Kevin Harvick’s homecoming Sunday at Auto Club Speedway will also give him a significant NASCAR Cup Series milestone.
Harvick will make his 750th consecutive start when he takes the green flag. Already third on the all-time consecutive starts list, Harvick hitting the 750 mark makes him just the third driver to accomplish the feat.
Jeff Gordon and Ricky Rudd are the only two drivers ahead of Harvick. Gordon leads the way, having made 797 consecutive starts during his full-time career that started in November 1992 and ended in November 2015 when he retired. Rudd went 788 straight from January 1981 to November 2005.
The streak for Harvick began in April 2002. Although his Cup Series career began in 2001, Harvick missed a race in early April 2002 when he was benched for the Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway following retaliatory contact with Coy Gibbs, who had spun Harvick earlier in the Truck Series race.
The two-mile Fontana oval means a lot to Harvick. Not only is it his home track, but Harvick competed at the track in its inaugural season (1997). Over the years, Harvick has competed at Fontana in the Craftsman Truck Series, Winston West Series, Xfinity Series and Cup Series.
“When I think about Fontana, I go back to just the second race I ran there in 1998 for Wayne and Connie Spears and being able to race that day with Ken Schrader,” Harvick said. “That was the first day that Richard Childress kind of noticed what I was doing and the things that were happening on the racetrack and it really kicked off the first part of our ’98 Winston West championship season. At that particular point, we weren’t supposed to run the whole season, and Wayne had told us, ‘Well, if you guys keep doing good, we’ll talk about it and see if you can continue racing.’
“We wound up racing for the win that day, and that was always good for us because Wayne and Connie’s shop was right down the street at their house in Agua Dulce, in the garage right behind their house. At that particular time, I was a mechanic. I started as a mechanic in 1997 and began the year racing in Trucks, but we also raced the Winston West car — first at Mesa Marin and then the last two races of the season — because of the success that we had. And the next year, when we ran the full Winston West season that first race at Fontana was one of the first days that you got recognized. If it weren’t for Wayne and Connie giving me that opportunity, I wouldn’t have ever had that chance.”
Just once has Harvick won at Fontana in the Cup Series. Harvick beat Jimmie Johnson with a last-lap pass in 2011.
“When you go to your home track, you want to win all the time,” Harvick admitted. “I think I’m a little bit spoiled by the fact that I put that same amount of pressure on myself at California as I do at Phoenix, but we obviously haven’t had the same kind of results. That being said, we do have a Cup win, we do have an Xfinity Series win, I won my one and only IROC race there, and I’ve got a Winston West win there. It’s definitely been a good racetrack for us. So, we’ve dabbled in victory lane, but not as much as I’d like.”
Sunday is also slated to be the final race on the two-mile configuration of Auto Club Speedway. The plan is to turn the facility into a short track, and NASCAR will not race in Fontana next season.
Harvick said the “unfortunate part” is that the track in its current state is both unique and a challenge for drivers. It’s also a favorite because drivers can use every inch of the racing surface.
“I’m interested to see what comes next,” said Harvick. “Do we get a new racetrack or do we just disappear?”