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How NASCAR’s best ‘Nearer’ is approaching his ultimate acts

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In terms of Daytona 500 finishes, Kevin Harvick’s 2007 duel to the stripe with Mark Martin is undoubtedly probably the greatest ever. Harvick received by 0.02s, the second-closest end within the Nice American Race’s historical past. Behind them, an enormous wreck kicked off, resulting in Clint Bowyer somersaulting throughout the end line in flames. Fortunately, he clambered out unharmed.

This weekend, Harvick will begin his final Daytona 500, because the analytical but often-outspoken Californian retires from full-time racing to hitch Bowyer (a zany Kansan) within the TV sales space at FOX Sports activities subsequent yr. And whereas Harvick went on to win a Cup title, and have become a senior determine among the many drivers, it’s that victory that he’ll be most remembered for.

“Racing towards Mark Martin and beating one of many sport’s greats again to the end line, that’s a second in time that may at all times be particular, not solely in my profession, however the sport, generally,” displays Harvick. “I’d at all times heard that once you win the Daytona 500, it’ll be like no different race, and it truly is.

“You win more cash, and also you’re at all times launched because the Daytona 500 champion from that individual yr. If you begin the yr off by successful the Daytona 500, your season’s just about made.”

And like all nice victories, it had a significant backstory…

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Harvick entered the Cup stage in its hottest seat – changing Dale Earnhardt at Richard Childress Racing after the NASCAR legend was killed on the ultimate nook of the 2001 Daytona 500. The #3 might need modified to #29, however Harvick – a Cup rookie on the time – was thrust into filling a void left by greatness.

“For me and my profession, loads of issues occurred backward, in all probability the other of the way in which they need to have,” he says. “My first season in Cup, I ran each race however the Daytona 500 due to Dale Earnhardt’s loss of life and changing him within the automotive. Coming again to the Daytona 500 in 2002 was in all probability one of many larger moments in my profession simply due to all of the hype and anticipation from 2001.”

Harvick changed Earnhardt at RCR in 2001 and virtually instantly scored his first win at Atlanta within the re-numbered #29 Chevrolet

Photograph by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images

The hype was actual, although: Harvick received his maiden Cup race in Atlanta simply three weeks after Earnhardt’s loss of life, repeating the feat later within the season at Chicagoland Speedway. He additionally received the Busch Collection (now Nationwide) that yr, in a mammoth 69-race season.

He began from the entrance row for his first Daytona 500 in 2002 however ended his day inflicting an 18-car wreck whereas working second.

“The Daytona 500 can get your feelings and twist them the wrong way up and make you simply loopy,” Harvick muses. “And wish to do issues that you already know you shouldn’t do, and take dangers that you already know you shouldn’t take and aren’t going to work, however you’ll do them anyway simply due to it being the Daytona 500.

“If you take a look at the names which might be on it, you perceive its significance – the way it’s migrated from the seashore to the largest single race in our sport” Kevin Harvick

“The Daytona 500 is the largest race you’ll ever be part of, and it’s the largest win you’ll ever have. It’s undoubtedly the guts of NASCAR and what we do.”

His sole 500 win was a traditional by way of wild fortunes: his Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS suffered overheating, dropping him manner again, however the crew managed to rectify the difficulty – and with 4 contemporary tyres fitted on the ultimate pitstop, he was again in rivalry. Actually up towards Martin, who had solely taken two.

“With 12 or 15 laps to go, we have been 30-somethingth – a great distance from the entrance,” he remembers. “These final a number of laps, once you return and watch the in-car video, you see all of the passes and us scraping the fence and yellows and restarts, after which the push down the again straightaway from Matt Kenseth, which actually is what helped us win that race.

“Then it was only a side-drafting recreation off Flip 4 again to the end line, and we have been in a superb place to be on the correct aspect of that. It was an thrilling final 12 or 15 laps once you look again at it.”

Harvick’s victory consigned veteran Martin’s profession to certainly one of being a perennial bridesmaid at Cup stage however included a tinge of controversy because the timing of the yellow flag for the massive wreck did trigger some consternation. Nevertheless, NASCAR decreed that the yellow solely flew after Harvick had nudged his manner forward, and his victory was confirmed.

Harvick sidedrafted Martin and beat him to the line in the 2007 Daytona 500

Harvick sidedrafted Martin and beat him to the road within the 2007 Daytona 500

Photograph by: Motorsport Images

In claiming it, Harvick feels prefer it elevated his place within the sport and got here as one thing of a aid: “I believe you place lots much less stress on your self simply because once you’re round this sport for a very long time, you perceive the significance of getting that Harley J. Earl trophy and having your identify on it. If you take a look at the names which might be on it, you perceive its significance – the way it’s migrated from the seashore to the largest single race in our sport.”

It took Harvick one other seven years to assert his one and solely Cup title, a season after a much-needed transfer away from Childress’s Chevys to Tony Stewart’s and Gene Haas’s Ford squad – a feat he virtually repeated a yr later however simply got here up brief on Kyle Busch. He’s twice completed runner-up within the 500 too, in addition to successful the summer season race at Daytona in 2010, amongst his 43 Cup races on the Floridian superspeedway.

“The superspeedways, generally, are troublesome to have all the pieces line as much as get a win out of the weekend,” he says. “For the Daytona 500, it’s our largest race of the yr nevertheless it’s additionally the one race a yr that you’ve got months to organize for. Each crew within the storage has their most ready automotive that exhibits up on the Daytona 500.

“On prime of that, you might have probably the most aggression and enthusiasm to attempt to take dangers and do issues that you simply usually wouldn’t do to win races as a result of the Daytona 500 solely comes yearly, and it will probably additionally make a profession out of successful that race. I believe it’s simply totally different than another and it turns into troublesome to win due to all of the risk-taking that you simply don’t see on a weekly foundation.”

So what’s the key to being profitable within the 500? Right here is how Harvick appears at it: “Controlling these feelings and controlling these expectations – controlling the week, actually – is necessary.

“It was 12, 14 days of the build-up to the occasion – it’s a a lot shorter period of time, now – however the plot goes all over the place. You may have a superb qualifying race, dangerous qualifying race. PR day, PR tales, no matter, there’s simply loads of hype and build-up that goes into the race and you’ll’t get caught up in it.

“As you undergo the week, it’s that evolution of the keenness ramping up as you get nearer to the Daytona 500. It’s a must to keep a reasonably even-keeled strategy to issues simply due to the truth that you don’t wish to be so jacked up and make a silly transfer and tear up your automotive earlier than you even get to the Daytona 500.

Harvick has also known plenty of disappointment at the 500, including an early crash in the 2013 event

Harvick has additionally identified loads of disappointment on the 500, together with an early crash within the 2013 occasion

Photograph by: Russell LaBounty / NKP / Motorsport Images

“You additionally wish to get all the pieces that you could since you wish to get the most effective beginning place you possibly can and the most effective pit choice that you could for the five hundred. It’s a distinct mentality than another week since you apply and race and apply and race once more.

“Nevertheless it’s not only a race. It’s the Daytona 500. So, it’s a distinct sort of enthusiasm headed for the inexperienced flag.”

Harvick gained his nickname ‘The Nearer’ as a result of that’s what he does greatest. Simply ask Mark Martin

Talking of motivation, Harvick claims his strategy to his ultimate yr of full-time racing is not going to deviate from what has gone earlier than.

“My mentality heading into our final Cup season is to do the very same issues we’ve finished for the final 22 years,” he reckons. “That’s be aggressive and ensure that each week you present up on the racetrack and do all that you are able to do to your team-mates. We’ll be ready similar to we might be, as a result of that’s our job.”

Harvick gained his nickname ‘The Nearer’ as a result of that’s what he does greatest. Simply ask Mark Martin.

Harvick stresses that his mindset is no different than before as he heads into his final season of racing

Harvick stresses that his mindset is not any totally different than earlier than as he heads into his ultimate season of racing

Photograph by: Gavin Baker / NKP / Motorsport Images

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