As the retirement tour rolls on, Kevin Harvick is prepared for the “strange” feeling of climbing into the No. 29 this weekend in the All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway.
The number is a nod back to Harvick’s start in the NASCAR Cup Series when he inherited Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s car and team after his death on the last lap of the Daytona 500 in 2001. Because the All-Star Race is a non-points event, Harvick found it the perfect time to drive the car one more time in his final season as a full-time driver.
Harvick will get in the car — which will also carry a paint scheme harkening back to his first Cup Series win at Atlanta from 2001 — for the first time Friday.
“Well, I think it’s going to be strange just climbing into it,” Harvick said. “For me, there’s a huge sense of pride being able to be a part of something like this with both organizations. Going back in time and doing everything that weekend in the 29 car is something I’m really excited about. And I think when you go out on the racetrack, the fans will be in the same boat. As you go by the first time, people are going to be like, ‘I can’t believe that actually happened.’”
Harvick said getting to drive the No. 29 again was simple. The former two-time All-Star Race winner told Stewart-Haas Racing during one of his retirement planning meetings that he wanted to use the number again in this specific race.
“And they all kind of looked at me and were like, ‘You serious?’” said Harvick. “Everybody kind of slept on it and talked about it in the next couple of days, and nobody said no. So we went back to the next meeting and I said, ‘What about the 29 car? Do you guys think we can pull that off?’”
It led to a phone call with Richard Childress, Harvick’s former car owner. Childress gave Harvick his blessing to do “whatever you want” with the car number and paint scheme.
Soak it all in. pic.twitter.com/kXGVj4GMBC
— Stewart-Haas Racing (@StewartHaasRcng) May 18, 2023
“When I sat in the 29 for the first time, it really wasn’t by choice, but I definitely wouldn’t have done it any differently,” Harvick said. “Dale’s passing changed our sport forever, and it changed my life forever and the direction it took. Looking back on it now, I realize the importance of getting in the Cup car, and then I wound up winning my first race at Atlanta in the 29 car after Dale’s death.
“The significance and the importance of keeping that car on the racetrack and winning that race early at Atlanta — knowing now what it meant to the sport, and just that moment in general of being able to carry on — was so important. I had a great 13 years at RCR and really learned a lot through the process because of being thrown into Dale’s car, where my first press conference as a Cup Series driver was the biggest press conference I would ever have in my career, where my first moments were my biggest moments. With this being my last year as a Cup Series driver, we wanted to highlight a lot of these moments, and many were made at RCR in that 29 car. So, with the All-Star Race going to North Wilkesboro — a place with a ton of history — we thought it made sense in a year full of milestones and moments to highlight where it all started.”
Harvick is the only active driver to be in every All-Star Race since his career began. Sunday night will be Harvick’s 23rd straight appearance in the All-Star Race, which is the most of any active driver. His wins in the event came in 2007 and 2019.
This weekend will not be the first time Harvick has run at North Wilkesboro. Harvick took the No. 29 for a spin at the track in 2010 during a promotional event at the track.
And earlier this week, Harvick ran competitive laps at North Wilkesboro for the first time when he competed in the CARS Tour race.
“I’ve been here for a long time, and the young kids in this particular sport at this particular time remind me that I raced in a different century, most of them being born at the very end of it and some after,” Harvick said of North Wilkesboro hosting races again. “North Wilkesboro was not there when I started my career, so it’s been since 1996 that they’ve had a competitive race in the Cup Series on the racetrack. To be able to go back to North Wilkesboro is special because it’s something that I’d never thought would happen — I really thought it was just a dream that was too big for a group of people who were working hard on a project to revive the racetrack.
“And here we are about ready to run the All-Star Race there in the Cup Series, so kudos to that group of people for digging their heels in and continuing to work to keep North Wilkesboro alive. I think when you look at North Wilkesboro and the races it’s had in the past and what it has meant to the Cup Series and, really, when you look at the Southeast and you look at the racetracks that we’ve had in this area — we’ve seen a few of them go away, not many of them come back.
“Marcus Smith and his group at SMI have done a great job of reviving the racetrack, taking so many of those nostalgic pieces of the puzzle and trying to make them modern, but also make them represent what they did in that particular time period, whether it’s a snack bar or a victory lane or whatever it is. I can’t wait to see it all.”