Richard Childress Racing
August 27, 2014
#RCR45: It's Harvick...Harvick By Inches
Nobody even thought the day would end with such a dramatic, and memorable, finish.
Richard Childress Racing entered Atlanta Motor Speedway for the third race of the 2001 season still dealing with the tragedy of losing Dale Earnhardt just three races prior. With a young rookie driver behind the wheel thrust into the spotlight, Kevin Harvick was at the helm of the No. 29 Goodwrench Chevrolet with Earnhardt’s crew behind him. As the race dwindled down, nobody even thought the day would end with such a dramatic, and memorable, finish.
Harvick was driving a Chevrolet that was a stark contrast of its former self, a white No. 29 Goodwrench Chevrolet, not a black No. 3 started fifth that day. With five laps remaining, the 25-year-old Sprint Cup Series rookie took the lead with a bold move on the bottom passing Jerry Nadeau and Dale Jarrett. Harvick held his line on the bottom and was now fending off a hard charging Jeff Gordon. When the white-flag flew, Harvick took the high line while Gordon dove to the bottom through turns three and four. Checkered flag in the air, the duo was side-by-side as NASCAR on Fox announcer Mike Joy emphatically called the finish: “Gordon got loose, IT’S HARVICK…HARVICK BY INCHES.”
With one of the closest finishes of NASCAR history at 0.006 seconds, Kevin Harvick claimed his first career Sprint Cup Series victory in dramatic and emotional fashion.
Current RCR fabricator and No. 29 crew member Coy Hedrick (member of the No. 3 Goodwrench team beginning in 1997) remembers the day well, “to be honest, all of us were thinking Earnhardt was driving that car. I know that’s farfetched, but we just felt so much Dale had a hand in that day because that kid drove his butt off. I hadn’t seen anyone do anything like that since…that was Dale’s kind of stuff.”
No. 29 crew member’s leapt off the pit wall with tears in their eyes, Richard Childress spoke with FOX’s Steve Byrnes, “Hard to say, I’m just thrilled. I kept praying for Dale to help us, he did.” Fans cheered and screamed holding up three fingers and clinging to the fence as Harvick ceremoniously road around the track.
Hedrick doesn’t really recall the final lap. “I was crying so hard when it happened, I didn’t know if we won or not. When they said we won we started crying a bunch more. It was such an emotional day; Harvick is such a great guy. Kevin Hamlin (crew chief) was so awesome in getting everything prepared and turned around, because Dale and Kevin were tight. It was devastating to him and the whole team did such an awesome job; it was unreal.”
Reflecting on his 2001 Sprint Cup season, Harvick had this to say about the momentous day. “Well we didn’t plan on racing in Cup but a few times just to get experience,” he said. “To be racing fulltime and get your win in just the third start was obviously probably not something that we really weren’t thinking about. Luckily, we had been there and tested in the No. 30 car and had a good feel for the track and everything that was going on, but the expectations were just run well and not necessarily win.”
Looking back to 13-years ago, Harvick recalls it was a season of firsts. “There’s so many things that happened that year, DeLana and I got married, we won the Nationwide championship, won our first cup race…ran my first cup race at that.” At the time Harvick became only the fifth driver to ever claim victory in his third career start. “There were a lot of things we were able to do for the first time. It wound up being a year that was just crazy and the circumstances on how everything worked out, but I kinda look back on it now and realize how many firsts there were in that year. You look back and wish you were able to enjoy ‘em’ under normal circumstances, but just a lot of things happened for the first time and wound up being a special year.”
Today, that same No. 29 white Goodwrench Chevrolet sits in the RCR Museum in Welcome, N.C. as one of the most iconic moments in RCR and NASCAR history. Harvick summed up the moment and day in victory lane, “I don’t know how you could script it any different.” Hedrick says “I still live off that day.”