Long: Kevin Harvick has provided a spark for NASCAR through the years

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The assignment for the sixth grade class in Bakersfield, California, was to write about career goals. 

Even then, Kevin Harvick stood out.

The son of a firefighter, Harvick didn’t forecast riding siren-screaming trucks to emergencies. Instead, he detailed how he would race wheel-screeching cars and reach the NASCAR Winston Cup Series by age 30.

Harvick made it when he was 25 years old. 

MORE: 10 stellar moments in Kevin Harvick’s career

While his path seemed simple, it has been anything but for the future NASCAR Hall of Famer, who announced Thursday that this season — his 23rd in Cup — will be his final year. 

The 47-year-old has spent nearly half his life racing in NASCAR’s premier series, winning a championship and building a legacy, but nothing compares to his first Cup season.

Scheduled to compete in select Cup races in 2001 while running a full Busch Series schedule for car owner Richard Childress, those plans changed when Dale Earnhardt died in a last-lap crash in the Daytona 500.

Childress asked Harvick to drive for Earnhardt’s team. 

“This will undoubtedly be the hardest thing that ever happens in my life,” Harvick said before his Cup debut at North Carolina Speedway, the week after Earnhardt’s crash. 

That race took place amid what was to be one of the happiest moments of Harvick’s life.

Harvick and wife DeLana were to be married in Las Vegas two days after the rain-delayed race. They thought about postponing it, but Childress told them not to do so. He told them that if ever there was a time for happiness, it was then.

Eleven days later, Harvick, in a white No. 29 car, nipped Jeff Gordon’s brightly colored car by six-thousandths of a second to win at Atlanta in what remains the fifth-closest Cup finish since electronic scoring debuted in 1993.  

Harvick appeared on the way to immediate stardom, but his path veered. While many wanted him to be an Earnhardt clone, Harvick sought his own identity. Conflict ensued.

Harvick’s feistiness led to confrontations with drivers. An altercation with Chad Little in the Darlington garage after a Busch Series race in 2001 led to a $10,000 fine and probation. 

After being wrecked by Greg Biffle in a Busch race at Bristol in 2002, Harvick leapt onto the trunk of Biffle’s car after the race and then lunged at Biffle. 

Two races later, NASCAR parked Harvick for the Martinsville Cup race a day after he wrecked Coy Gibbs in the Truck race in retaliation for an earlier incident. Ordered to report to the NASCAR hauler after the on-track incident, Harvick stopped his truck two feet from the rear of the hauler and left his truck there. 

In 2003 at Richmond, contact from Ricky Rudd sent Harvick into the wall. After the race, Harvick parked his wrecked car next to Rudd’s on pit road. Harvick yelled at Rudd before walking across the hood of Rudd’s car. Asked what Harvick said to him, Rudd said he didn’t hear because “(Harvick’s) got that little yap-yap mouth.”

Harvick has been at the center of other memorable quotes. After the fortunate timing of a caution helped Jimmie Johnson win at Auto Club Speedway in 2010, Harvick said of Johnson’s team: “They have a golden horseshoe stuck up their ass.”

Later that season, Joey Logano, upset after contact from Harvick spun him late in a race at Pocono, told reporters: “It’s probably not his fault. His wife wears the fire suit in the family.”

Other times, Harvick has shined. He has often done things differently. He signed to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing a year before his contract with Richard Childress Racing ended after the 2013 season. Despite predictions that Harvick would falter in a lame-duck season, he won four races and finished third in points, tying for his best points result to that point.

He won the Cup title the following season at SHR. Partnered with crew chief Rodney Childers, they formed a team that got better with age. Twenty-nine of Harvick’s 60 Cup victories have come after he turned 40 — a time when driver careers often slow instead of accelerate.

He still has the fire, as was evident in his confrontation on pit road with Chase Elliott at Bristol during the 2021 playoffs. Elliott was upset with Harvick for contact that cut Elliott’s tire late. Harvick was upset with Elliott impeding him in the final laps, costing Harvick the win. The feud continued for a couple of weeks, leading to Harvick punting Elliott at the Charlotte Roval.

Harvick also has shown signs of growth. He’s become more focused on the direction of the sport. He’s served as a mentor for young drivers. As driver angst grew about injuries last year, Harvick spoke out about safety concerns last fall.

Now, he prepares for his final season as a driver. It’s a long way back from when he would work with his dad under a race car at age 3 and help “fix” it. That meant sticking spark plugs into crevices only to see those spark plugs bounce out from underneath the car once it was on track.

Then again, Harvick didn’t need those spark plugs. He provides the spark.

NASCAR Sunday schedule at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

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It’s race day for the NASCAR Cup Series.

The Clash at the Coliseum will open the 2023 season for NASCAR on Sunday with the featured 150-lap race scheduled for 8 p.m. ET at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The field for the non-points race will be set by a series of heat and last chance races Sunday afternoon. The top five finishers in each of four 25-lap heat races will advance to the feature, and the top three finishers in two 50-lap last chance races will join the grid.

Joey Logano won last year’s Clash as it moved from its long-time home at Daytona International Speedway to the Coliseum.

The Cup Series regular season is scheduled to begin Feb. 19 with the Daytona 500.

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

Weather

Sunday: Partly cloudy with a high of 64 degrees in the afternoon and no chance of rain. It is expected to be sunny with a high of 62 degrees and a 1% chance of rain at the start of the Clash.

Sunday, Feb. 5

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. Sunday – 12:30 a.m. Monday — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 5 – 5:45 p.m. — Four heat races (25 laps; Fox, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 6:10 – 6:35 p.m. — Two last chance qualifying races (50 laps; Fox, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 8 p.m. — Feature race (150 laps; Fox, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

NASCAR Clash heat race lineups

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LOS ANGELES — Justin Haley, Kyle Busch, Christopher Bell and William Byron will start on the pole for their heat races Sunday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. 

There will be nine cars in each of the four heat races. Here’s a look at each of the those heat races.

Clash heat race starting lineups

Heat 1

This heat has four drivers who did not make last year’s Clash: Alex Bowman, Aric Almirola, Chris Buescher and Ty Dillon. Almirola starts second, Bowman third, Buescher eighth and Dillon ninth. This heat also has defending Clash winner and reigning Cup champion Joey Logano, who starts fifth.

Heat 2

Richard Childress Racing teammates Busch and Austin Dillon start 1-2. This race has five former champions: Busch, Kyle Larson (starting third), Kevin Harvick (fourth), Martin Truex Jr. (fifth) and Chase Elliott (eighth).

Heat 3

Toyota drivers will start first (Bell), second (Denny Hamlin) and fifth (Tyler Reddick). Ryan Blaney starts last in this heat after his fastest qualifying lap was disallowed Saturday.

Heat 4 

Byron will be joined on the front row by AJ Allmendinger in this heat. The second row will have Ross Chastain and Bubba Wallace.

The top five in each heat advances to Sunday night’s Clash. Those not advancing go to one of two last chance qualifying races. The top three in each of those races advances to the Clash. The 27 and final spot in the Clash is reserved for the driver highest in points who has yet to make the field.

Justin Haley tops field in Clash qualifying

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LOS ANGELES — Justin Haley posted the fastest lap in Saturday’s qualifying for the Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Haley will start the first of four heats on the pole after a lap of 67.099 mph (13.413 seconds). The four heat races will be held Sunday afternoon, followed by two last chance qualifying races and then the Busch Clash on Sunday night.

Clash qualifying results

“I feel pretty confident about where we are,” Haley said. “I’m not sure why we’re so good here.”

The top four qualifiers will start on the pole for their heat race.

Kyle Busch, who was second on the speed chart with a lap of 66.406 mph, will start on the pole for the second heat. That comes in his first race with Richard Childress Racing after having spent the past 15 seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Christopher Bell, third on the speed chart with a lap of 66.328 mph, will start on the pole for the third heat. William Byron, fourth in qualifying with a lap of 66.196 mph, will start on the pole in the fourth heat race.

The pole-sitters for each of the four heat races last year all won their heat. That included Haley, who was third fastest in qualifying last year and won the third heat from the pole.

Ty Gibbs was not allowed to qualify because of unapproved adjustments his team made while making repairs to his car after the door foam caught fire during practice. NASCAR deemed that the Joe Gibbs Racing team made adjustments to the car not directly related to the damage.

Ryan Blaney‘s fastest qualifying lap was disallowed after he stopped the car in Turn 4 and turned it around and to go back to the backstretch and build speed for his final lap. NASCAR disallowed the time from that final lap for the maneuver.

Section 7.8.F of the Cup Rule Book states: “Unless otherwise determined by the Series Managing Director, drivers who encounter a problem during Qualifying will not be permitted to travel counter Race direction.”

The top five finishers in each of the four 25-lap heat races advance to the Clash. The top three in the two 50-lap last chance races move on to the Clash. The final spot in the 27-car field is reserved for the driver highest in points not yet in the field.

Chase Briscoe, AJ Allmendinger in first on-track conflict of the season.

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LOS ANGELES — The first on-track conflict of the 2023 NASCAR Cup season?

Did you have Chase Briscoe and AJ Allmendinger?

They made contact during Saturday night’s practice session at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the Busch Light Clash.

Busch Clash practice results

Briscoe explained what happened from his point of view.

“(Allmendinger) was slowing down so much on the straightaway to get a gap (away from other cars),” Briscoe told Motor Racing Network. “I felt like I was beside him pretty far down the straightaway. I got in there a little hot for sure, but, honestly, I thought he was going to give it to me since we were in practice. Went into (Turn) 3 and he just drove me straight into the fence. Definitely frustrating. … Just unfortunate. We don’t have a single back-up car out there between the four of us at SHR. 

“Definitely will set us behind quite a bit. Just chalk it up in the memory blank.”

Asked what happened with Briscoe, Allmendinger told MRN: “He ran inside of me, so I made sure I paid him back and sent him into the fence.

“It’s practice. I get it, I’m struggling and in the way, but come barreling in there. I just showed my displeasure for it. That’s not the issue. We’re just not very good right now.”

Earlier in practice, Ty Gibbs had to climb out of his car after it caught on fire. Gibbs exiting the car safely. The Joe Gibbs Racing team worked on making repairs to his No. 54 car. NASCAR stated that the car would not be allowed to qualify because of unapproved adjustments, modifications not directly related to the damage.