NASCAR: Kevin Harvick Prepared For Final Brickyard Race

Kevin Harvick reflects on his relationship with Rick Mears as the two legendary drivers from Bakersfield, California share similar success at Indianapolis.
Kevin Harvick, Stewart Haas Racing at Indianapolis
Kevin Harvick, Stewart Haas Racing at Indianapolis

Thirty years ago, NASCAR held a test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in front of more than 75,000 people. "I think it's a pretty neat thing," Dale Earnhardt said. "I don't know about tradition, but I wouldn't want to change anything when it comes to the Indianapolis 500 or the month of May, but we can have the month of August and have a great time." The Brickyard 400 was born the following year, and the NASCAR boom began.

When that 1993 test was happening, a 17-year-old kid from Bakersfield, California had just become the new Mesa-Marin Raceway track champion in the late model division. Fast forward eight years and that same kid was now in the biggest spot light in motorsports. After unprecedented circumstances put Kevin Harvick in Earnhardt's car, it was the start of a legendary career that would certainly make The Intimidator proud.

That career is in the final chapter, as Harvick is set to retire at the end of this season. This is his final race the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, something he clarified yesterday when someone said this was most likely his final Cup race at IMS. "There's no ‘most likely’ – it is my final race here."

Just as his team owner Tony Stewart idolized AJ Foyt, Harvick was following the footsteps of another four-time winner - hometown hero Rick Mears.

"Rick's accomplishments were pretty big, especially coming from Bakersfield at that time. Open-wheel was the direction that I wanted to go when I was racing go-karts. As a little boy, I wanted to be an IndyCar driver. My father being in stock car racing and building stock cars, that's not the direction he had in mind. He would never let me drive an open-wheel car. He was scared I was going to get hurt."

Kevin Harvick at IMS
Kevin Harvick at IMS

Harvick and Mears have much more in common than just having the same birth place. Both drivers were known for their methodical approach to racing, always saving their best for the end - when it mattered most. "You don’t take the risk until it’s time," Mears said. "There’s only one way to win and that’s to finish. I’ve watched Kevin over the years, and he runs smart. That’s what I always called running smart. You don’t want to show your hand all the time. You keep a little in reserve until after the last pit stop."

These two drivers were masters of execution on the track. Mears is a four-time Indy 500 winner and Harvick will be aiming for his fourth NASCAR victory at the Brickyard today. This one would be much different though, being on the road course.

When it comes to the Brickyard, it should come as no surprise that Harvick is near the top in every statistical category. Only Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson have more wins, and Kevin ranks second all-time in top-ten finishes, laps led, and is tied with Gordon for the most poles. His 8.6 average finishing position is also the best of any driver in the history of the race.

With the famed oval rumored to back on the schedule for next season, Harvick has already heard the rumors that he could be lured out of retirement.

"No, I think my racing at the top level is done. I realize that there’s no possible way that you can jump in and out of things and be competitive. You have to do it every week and, for me, that time will be over when we get to Phoenix at the end of the year. I definitely don’t anticipate any scenario that puts me in a Cup car or an IndyCar or anything like that."

Mears believes Harvick would have been a monumental talent in IndyCar, had he gone that route.

“He would have done very well," Mears proclaimed. "He’s a racer. He’s got a very good feel. The difference between stock cars and IndyCars, is that the cars talk to you. You get in a different car and you take it out and you listen to it and do what it wants. The way I always explain it is, the stock cars yell at you, the IndyCar whispers to you. It would just take time and laps in an IndyCar, but he could do that. He wouldn’t have any trouble."

Rick Mears
Rick Mears

Something feels wrong about Harvick finishing his career at Indianapolis on the road course. Although he is not a Hoosier, Harvick deserves to have the same farewell that Gordon and Stewart received. Johnson missed his final Brickyard 400 as he tested positive for COVID-19 just days before the race. He was at least able to return to run in the Indy 500 later in his career.

The takeaway for Harvick though, is that he won the last two Brickyard 400 races that he competed in.

"Indy is a special place. I wish we could have raced on the oval the last three years but the good news is I won the last two, so I'll always go out a winner on the oval. It has always been a pretty special place because of growing up a Mears fan and wanting to race at the Indy 500 and all of the things that I wanted to do as a kid."

Harvick’s racing career didn’t go the way he envisioned it would when he was a little boy. Hell, no one could have even predicted that it would begin the way that it did, under those extremely unique circumstances.

Harvick had the unenviable task of filling the shoes of a motorsports titan. Fast forward 23 years and those shoes that Josh Berry will be stepping into are also quite large.

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