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Year in Review: Son's birth, announcement of team change define Harvick's season

December 07, 2012, Seth Livingstone, Special to NASCAR.COM, NASCAR.com

Two of Kevin Harvick's 2012 highlights were the birth of his son Keelan and his win at Phoenix. (Autostock)

Year in Review: Son's birth, announcement of team change define season

Kevin Harvick might be excused if his focus wasn't completely on the prize in 2012.

It seems it was always on the future.

Early in the season, Harvick's mind admittedly was on his pregnant wife, DeLana, and his first child Keelan, who was born in July. Late in the season, it was undoubtedly on his decision to join Stewart-Haas Racing for the 2014 season.

"I know that these guys all want to win. I know Richard wants to win, regardless of what happens in 2014."

--KEVIN HARVICK

Kevin Harvick

2012 statistics
WinsFirst 26Final 10
Top-Fives41
Top-10s113
Poles00
DNFs11
Laps Led22927
Avg. Start13.218.4
Avg. Finish12.012.4

It's sure to be an awkward situation for all concerned in 2013. Harvick will be leaving Richard Childress, the owner who hand-picked him to replace Dale Earnhardt in 2001 and the business partner who absorbed Kevin Harvick Inc. prior to the 2012 season.

Harvick's finest racing moment came in the next-to-last weekend of the season when he won the AdvoCare 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. His lone Sprint Cup victory of the year -- the19th of his career -- came two days after Tony Stewart leaked the news that Harvick would be driving for his team in 2014.

By then, Harvick's Chase hopes were long over. His victory ended a 44-race winless drought and helped him salvage an eighth-place finish in the Chase, marking the eighth time he'd finished a season in the top 10 in points.

"We went through a lot of ups and downs, but the guys on my 29 team battled all season long," said Harvick, who has been nothing but gracious in discussing his long relationship and impending departure from Childress. Although Harvick still has another full season to run with RCR, he can't help but see the writing on the wall. Childress is clearly grooming grandsons Austin and Ty Dillon for long-term success behind the wheel of his Cup cars.

"Regardless of what happens on the business side of things, Richard Childress and myself will always be friends," said Harvick on the victory podium at Phoenix. "We may agree to disagree, but we still have a lot of racing left to do, and we owe it to our sponsors and our company to go out and do exactly what we did.

"It has been a struggle for the year. It has been an interesting weekend to say the least. But I know that these guys all want to win. I know Richard wants to win, regardless of what happens in 2014."

Childress said he expected 2013 to be a rocky road on the owner's side, with essentially a lame-duck driver in his flagship car. It is believed that sponsors Budweiser and Jimmy Johns will follow Harvick to SHR in 2014.

"People are not going to be buying a lot of 29 souvenirs for sure," Childress told ESPN during NASCAR's championship week celebration in Las Vegas. "It'll make [for] a difficult year. But it's there. We've got to live with it and move forward. The timing wasn't great on the leak, but we're going to go race."

From a driver's perspective, Harvick thinks he can compartmentalize his job behind the wheel and concentrate on winning in 2013, as evidenced by his performance at Phoenix.

"There can be distractions -- whatever can be happening around the race track, off the track," he said. "But when you get in that garage, everybody is doing their jobs. I get in the car, [Childress] is up on [top of] the trailer. We're all just racers in the end. When we actually get into our element, we all do our jobs, regardless. We don't want to go out and embarrass ourselves and not run good. We want to be ... in Victory Lane, doing all the things that make us happy."

Harvick, who turns 37 Dec. 8, finished the season with three consecutive top-10 finishes, perhaps benefiting from RCR's October appointment of Dr. Eric Warren as competition director. But Harvick's end-of-season rally couldn't mask that he failed to crack the top 10 in any of the first seven Chase races.

Childress credited Harvick's team, led by crew chief Gil Martin, for not packing it in. Martin replaced Shane Wilson atop the pit box in August but could not help Harvick's difficulties in qualifying. Harvick qualified in the top 10 in six of the season's first nine races but no better than 10th in any of the final 19.

"You know, everybody has worked hard all year long," Childress said. "There's no question we got a little behind on some of this skew and all this stuff that [teams] were doing. It put us behind, and we didn't get the year we wanted. But to come out with a win, it was big, and I couldn't be prouder of this whole team."

Still, Harvick's crowning moment of 2012 came off the track. He says nothing made him prouder or happier than to experience the birth of his son.

"Nothing can top seeing and being part of my son Keelan's birth," he said. "It's definitely the most rewarding thing. It's the best moment I've gotten to experience in my life."

Watch all of Harvick's highlights from 2012 and flip through his year in photos below.