Kevin Harvick entered another tier of excellence Sunday with his dominating NASCAR Cup Series victory at Darlington Raceway.
With his second career victory at the track “Too Tough To Tame,” the 44-year-old driver notched the 50th Cup Series win of his two-decade career.
That’s an achievement only 13 other Cup drivers – including two who are active – have reached. All 11 retired drivers who have reached the mark are in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
More than half of Harvick’s wins – 27 of them – have come since he joined Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014. He’s now tied with Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett.
“I’m always very cautious in trying to analyze things that I do personally, just because I feel awkward doing that,” Harvick said Monday on NBCSN’s “Lunch Talk Live” with Mike Tirico. “But I think in this particular instance, when you talk about Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson and those types of names, you have to kind of sit back. For me I almost have to pinch myself, because those are people that have had a major impact on our sport. So you hear those names, sometimes I sit back and try to ask myself, ‘Have you done what you needed to do in order to live up to the expectation of what those guys have done besides just winning 50 races?’
“There is a responsibility that comes with all that when you put yourself up next to names like that and for me that’s a good reminder of making sure that you take seriously the responsibility of trying to make the sport better and move it forward, because that’s what those names have done and they’re icons in our sport and I’m personally holding myself responsible to try to come close to living up to those expectations.”
The last time the Cup Series boasted three active drivers with 50+ wins was the 2001 Daytona 500, the weekend before Harvick’s debut.
In the field that day were Dale Earnhardt Sr., Jeff Gordon and Rusty Wallace. Earnhardt had 76 wins and Gordon and Wallace had joined the 50-win club within three weeks of each other the previous season.
Earnhardt’s death in a crash on the last lap of the Daytona 500 resulted in Harvick being promoted by Richard Childress Racing to take his place the following weekend at Rockingham. He’d earn his first Cup win in his third start, beating Gordon in a photo finish at Atlanta.
With Johnson set to retire from full-time Cup racing after this season, the active 50-win club will be back to two drivers relatively quickly.
Harvick might be the last driver to enter the 50-win tier in the Cup Series for at least a few years.
The next active driver on the all-time wins list is Denny Hamlin. Hamlin, 39, sits at 38 victories following his win in the Daytona 500 in February. He’s won seven times over the last two seasons after going winless in 2018.
Keselowski, 36, has been winning at a consistent rate the last four seasons, winning at least three times each year since 2016. If he kept that pace up, he’d need another six to seven seasons to reach 50.