Young Harvick finding place on NASCAR team
When Cal Ripken Jr. retires in late September from baseball, someone will have large cleats to fill with the Baltimore Orioles.
The same situation seems magnified in the NASCAR circuit. Dale Earnhardt's career and life ended prematurely Feb. 17 at Daytona International Speedway.
Someone had to take his place behind the wheel. The driver was 25-year-old Kevin Harvick.
"You never understand why things happen," Harvick said about Earnhardt's death. "Everything happened so quick. They were pretty trying times."
Harvick was in the area last Wednesday, stopping at Kansas Speedway after appearing on ABC's "Good Morning America" in New York. The driver talked about taking Earnhardt's place and preparing for the home stretch of the racing season.
Harvick stepped in for a driver who fans called the Intimidator. Earnhardt won six Winston Cup Championships. When team owner Richard Childress asked Harvick to take Earnhardt's place, Harvick had finished 2000 in third place in the Busch Series Championship point standings and was named Rookie of the Year in the NASCAR Busch Series Championship.
Childress went with youth and a little experience. In only his third appearance in a Winston Cup race, Harvick won his first Winston race at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 11.
"There's a lot of prestige and a large fan following," Harvick said about Childress' racing team. "There's a huge tradition."
Harvick didn't know how fans would accept him. But the transition has been smooth. Harvick said the fans' reactions were most noticeable in his first race at North Carolina Motor Speedway.
"It could have turned upside down and been the biggest mess in the world with race fans turning against you," Harvick said about the fans. "If they're not on your side, they can run you out."
He said the fans welcomed him instantly.
Known also as "Happy" and "The Kid," Harvick's popularity probably isn't hindered by his second victory at Chicagoland Speedway on July 15 and a second-place finish Aug. 25 at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tenn. He is in ninth place in the points standings. He is also in the Busch Series, along with the Winston Cup, becoming the first driver in the modern era to run a full schedule in both series.
From Feb. 17 to Nov. 18, Harvick will have driven in 70 races at 30 locations and in three series. The total distance is 21,908 miles with the maximum possibility of 17,350 laps.
Harvick returns to the speedway Sept. 29 and 30 to drive in the Busch and Winston Cup series respectively.