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Kevin Harvick got a quicker-than-expected start to his Cup Series racing. Scheduled to run a full Cup Series schedule in 2002, Harvick was called into action after Dale Earnhardt was tragically killed during the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. Harvick recalled the commotion after Earnhardt’s death and remembered the “overwhelming” motorsports scene that following week.

Kevin Harvick has become one of NASCAR’s best

Kevin Harvick’s surprising start to his Cup Series racing didn’t appear to affect him in any way. Just three weeks after replacing Dale Earnhardt, Harvick got his first victory by narrowly defeating Jeff Gordon. He won the race at Atlanta Motor Speedway by six one-thousandths of a second.

By the end of the season, he collected a pair of victories and 16 top-10 finishes. Six years after Earnhardt’s death, Harvick won the Daytona 500. He has collected 119 combined national series victories, putting him third on the all-time list.

In 718 NASCAR Cup Series races, Harvick has racked up 58 wins. He’s finished in the top 10 in 389 of those races. Harvick has won a championship in both the Cup Series and Xfinity Series. He’s one of five drivers to do so. In 2023, the driver announced that the 2023 Cup Series would be his last as he prepares for retirement.

Harvick remembers watching Earnhardt’s fatal race

It was the tail end of the Daytona 500 in 2001, and Kevin Harvick remembers being home watching it. “We were at home watching the race, watching it to the end,” Harvick told Graham Bensinger during a 2016 interview. “Watched the crash, turned it off, and left the house.

“It didn’t look like anything abnormal or any harder crash than you’ve ever seen before. I don’t remember what we were doing that day, but we turned the race off and left.” Harvick said he knew something wasn’t quite right when his phone started blowing up.

“At that point, we knew something was wrong,” Harvick said. “I called and got the details. There were a lot of things that happened in a short time when Dale died. Nobody really knew where to go.”

Harvick gets the call to replace Dale Earnhardt

Kevin Harvick was lying in bed a few nights after the death of Dale Earnhardt, and the phone rang. “I got a call from Richard (Childress), and he asked me to come to the office,” Harvick told Graham Bensinger. “Richard was sitting behind his desk, looked like he hadn’t slept in three days, which he probably hadn’t.”

It was then, Harvick was asked to replace Earnhardt. “They asked me to drive the car,” he said. “For me, I wasn’t as attached to Dale as those guys were. I had only been there for about a year. I told them I would drive the car, and the next couple of days, everyone was just not knowing what to do.”

Bensinger then asked what Harvick recalled from walking into the press tent. “That’s still, to this day, the most overwhelming situation that I’ve ever walked into,” Harvick said. “I walked in the tent, and there was hundreds and hundreds of people and flashbulbs. It was a real dark and gloomy day in this huge white tent. I’ll never forget sitting down and just seeing all the media and photographers that were there that day.”


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