By David Morgan, Associate Editor
AVONDALE, Ariz. – In the moments after the checkered flag flew on Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series season finale at Phoenix Raceway, Kevin Harvick made sure to soak in every last second of his final start as a full-time driver.
After 826 starts at NASCAR’s highest-level dating from 2001 until now, the Bakersfield, California native has been a mainstay in the Cup Series driving corps, but made the decision many months ago that this would be his last as a driver.
It was a moment that we all knew was coming, but Sunday it was finally here. His final start.
While some drivers may fade off into the background at the end of their careers, Harvick ended it his way, putting up a competitive run on the one-mile desert oval where he once cut his teeth coming up through the ranks, showing he still had the fire that led him to 60 wins and championships in both the Cup Series and Xfinity Series.
After raucous cheers from the Phoenix crowd to start the day, Harvick made the most of his final run, rolling off from third-place and eventually advancing to the lead on lap 93. When all was said and done, he would lead a total of 23 laps on the day before eventually dropping back to seventh-place at the finish.
Pulling down to the end of pit road after the race, Harvick began his final climb from his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, pausing on the window sill for a moment to gather his thoughts before greeting his family and his crew in a celebratory crowd that only grew larger by the moment.
Joining crew chief Rodney Childers and the rest of the Busch Light crew were fellow SHR drivers Ryan Preece and Chase Briscoe, along with team owner Tony Stewart and a number of drivers from other teams throughout the garage area.
At points throughout the post-race celebration, Harvick choked back tears, but those tears were certainly well-earned to wrap up what should be career that warrants a first-ballot Hall of Fame vote.
“It’s been an emotional roller coaster, for sure,” Harvick said. “I think as you look at this last week, this really means a lot to me just because I love driving the race car, I love being around the people more. I love our sport. It’s given our family so much through the years to be thankful for and proud of…
“I opened this chapter unexpectedly in 2001, and closed it in 2023 how we wanted to. That was to be competitive. The thing that means the most is having the respect of the drivers and competitors and the crew chiefs, my team, organization, all the past people that I worked for or worked with.
“There’s been so many great stories and things that have happened over this year but especially this week.
Sunday may be the end of Harvick’s Cup Series career, but he won’t be going far as he moves into the TV booth with FOX Sports starting in 2024, where he can add to his legacy, now as a broadcaster.
“I can’t wait to be able to walk in that tunnel with my head up and look around, just look at all the really cool things that are NASCAR racing in every venue that we go to with great fans and people all over the place.”