Kevin Harvick isn’t here for your analytics. He’s here – and staying – to win and contend.
So what if the peak age of a NASCAR driver is 39 years old?
“The analytics go off of average drivers, right? I like to think of myself as above average. Most of the time,” he said with a chuckle during NASCAR Media Day at Daytona International Speedway.
The 2014 champion signed a two-year contract extension with Stewart-Haas Racing, which he revealed was done at the end of last year, that will see him though the 2023 season. That’ll see him into his later 40s, now uncommon in NASCAR.
With drivers like Carl Edwards, David Ragan and now Jimmie Johnson stepping away from full-time driving in their 30s and early 40s, seeing drivers race into the latter stages of their career is becoming rarer and rarer.
“Experience in this game matters a lot more than being able to run fast or jump high,” Harvick said. “Our bodies don’t matter as much as they do in other sports. When you look at a guy like Mark Martin, what was he, 55? Most of those guys were in their 50s when they quit. It is easier now than what it was then.”
In 2020, Harvick will take a step back from television with FOX and radio with SiriusXM, and said spending time in the booth and hosting a show wasn’t to position himself for a career after racing. Sure, it doesn’t hurt by any means. But it was more about being in a spot “fortunate enough to be able to experience that and still drive the car.”
He sought the advice of NASCAR Hall of Famers Mark Martin, Rusty Wallace and Dale Jarrett, as well as new Philadelphia Phillies manager Joe Girardi, as to what his next step would be while weighing walking away or to keep racing.
“A lot of it pointed to, ‘why you would want to get out of a situation when you are competitive with a group of guys that you love to be around and are performing and racing for championships?'” Harvick said. “It’s a much more predictable schedule and lifestyle than what it was 15 years ago from a testing standpoint and a lifestyle standpoint and how you operate.”
Before his extension, @KevinHarvick sat down with Mark Martin, Dale Jarrett, Rusty Wallace & Joe Girardi among others to seek advice.
“It came down to, ‘Why would you ever want to get out of a situation where you’re competitive and with a group of guys you love being around?’” pic.twitter.com/rIHl6ezoZ7
— Davey Segal (@DaveyCenter) February 12, 2020
Harvick said a couple things stuck out from his conversations with the HOFers. Martin told him to remember when you walk out the last time, he’ll never get to see his number on the scoreboard again.
Girardi said he remembered to “make sure they take the jersey off for you, don’t take it off yourself.”
Along with on-track duties, giving up his radio show on SiriusXM gives Harvick his Wednesdays back, which he can use to test the NextGen car in the simulator. He also called his family coming to the track more like a “vacation” now than it ever has been.
With his personal life in the best shape it’s ever been, his doesn’t anticipate his professional life taking a hit performance wise by any measure.
“That was one thing that Dale (Jarrett) and Rusty (Wallace) brought up. What difference does it make? As long as you are physically able to do the things at a high level, there is really no reason to just up and quit unless you have some things that are happening at home that you want to do different or something along those lines,” he said. “As long as that circle of life is balanced, our sport is not like other sports as far as your body is concerned.”
But the main reason Harvick is sticking with his Stewart-Haas Racing team is the people around him. He’s admittedly not a numbers guy and hasn’t thought about his legacy behind the wheel at all.
He races to win – he wins to give his team the feeling of joy, accomplishment and happiness.
It’s about them, not him.
“The things that mean the most to me are keeping my team happy,” he said. “I feel responsible for giving them the effort that I have because I know how much effort they put in. Instead of paying attention to those numbers and thinking about what it would be like to pull into Victory Lane, I enjoy it like at Indy. I was more excited about the picture (of kissing the bricks) than I was about winning the Brickyard 400.
“I was more excited to see the pictures of those guys and how happy Rodney (Childers, crew chief) and those guys were. I feel satisfied because we were able to achieve that together and they got to experience it. Those things to me help keep me motivated because I like to experience those things with those guys and my kids and wife and everybody who is around. It is just those types of things that are as fun as the competition on the race track […] it is easy to stay motivated.”
He’s more driven than ever to win his second Daytona 500. After this past Sunday’s exhibition that Harvick called “The Crash,” he was realistic about his chances.
“You have always had to have some luck to win this race,” he said. “You have to have a fast car and it just has to be your day.”
He had both of those things in 2007, and is looking to become a two-time winner of the Great American Race this Sunday, Feb. 16 at 2:30 p.m. EST on FOX.