500.
Standing in the Sun
It was an immense shadow, and how it was cast made it even more overwhelming.
But Kevin Harvick found his way out into the sunlight, and he kicked off this year with a win in the biggest NASCAR race of them all – the Daytona 500.
When the 2001 Nextel Cup season began at Daytona, Harvick was preparing for his second year in the Busch Series and serving as an understudy to Dale Earnhardt in the Richard Childress Racing camp.
The idea was to hone his craft in the support series, then one day serve as Earnhardt’s teammate in stock car racing’s biggest league.
Then came the final lap of that Daytona 500.
Earnhardt, a seven-time Cup champion, was killed in a wreck within sight of the finish line. A week later, Harvick had evolved from understudy to the man charged with driving Earnhardt’s famous black Chevrolet.
Although Harvick will always be linked to “The Man in Black,” he has clearly established his own identity over the last six seasons. This year, with a new sponsor, the 32-year-old pilot has further distanced himself from the role of replacement driver.
“I think with a new sponsor [Shell and Pennzoil have taken the place of GM Goodwrench] it gets me out of that last shadow under Dale,” Harvick says. “It’s hard to beat down somebody else’s path when you’re used to beating down your own path.”
Harvick began his NASCAR career in 1995, debuting in the Craftsman Truck Series and racing on that circuit through 1998. His success caught the eye of Childress, who decided to put the California native into a Busch car in 2000.
A year later he not only took over for Earnhardt, winning his third Cup start at Atlanta, he also won the Busch Series championship as a sophomore.
In the years since, Harvick has remained a working man’s driver, competing in as many series as his schedule allows.
Taking his entire body of racing work into consideration, Harvick was the world’s most successful stock car pilot in 2006. Although Jimmie Johnson claimed the Nextel Cup crown, Harvick was in the thick of the title chase to the end, winning five races and scoring 15 showings in the top 5.
And as a regular in the Busch Series, Harvick dominated from start to finish, earning the overall title in a walk.