Two-time Grammy Award winner LL Cool J wrote “Going Back to Cali” in 1989. While the rapper-turned-actor was indecisive about heading back to the Golden State – “I don't think so” is uttered repeatedly in the chorus line –
for others, there’s no doubt that California’s the place to be.
Count Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), as one of those who can’t wait to head to the West Coast. The Bakersfield native may have begun receiving his mail in North Carolina in 1999, but he still considers Auto Club Speedway in Fontana to be his home track. After all, it’s where he began racing after receiving a go-kart from his parents for his kindergarten graduation. The now 13-year Sprint Cup veteran progressed on a “Freaky Fast” path to establishing an impressive record that includes 78 wins across NASCAR’s top-three series – Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck.
After gaining experience behind the wheel of his go-kart, Harvick began racing at local tracks at age 7. For 10 years, he was a force on the karting circuit, earning seven national championships and two Grand National championships. He made the move to full-bodied stock cars in 1992, competing at local racetracks in the Late Model division. In 1993, he won the Late Model track championship at his hometown track – Mesa Marin Speedway in Bakersfield.
Harvick advanced to what was then known as the NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Tour full-time in 1995, where he earned Rookie of the Year honors and finished 11th in points. He made his first career Truck Series start later that year, Oct. 15 at Mesa Marin, where he started and finished 27th in his family owned No. 72 truck.
After taking over driving duties of the No. 75 Spears Motorsports Chevrolet in the Truck Series for the second half of the 1997 season, Harvick scored two top-10 finishes and earned the ride on a full-time basis for 1998. In addition to his Truck Series driving duties, Harvick also competed full-time in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West. His commitment to his racing career paid off as he won five races en route to the K&N Pro Series West championship.
Harvick’s success behind the wheel caught the eye of NASCAR team owner Richard Childress, who selected Harvick as the driver of the No. 2 Chevrolet in the Nationwide Series for the 2000 season. In his first full season, Harvick scored three wins and finished third in the championship standings while claiming Rookie of the Year honors.
He was scheduled to compete full-time in the Nationwide Series in 2001 in addition to making his Sprint Cup debut in a limited schedule behind the wheel of Childress’ No. 30 Chevrolet. But his career path was forever altered when Hall of Fame driver Dale Earnhardt lost his life in an accident on the final lap of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 18, 2001. Following the tragedy, Childress appointed Harvick to assume full-time driving duties for the famed GM Goodwrench Chevrolet – renumbered from No. 3 to No. 29 – beginning with the series’ second race at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham while simultaneously competing for the Nationwide Series championship.
Harvick quickly proved he was up to the daunting task of following a legend when, in his third Sprint Cup start, he scored his first win March 11 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Harvick went on to earn Rookie of the Year honors en route to a ninth-place finish in the season-ending Sprint Cup point standings despite only participating in 35 of 36 races. In addition to his Sprint Cup Series successes, Harvick scored five wins in the Nationwide Series and claimed his first Nationwide Series championship.
And the rest, as they say, is history. Harvick’s well-documented successes have seen him find victory lane in the Sprint Cup Series another 23 times, including in March 2011 at Fontana. He’s claimed 32 additional Nationwide Series victories and the 2006 driver championship, as well as 14 wins and three owner championships in the Truck Series.
With disappointing finishes of 41st and 39th, respectively, in the two races following his most-recent win at Phoenix International Raceway three weeks ago, Harvick will look to capitalize on his home-track advantage this weekend and score another win under the California sun.