AVONDALE, Ariz. — Several aspects of Kevin Harvick’s last race in the NASCAR Cup Series were out of the ordinary — standout moments that highlighted one of the sport’s most enduring careers. Some aspects were familiar scenes, near-replays plucked from his 20-plus years as an elite driver.
The extra acknowledgment for one of the sport’s longest-running ambassadors in the pre-race driver’s meeting was one of the first in a series of touching moments, and many more were to come — before and after Sunday’s season finale at Phoenix Raceway. Drivers and owners from competing teams recognized Harvick’s achievements by stopping by his No. 4 Ford, with Joey Logano and Tyler Reddick offering their congratulations, and Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Ryan Preece and Chase Briscoe sharing in a post-race toast — pulling tall Busch Lights from a pair of handy coolers.
His sendoff was a heartfelt one, with his children Keelan and Piper keying the No. 4 team communications during the pace laps. “Hey dad, I am so proud of you and you’ve had a great career,” said Keelan, his 11-year-old son. “Finish it off with one more.” Piper, age 5, also checked in with a message of good luck.
“That’s not normal. So, I know that they probably love that,” Harvick said post-race, his voice trailing off as he returned to the celebration.
When the commemorative pre-race extras were complete, Rodney Childers — Harvick’s longtime crew chief — brought him back to the task ahead.
“Go out there and have fun,” Childers said. “… Emotions are over. We came here to win.”
Sharp as ever in his 826th and final start, Harvick gave the Phoenix faithful one last patented performance with a seventh-place result in Sunday’s season finale. His familiar presence at the front stirred the sellout crowd at a track where nine of his 60 career Cup Series victories took place.
While the weekend played out as a setting for a spirited championship fight, it was also the backdrop for a succession of tributes to Harvick’s time in the sport. But it was clear, as Childers said, that the team came to Phoenix to compete with high expectations.
“I’d rather walk away competitive than flop around looking for a paycheck,” Harvick said post-race. “You know, that’s always been one of my goals was to walk out as competitive as possible, and we did that. So, I wouldn’t change anything. I think for me, I mean, we balanced a lot this year. So to be able to balance all that and still walk away at the last race and be competitive says a lot about the people that we have around me and the drive that we have to do good.”
Harvick led twice for 23 laps in the early going and was a fixture among the top five through the first two stages. He fought for rear grip but tracked down title contender and pole-starter William Byron in the 93rd of 312 laps to put the No. 4 atop the pylon early in his final ride. His team radio kept him apprised: “Fastest car that lap.” “Still the fastest car.” “All rhythm. Fastest car … pulling away.” Those messages were familiar, too.
When eventual champion Ryan Blaney and the remaining title hopefuls in Byron and Kyle Larson made their way forward in the final stage, Harvick slipped back to the fringes of the top five. His farewell result capped off a remarkable run at Phoenix with his 21st consecutive top-10 finish here, stretching back to 2013 and pre-dating his time with SHR.
Childers, his crew chief from the day he started with the No. 4 team, had blocked out some of the emotions for the better part of Sunday afternoon’s finale. Now he was ready for them to all rush back.
“Probably tomorrow,” Childers told NASCAR.com, smiling as he walked to the championship stage to offer his personal congratulations to Blaney and team owner Roger Penske. “I’m sure it’s not gonna be easy, but overall, it was a great weekend, and it’s been an awesome 10 years. I mean, to be able to do that was a dream come true. Nobody will get the chance to do that with somebody like Kevin Harvick. So, it’s pretty awesome, and like I said, dream come true, for sure.”
When it was over, Harvick emerged from the No. 4 Mustang, with Keelan the first to arrive at the car. He was soon surrounded by photographers, sponsors, business partners, and the rest of his family and crew. Tall, ice-cold cans emerged from the coolers, and the team made sure Harvick took photos by his car with each of them — groups and individuals.
Harvick then broke away briefly for his own family photo with his wife, DeLana, and his children, walking from pit road up to the start/finish line to pose for a double thumbs-up — reminiscent of another photo he took with Keelan after winning the 2014 title. Both of his kids signed the outside retaining wall with personal messages.
“What else do you want to see?” Harvick told his daughter. Satisfied, the four of them walked back, having seen plenty in a sentimental final start.
So did the packed house at Harvick’s best track as the sun set on one of NASCAR’s most transcendent careers.
“The fans have been great, just wishing us well to do the best that we can on the race track,” Harvick said. “You know, it’s been an up and down year, but I mean, we’ve had some good runs, and we were at least competitive. We didn’t ride around in the back. So that’s the main thing. Just doing all we can do.”