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How Kevin Harvick decided to extend career, step back from media roles

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Before signing the extension that will keep him in the No. 4 Ford for two more years through the 2023 season, Kevin Harvick did due diligence on the deal.

And this wasn’t just about the particulars of his new contract at Stewart-Haas Racing (though he and his representation surely went through the details with a fine-tooth comb, too).

Harvick, who turned 44 in December, consulted with several professional athletes – ex-NASCAR drivers such as Mark Martin, Dale Jarrett, Rusty Wallace but also Philadelphia Phillies manager Joe Girardi (who won three World Series as a New York Yankees catcher) – about how they weighed the merits of ending their careers.

“I asked a lot of questions about when those guys knew it was time and what did they feel like they could have done differently,” Harvick said Wednesday during Daytona 500 Media Day. “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?”

The best pieces of advice he received?

“The thing that stuck out to me from Mark was to just remember when you walk out the last time, you will never get to see your number on that scoreboard again,” Harvick said. “From Girardi, it was, ‘Make sure they take the jersey off for you, don’t take it off yourself.’ ”

By racing into his late 40s, Harvick will be bucking the increasingly popular conventional wisdom that NASCAR drivers peak at age 39 and then begin a steady decline (a theory that has gained notable traction through the Motorsports Analytics website).

“The analytics go off of average drivers, right? I like to think of myself as above average,” Harvick said with a chuckle. “Most of the time.”

Jarrett retired from racing at 52, and the NASCAR on NBC analyst was fond of saying the car “doesn’t know how old I am” in the waning years of his career. Harvick ascribes to the same philosophy.

“A lot of times people forget that this isn’t baseball, football or basketball,” he said. “Experience in this game matters a lot more than being able to run fast or jump high. Our bodies don’t matter as much as they do in other sports.

“Most of those (NASCAR drivers) were in their 50s when they quit. It is easier now than what it was then. That was one thing that Dale and Rusty 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. As long as that circle of life is balanced, our sport is not like other sports as far as your body is concerned.”

Harvick said he also was cautioned by Jarrett (who had a rough final season and a half at Michael Waltrip Racing) that “if you are with a good team, and you have worked your whole career for it, don’t walk away from it and turn your back on it.”

Harvick won his first championship when he joined Stewart-Haas and crew chief Rodney Childers in 2014, and the extension ensures he will be the team’s anchor driver for at least 10 consecutive seasons. He will spend the next three years spearheading SHR’s development of the NextGen car (which will make its debut in 2021), another sign of being its undisputed leader.

“The things that mean the most to me are keeping my team happy,” said Harvick, who has 26 Cup wins at SHR and has reached the championship round in five of the past six seasons. “I am fortunate that they keep me in the loop as far as opinions and where things are at. I am lucky because that is kind of what (co-owners) Tony (Stewart) and Gene (Haas) wanted as they hired me was to be a part of that stuff and be involved. I enjoy that part of it. I also enjoy the part that I don’t have to pay for it.”

In signing a new contract near the end of last year, Harvick also decided to step out of his commitments to Fox Sports (as an analyst the past few seasons) and SiriusXM’s NASCAR channel (as the host of the popular “Happy Hours” program since 2017).

His appearances on TV and radio were well-received and pointed toward a promising future, which prompted surprise about the extension because it seemed he could have been readying for a media career after next year.

“I don’t know if that is a fair assumption,” he said. “For me, being in the car was always on the table. I think for me it was really testing the waters to kind of see what that was all about. I am in a unique spot to be fortunate enough to be able to experience that and still drive the car.”

Eliminating the radio show returned Wednesday afternoons to Harvick, who has spoken about the importance of chauffeuring his 7-year-old, Keelan, and 2-year-old daughter, Piper, to school and activities like any parent.

With both kids now traveling on race weekends, being an Xfinity race analyst on a Saturday afternoon was less appealing to Harvick.

“With my family coming to the racetrack more now that Piper is older, it is almost like you are on vacation,” Harvick said. “The way the race schedule is on Saturdays, most of these tracks, you run one qualifying lap and have the rest of the day to figure out something to do. Those were some of the compromises that had to come with staying in the car in order to keep the family life balanced and be able to spend enough time with them.

“I enjoy doing TV. I enjoy doing radio. That is all stuff that down the road I still want to do, there are just compromises in every situation and the decision that I made had to come with compromises that lead to more time.”

March 30 in NASCAR History: Denny Hamlin earns first Martinsville win

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Back in the late 2000s, Martinsville Speedway might as well have been called Johnsonville Speedway.

Entering the March 30, 2008 race there, Jimmie Johnson had won the previous three races on NASCAR’s oldest track and he had four total since 2004.

By spring 2009 he’d bring that total to six, but not before a Virginia native provided a respite from Johnson’s domination.

Denny Hamlin, in his third full-time season Cup, started second on a dreary, misty day in Virginia that saw the race slowed by 18 cautions. Hamlin led 87 laps around the half-mile track, including the final 74.

Johnson wasn’t a factor in the finish, but Hamlin saw another driver with deep Martinsville history in his rear-view mirror. Hamlin had to hold off Jeff Gordon, then a seven-time Martinsville winner, over the final few laps.

“Finally, the curse is over I think, I hope,” Hamlin told Fox. “We had such bad luck over these last few weeks. It finally feels good to come here and get a win in front of the home town fans. Can’t wait. This is a sign of things to come I believe.”

It would turn out to be his only win of 2008, just like 2007. But within two years, Hamlin would have three more Martinsville grandfather clocks.

The race at Martinsville was also the first career Cup start for Michael McDowell, who drove the No. 00 Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing.

Also on this date:

1952: Herb Thomas led all 200 laps from the pole to win a Cup race at North Wilkesboro.

1980: A year after winning his first career Cup Series race at Bristol, Dale Earnhardt went back to victory lane at the half-mile track, winning a second straight race following a victory at Atlanta. Richard Petty was scored as finishing eighth in the race, but he was relieved in the event by Richard Childress, according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Modern Era.”

2014: Kurt Busch claims a victory at Martinsville Speedway for his first win with Stewart-Haas Racing and his first win since 2011.

Winners and losers from virtual Texas

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WINNERS

Timmy Hill — Underfunded rides have defined his NASCAR career, but he’s among the more successful Cup drivers in iRacing. He showed that Sunday, winning the Pro Invitational Series race at a virtual Texas Motor Speedway.

Garrett Smithley — He and Timmy Hill are the only drivers to score top-five finishes in each of the first two Pro Invitational races. Smithley was third Sunday.

Kurt Busch — His 10th-place finish Sunday was 25 spots better than his last-place finish the race before at a virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Kyle Larson — His ninth-place finish Sunday was 24 spots better than his finish the race before at a virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Jimmie Johnson — He finished 19th Sunday, placing 12 spots better than he did the week before. His performance came a day after he ran in the IndyCar Challenge iRacing race at a virtual Watkins Glen International and finished 16th.

LOSERS

William Byron — Led a race-high 80 of 130 laps before a bump-and-run by Timmy Hill moved Byron up the track and out of the lead in the final laps. Byron went on to finish seventh. Still, it was better than his 34th-place finish the previous race.

Ty Majeski — After placing ninth the race before, he finished 30th Sunday after a speeding pit penalty on pit road.

Xfinity, Truck and regional series drivers — With so many Cup drivers taking guaranteed spots in the main event, it leaves few drivers to transfer from the qualifying race. The first week, six Xfinity, Truck and regional series drivers advanced. Sunday, it was four.

Timmy Hill celebrates win but knows payback could be coming

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Timmy Hill said he had to make the move.

He also knows there could be consequences.

“But that’s in the future,” Hill said. “I’m kind of living in the present and happy to get the win.”

The 27-year-old driver, whose career has been defined by underfunded rides in NASCAR, used a bump-and-run to take the lead from William Byron with nine laps left and win Sunday’s eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series event at a virtual Texas Motor Speedway.

MORE: Race results 

MORE: What drivers said after iRacing race at virtual Texas

After he crossed the finish line first, Hill said his wife came up the stairs in their home to hug him and give him a cup of milk.

“Downed it right away,” Hill said.

But he likely was going to hold off contacting Byron, who finished seventh after leading a race-high 80 laps in the 130-lap event, extended by overtime.

“This is a very unique situation because, trust me, it feels real,” Hill said after the victory. “I’m sure (Byron) is mad. That’s one of the situations where I think if I call him today, he probably really wouldn’t even want to talk about it. I’ve got to probably give him some time to cool down.

“I may try to reach out to him. He’ll probably still be mad probably for the next coming weeks. Even though this is iRacing, it is virtual, the feelings are real.”

On the etiquette of iRacing and if there might be a payback, Byron tweeted “if he’s in front of me you can be sure of it” followed by a winking emoji.

The situation came about after a caution led to a restart with five laps left to the scheduled distance of 125 laps.

With four laps to the scheduled distance, Byron led with Hill on his rear bumper entering Turn 1.

“I didn’t go into it thinking I had to move William,” Hill said. ”I’m sure as everybody watched the race, Texas, with the way this format is, wide open in (Turns) 3 and 4, barely lift in (Turns) 1 and 2, I think you see drivers get in massive runs.

“The car in front has a couple options. You can try to race the guy heads‑up, side‑by‑side, or block all you can. For me, in the time remaining, when William threw a big block to protect his line, I had the option of either get hit from behind, hope I don’t get hit from behind, or give him a little bump and run and keep going.

“My mindset, had to make a quick split‑second decision, was to go for the win. I didn’t want to put myself in a bad spot to get hit from behind or take myself out of it. When William blocked going into Turn 1, kept a low line, protected his position, it left very few options for me in Turn 1. That’s kind of my mindset through it.”

Hill, who has no top-10 finishes in 96 career Cup starts and five top-10 finishes, including a third at Daytona in February, in 188 Xfinity starts, said that he hoped Sunday’s win could help with his underfunded teams when racing returns.

“Some of the best drivers are underrecognized because of the opportunity they’re in,” Hill said. “I’ve made a career personally out of taking cars that were 35th- to 40th-place cars, qualifying 25th. The reason I’ve been able to stay in this sport is because I can take a car and elevate it to a level to make fields, ultimately make a paycheck for teams.

“I wish people would kind of focus back towards that side of the garage, understand the deficits that we’re facing going into a race, because I think a lot of guys are shortchanged, some of their talents. I feel like I’m one of them. I feel like a lot of the guys in the top five (in Sunday’s iRacing race) are in the same boat as I am.

“I’m glad this is kind of showing a little bit of that. I don’t know if it will transfer in real life. I’m glad at least for the last couple weeks and going forward that can kind of showcase that a little bit.”

What drivers said after iRacing race at virtual Texas

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Timmy Hill — Winner: I definitely rank (the win) up there (among career achievements). The reason being is just because the platform is being televised on FOX, having essentially the entire NASCAR audience tuning in. I’ve won a lot of iRacing races. It’s neat to win on there. It’s really neat to win against your competitors that you race each and every Sunday.  … For me personally, what I’ll gain from this is recognition. For us, it’s hard to get that recognition because of the level of competition that we are in real life.  We’re doing our best. Frankly, we just don’t have the money, the dollars, to compete at a high level.  Every once in a while we’ll get a big sponsor and you’ll see us exceed normal expectations for us, like at Daytona where we had a really good Daytona 500 car, really good Xfinity car.  We finished third in the Xfinity race, made the Daytona 500. Every once in a while we’ll get that big payday and we can really reinvest in our race team. But most weekends we got to kind of do the best we can with the dollars we have. This win will hopefully gain some recognition and attract more sponsors for us maybe in the real world when we get back racing because they know Timmy Hill from iRacing.”

Ryan Preece — Finished 2nd:

 

Garrett Smithley — Finished 3rd: 

 

Alex Bowman — Finished 5th:

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. — Finished 6th:

 

William Byron — Finished 7th:

 

John Hunter Nemechek — Finished 8th:

 

Kurt Busch — Finished 10th:

Clint Bowyer — Finished 11th: “Today was all about survival, guys. I needed a redo for my Rush Truck Centers Ford Mustang because I got together with (Greg) Biffle, ‘The Biff’, off of (Turn) two. I guess we were three-wide. I didn’t realize we were three-wide. My spotter Jeff Gordon, I had to fire him halfway through the race and moved to Larry McReynolds. Larry said nothing when we were three-wide and I wrecked and collected a bunch of them. But again, a great time was had by all. Timmy Hill, big win for him and his brand. It’s going to be a lot of fun to compete in this over the next few weeks. But, man we are all in this together! Looking forward to next week.”

Parker Kligerman — Finished 12th:

 

Bobby Labonte — Finished 13th:

 

Michael McDowell — Finished 14th:

 

Kyle Busch — Finished 17th:

Jimmie Johnson — Finished 19th:

Chase Elliott — Finished 20th:

 

Erik Jones — Finished 21st:

 

Bubba Wallace — Finished 25th:

Alex Labbe — Finished 26th:

 

Austin Dillon — Finished 29th:

 

Ty Majeski — Finished 30th:

 

Ruben Garcia Jr. — Finished 31st:

 

Greg Biffle — Finished 32nd:

 

Daniel Suarez — Finished 33rd:

 

Anthony Alfredo — Finished 35th: