On the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500 the motorsports world was changed forever. Dale Earnhardt, NASCAR’s “The Man” was taken from the sport he loved so much. Team owner Richard Childress and Earnhardt had made an agreement that if either were lost, the team would carry on. Childress tapped young racing sensation Kevin Harvick to take over the responsibilities of driving for the Goodwrench sponsored Childress team. Harvick had been virtually hand picked for the role by both Earnhardt and Childress in discussions prior to February 2001.
The car would be assigned the number 29 and compete at the next event, Rockingham. Kevin finished a respectable 14th at Rockingham followed by a promising eighth place finish in Las Vegas. In the next race, Atlanta, the team qualified fifth while Dale Jarrett took the pole with Jeff Gordon securing the other front row position. In only his third NASCAR Winston Cup start and his first 500 miler, rookie Harvick strapped himself into the Goodwrench Chevrolet. The determination that Earnhardt and Childress had seen in the 25 year-old would be tested on NASCAR’s fastest track.
The green flag waved and the illustrious field thundered onto the 24 degree banking. Representing 43 teams and NASCAR’s elite, the cars formed a multicolored ribbon of steel and accelerated into battle. Harvick’s aggressive style and persistence was rewarded as he raced in the lead pack throughout the day. With the race entering the final stages a dramatic showdown was developing. Kevin strategically maneuvered his racer in position for an Earnhardt style charge. In turn four the rookie made a daring three-wide pass to take the lead with only five laps remaining. On the final lap Harvick countered every offensive move by three-time champion Gordon and coming out of the last turn the white newly painted Goodwrench Chevy would be victorious.
Harvick and the Richard Childress Racing GM Goodwrench Service Plus Team would go on to win again at the inaugural Chicagoland event. By year’s end Kevin Harvick would be NASCAR Winston Cup Rookie Of The Year, NASCAR Busch Grand National Champion and be named by the National Motorsports Press Association Driver Of The Year. He became the first rookie in the 33-year history of the award to be named driver of the year!
The number three is synonymous with winning in NASCAR Winston Cup Racing. On March 11, 2001 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway Kevin Harvick was victorious in only his third Winston Cup Start, a modern era record, and dedicated the race to Dale Earnhardt. Harvick celebrated his inaugural win by circling the speedway extending his arm from the car and holding three fingers in the air, the same salute that Earnhardt fans had delivered on lap three of the event. Again the number three was a symbol of victory!