This is the 11th in a series of 2013 Sprint Cup Series driver recaps that will be featured on NASCAR.com
After sitting on stage alongside fellow title hopefuls Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship contenders press conference three days before the 2013 season finale, Kevin Harvick couldn't resist pointing out the irony.
A four-time race winner and bona fide championship player right up until the last checkered flag, Harvick chided the NASCAR press corps for not giving him much of a shake nine months earlier in Daytona Beach. He recalled only two reporters attended his preseason media availability.
"I did tell those two people that this has a very good possibility of being the best year that I've ever had at RCR just for the fact there's really no pressure for me," Harvick said with a smirk. "Everybody wants to go out on a high."
And that he did.
Harvick completed a dramatic and successful 13-year tenure in the Sprint Cup Series at Richard Childress Racing with one of the most accomplished seasons of his career. His third-place finish in the championship -- for the third time in four years -- equaled a career-best finish and featured nine top-fives, 21 top-10s and his first Coors Light Pole position (Kansas) since 2006.
In fact, the 21 top-10 finishes was the second-best tally ever for Harvick. And only the newly crowed six-time champion Johnson (six wins) and runner-up Kenseth (seven) had more wins on the year. Kyle Busch matched Harvick with four victories.
Two of Harvick's wins in the No. 29 Chevrolet came when it counted most during the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, highlighted by a win from the pole at Kansas. He also won the Sprint Unlimited preseason all-star race at Daytona and one of the two Budweiser Duel races at Daytona.
Harvick's performance ultimately shamed anyone too willing to write off his final season at RCR as a lame-duck effort.
"It's all you could have asked for," Harvick said. "We obviously wanted to win the championship, but under the circumstances, it (the season) far exceeded everyone else's expectations but our own."
There were, however, challenges.
Knowing that 2013 would be Harvick's final year with RCR, there was a lot of speculation as to what kind of send-off it would be. Winning the Sprint Unlimited and one of the Daytona 500 qualifiers seemed to answer any questions about Harvick or his team's motivation.
But a crash and 42nd-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500 put the team in catch-up mode from the first green flag. And Harvick managed only a single top-10 in the first eight races (ninth at Las Vegas).
His first trip to Victory Lane in 2013, at Richmond in April, righted the ship, however.
Following the win at Richmond, he had top-10 finishes in nine of the next 10 races, including another win at Charlotte. A crash and 40th-place finish at Talladega was the only blemish in that span.
A strong summer set Harvick up for a legitimate run at the championship. Not only did he win twice during the Chase, but he led 218 laps (out of his season total of 269 laps led) during those 10 races.
Perhaps most telling about Harvick and his team's commitment was that he succeeded despite a controversial late season incident while competing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at Martinsville, where he had a run-in and verbal sparring match with his team owner Richard Childress' grandson, Ty Dillon.
Harvick answered the headline-making hullabaloo with a Cup win two weeks later at Phoenix.
It was a turning point for Harvick in a much broader sense. He said in reconciling the situation with Childress, it brought the two full circle. It triggered a time to reflect on their time together which included an incredibly emotional and difficult Cup beginning when Childress tabbed Harvick to succeed Dale Earnhardt in the car after the seven-time Cup champion died following a crash in the 2001 Daytona 500.
"I think the Martinsville situation drew to our attention to just how good each other have been through the years for each other," Harvick said. "There's that competitive fire that's driven in both of us."
"You think back to just how it started. That was obviously the highest of a situation of being in an adversity situation you could be, and yet we were able to overcome and perform. And then when we had lack of performance through the years to comeback and get the performance back where it needs to be, saying things you don't need to stay, stressing that relationship, figuring that out and knowing how to come back and win.
"We've done that for years."
Even as Harvick closed out his final 2013 interview session -- attended by dozens of reporters -- discussing his highly anticipated move to Stewart-Haas Racing next year, he took the time to celebrate and relish this season. And he was able to look back on his career at RCR with few regrets and many triumphs -- including a proper final chapter.
"Really this was the way I would want to leave with everybody shaking hands and happy that we have been together and been successful together," he said.
FULL SERIES COVERAGE
SEASON IN REVIEW
- Dec. 11: Carl Edwards
- Dec. 12: Kasey Kahne
- Dec. 13: Ryan Newman
- Dec. 16: Kurt Busch
- Dec. 17: Greg Biffle
- Dec. 18: Joey Logano
- Dec. 19: Clint Bowyer
- Dec. 20: Jeff Gordon
- Dec. 23: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
- Dec. 26: Kyle Busch
- Dec. 27: Kevin Harvick
- Dec. 30: Matt Kenseth
- Jan. 2: Jimmie Johnson
- Motor Racing
- Sports & Recreation