"Gordon got loose, it's Harvick!"
Kevin Harvick’s 2001 win at Atlanta Motor Speedway, which occurred 12 years ago this week, remains one of the most memorable finishes in NASCAR history. Not only was it one of the closest finishes of all time in NASCAR’s top division, but also came just three races following the death of Dale Earnhardt with Harvick driving the car formerly driven by the seven-time champion.
But what was the day like for individuals who played some of the biggest roles in the finish?
"The circumstances that we won that first race under... we won't ever forget that moment just because of everything that went on. When I start thinking about it, it brings those same chills back that I got at that particular time of winning my first race,” Harvick recalls. “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. You look for the opportunity to take those moments and try to capitalize on them."
“At the time, I was really wanting to be the spoiler of that victory because we wanted to win and you see the checkered flag and you just want to go for it. But looking back on it, it was a special moment for our sport with the loss of Dale (Earnhardt, Sr.) bringing Kevin on; it was just meant to be for those guys,” Gordon said recently. “Looking back on it, I’m kind of glad we didn’t win that race that day. It certainly made for an even better story and great highlights to see just how close we did come to getting that victory that day.”
Chocolate Myers, long-time crew member for Dale Earnhardt, Sr. who was a gas man for Kevin Harvick in 2001.
"It would be hard to say what this has done not just for me,” Myers told Sports Illustrated after the race, “but for everybody on this team. We needed this. We needed this. This did something for each individual a little bit different inside personally.”
Ed Clark, Atlanta Motor Speedway President and General Manager
“I always tell people that the two things that stand out the most for me here are the 1992 November race and Kevin Harvick’s win.
“I’ve been in this business over 30 years, and I’ve never heard the fans in the stands continue to cheer and express their emotion for that long once a winner had crossed the finish line. It literally went on for seven or eight minutes without dying down at all,” Clark recalls. “It was just a huge moment for the sport. The thing I probably won’t ever forget is just seeing Chocolate Myers’ face and how emotional it was for him.”
Brandon Hutchison, Atlanta Motor Speedway Vice President of Events
"There was the emotion surrounding losing the greatest hero our sport has ever known along with the anticipation of his car, the number 29 driven by rookie Kevin Harvick being back on track," Hutchison recollects. "We handed out flyers in the stands asking fans to raise "3" on the third pace lap in honor of Dale, what a touching moment… And then the finish, the last lap excitement created by Harvick holding off Jeff Gordon will be remembered for a long, long time."
"The crowd exploded with joy to see that car cross the finish line first and Earnhardt’s crew was overcome by emotion. I’m not really sure if they got a lot of joy from the win but as the tears flowed in victory lane on that day I am convinced the win gave them an opportunity to begin to heal and come to terms with the death of their friend," Hutchison added. "I feel lucky to have been a part of the day, it will no doubt be one of the lasting memories I’ll take from this sport."
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
"The competitor in me is a little jealous, but I'm really happy for Richard and especially that team because I know how much my father meant to those guys,” Earnhardt Jr. said after the race. “And it really makes me feel good to go home tonight knowing those guys have something to celebrate."
Richard Childress, car owner for Kevin Harvick
“I’m just thrilled. I ask Dale to help us, and he did,” Childress said during an interview after the race.