KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – official team release – Chris Graythen/Getty Images North America photo –
Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s/Budweiser Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), won his first Sprint Cup Series race in only his third career Sprint Cup Series start on March 11, 2001 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
This weekend, Harvick returns to the site of his maiden victory for Sunday’s Folds of Honor 500 as the defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion.
The circumstances surrounding the month leading up to Harvick’s first career Sprint Cup win in 2001 make it all the more remarkable.
Following Dale Earnhardt’s death on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, Harvick was named the driver of the No. 29 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing and made his Sprint Cup debut Feb. 26 at Rockingham (N.C.) Speedway, where he finished 14th.
The following Wednesday, February 28, as the Sprint Cup Series headed west to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Harvick married his wife DeLana. That Sunday, March 4, Harvick scored his first career Sprint Cup top-10. Then, on March 11, less than one month since his debut in NASCAR’s top series, Harvick won his first Sprint Cup race at Atlanta.
Harvick’s first win also didn’t come easily. With five laps remaining and Harvick racing in the third position, he chased down NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Dale Jarrett for second, then driver Jerry Nadeau for the lead. Once he took the lead, Harvick had to hold off another future Hall of Fame driver in Jeff Gordon to secure the win. As Harvick and Gordon raced door-to-door to the finish line, Harvick prevailed to secure his first win by 0.006 of a second.
Harvick has gone on to win 28 Sprint Cup races among his 115 top-five finishes and 230 top-10s, and he’s earned 14 pole positions to go with last year’s Sprint Cup Championship in the 14 years since.
Since his maiden Sprint Cup win at Atlanta, Harvick has reached victory lane at Atlanta on four other occasions, three times in the NASCAR Xfinity Series – including his last two Xfinity Series starts in 2013 and 2014 – and once in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
In 24 Sprint Cup starts at Atlanta, the defending Sprint Cup champion has one win, one pole, five top-five finishes and nine top-10s, and he’s led 432 laps. He has an average starting position of 18.5 and average finish of 18.8, and he’s completed nearly 98 percent of the 7,760 laps contested.
The Bakersfield, California native came close to adding a second Sprint Cup win at Atlanta last September, when he won the pole and led 195 of 335 laps before late-race tire strategy by several drivers led to a multi-car wreck involving his No. 4 Chevrolet.
This weekend, Harvick will attempt to add that elusive second Sprint Cup win at the 1.54-mile oval in Sunday’s Folds of Honor 500. He will also race the No. 88 Bad Boy Buggies Chevrolet Camaro for JR Motorsports on Saturday in search of his third consecutive Atlanta Xfinity Series win.