Kevin Harvick raced his way into the hearts race fans after his triumphant and emotional victory in the March, 2001 NEXTEL Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
After Dale Earnhardt died in the season opening 2001 Daytona 500, team owner Richard Childress tabbed Harvick to drive the GM Goodwrench Chevrolet. With a new white paint job and No. 29 replacing the famed black No.3, Harvick, in just his third NEXTEL Cup start, beat Jeff Gordon to the finish line by a breathtaking 0.006 seconds.
"The circumstances that we won that first race under... we won't ever forget that moment just because of everything that went on," Harvick said. "When I start thinking about it, it brings those same chills back that I got at that particular time of winning my first race. I know that I can't do that again and that's obviously because of the circumstances.
"Those are the kind of situations as professionals that you dream about," Harvick remembered. "You look for the opportunity to take those moments and try to capitalize on them."
Since his first victory, Harvick has struggled at Atlanta Motor Speedway, recording only one other top-10 finish, a third-place run in the fall of 2001.
"We've won in Atlanta, so the performance is there," Harvick said. "Maybe we used our luck up in the beginning, but we have been good in past years performance-wise and just got caught up in a wreck. So I think from a performance aspect we should be fine, it's just a matter of making all the right moves and having a whole day come together."
Harvick's average Cup finish at NASCAR's fastest track is a mere 25th-place, in 12 races. However, the defending Busch Series champion has recorded three top-11 finishes in five Busch starts at AMS, but has yet to finish in the top-five.
"Atlanta is fast, very fast," Harvick said. "You can race all over the racetrack, from the white line to the wall, and still be competitive. You have to have the complete package to contend for the win there, and horsepower is always important. It's a lot of fun to race on, but very fast.
"I just struggle finding the right feel for me to be comfortable. It is just something that I need to get better at and really focus on getting my car right."
Harvick's Richard Childress Racing teammates Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer have struggled at AMS as well, with the three drivers posting a collective average finish of 23rd-place over the last two years.
"We feel good with Atlanta coming up," last year's Nicorette 300 Busch race winner Burton said. "We had a real good car there last spring, a top-five car. We had problems there at the end and didn't finish where we should have.
"Nevertheless, our mile and a half program has been really good and we feel great about it," Burton said.
With all three RCR drivers currently sitting in the top-six in the points race, a Richard Childress Racing photo finish, much like the 2001 finish Harvick was involved in, would not be a surprise.