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Kevin Harvick Prepared for One Final Daytona 500

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The first Daytona 500 start for Kevin Harvick in 2002 was an emotional one. Every driver is on edge during their first start in the Great American Race, but this one was different. Harvick was filling the gigantic footsteps of the late, great Dale Earnhardt, who passed away one year prior to that day.

“In my career, a lot of things happened backward, probably the opposite of the way they should have. My first season in Cup, I ran every race but the Daytona 500 because of Earnhardt’s death and replacing him in the car. Coming back to the Daytona 500 in 2002 was probably one of the bigger moments in my career just because of all the hype and anticipation from 2001.”

Chase Briscoe praised the way his Stewart Haas Racing teammate has handled that impossible situation. “Kevin had to try to replace someone who was 100 percent irreplaceable in Dale Earnhardt. I think when you look back at his career (60 Cup wins and a championship), you can say no one could have done it better than Kevin did. ”

Looking back at the 43 drivers entered in that race, Harvick is the only one that will be racing in the 65th running tomorrow. To put it in perspective even more, Kevin raced against Bill Elliott, Jeff Burton, and Dave Blaney in that 2002 race. Now he is competing against their sons – Chase Elliott, Harrison Burton and Ryan Blaney.

Fast forward five years later, and Harvick became a Daytona 500 winner. His narrow victory in a photo finish made that 2007 Daytona 500 the closest finish in the history of the event. It is now the second-closest finish after Denny Hamlin edged out Martin Truex Jr in the 2016 Great American Race.

Harvick is set to retire at the end of this season, meaning this is likely his last shot at another Harley J. Earl Trophy. He understands the weight this race holds, and the role it plays in the history of the sport.

“There’s nothing like coming to the green flag at the Daytona 500. The reason is hard to explain unless you’ve done it. There’s no other race like it, and I realized that when I won in 2007. You look at the names on that trophy and you go back and look at the history of our sport, and a lot of it has been made at Daytona. The Daytona 500 is the biggest race you’ll ever be a part of, and it’s the biggest win you’ll ever have.”

A win tomorrow from the 13th starting spot would be a poetic way for Harvick to become a multi-time Daytona 500 winner. He has come close many times before, with eight total top-five finishes in the event. He was runner-up in 2009 and 2015, and has finished in 4th place four times. That could be a good omen for the driver of the No. 4 Mustang.

While the emotions are sure to be at an all-time high on race day, Harvick knows that he will need to keep them in check for 500 miles.

“This race can get your emotions and twist them upside down and make you just crazy and want to do things that you know you shouldn’t do and take risks that you know you shouldn’t take and aren’t going to work, but you’ll do them anyway. It’s not just a race. It’s the Daytona 500.”

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