by Bobby Markos
When you spend your entire life in the racing world, you’re bound to have a dust-up or two, and sometimes those dust-ups become long running grudges. Since retiring from full time driving and finding his place in the commentating world, Dale Jr. has used his platform through the Download to speak with some of his adversaries and get to the roots of their contention. Appearing on the Download has become something of a therapeutic experience for some guests, in the sense that it is an environment in which they can let their hair down, be honest and oftentimes work through grievances. On this week’s episode of the Download, Dale Jr. once again uses the Bojangles Studio as an arena to confront a conflict that has been festering since 2017.
If you’re a Dale Jr. fan, you remember 2017 well. It was his last season as a full-time NASCAR Cup driver, and the sport was seeing him out the door with a grandiose farewell tour. But with the additional fanfare came more media responsibilities, and Dale Jr. found himself having more press conferences than ever before in his career. During one such appearance, he was asked about Matt Kenseth losing his ride at Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of the season, to which he responded that he thought Kenseth needed to lower his asking price during contract negotiations due to the rise of many young drivers in the sport willing to drive for much less. The comment caught a lot of attention, and several drivers in the field took offense, one of them being Kevin Harvick, who was in a contract negotiation himself. In an attempt to change the narrative, Harvick took to his radio show Happy Hours to criticize Dale Jr., saying that his having the biggest fan base without recent success on track was detrimental to the sport’s growth. Both parties took the comments personally, and rift grew over the last four years.
On this week’s episode of the Download, Dale Jr. and co-host Mike Davis invited Harvick to the Bojangles Studio to clear the air, setting up one of the show’s most anticipated interviews to date. The conversation immediately dove into the subject of rivalries, touching on Harvick’s 2021 battle with Chase Elliott. Harvick was very honest about why he was so upset with the encounter at Bristol, and his reasoning for the feud. While he insists that the score has been settled, he still wishes to have one more conversation with Chase before the next season. They also go on to talk about the Next Gen car and Harvick’s impressions from his testing sessions behind the wheel, and his analysis for its debut in the 2022 season.
Davis asked Harvick if this had been the first time he’d returned to JR Motorsports since last driving for the team in 2016, to which he responded it was. This led to a discussion of how the partnership had dissolved and his feelings on that final season together, where Harvick revealed he actually found out he was being replaced via Twitter. The door opened for Dale Jr and Harvick to hash out what had happened in 2017. Dale Jr. was regretful for his comments and admits that several drivers had spoken to him about it. Harvick talks about racing’s unique characteristic of having fan bases that are loyal to lineage, family names such as Earnhardt and Elliott, and not always with the most dominant drivers, referencing the likes of Jimmie Johnson. He also admits it was the wrong way to go about addressing the situation, using his radio show as a platform to make a malicious dig. At the end of it, Dale Jr. and Harvick apologized and agreed to bury the hatchet. The maturity of the two stars is on full display as they are able to analyze what has taken place between them and understand where each other are coming from.
They began to reminisce about when they first met, and segued into how Harvick got involved with the sport. He recounts his experiences of growing up on a family team with his father and getting into the NASCAR Southwest Series in the early 90s. He also explains how he went to work and drive for Spears Motorsports, which would eventually lead to him driving in the NASCAR Trucks series in 1997. He highlights some of his stops along the way to moving to Lake Norman and becoming a full time driver for Richard Childress in 2000, including his first date with wife Delana at a New Years Eve party in Dale Jr.’s basement night club.
When one looks at the career of Kevin Harvick, it's impossible not to take special note of the 2001 season. During the conversation, Harvick opens up about getting the call to step up and become a full time Cup driver at Richard Childress Racing in the wake of Dale Earnhardt Sr’s untimely death. Dale Jr. and Harvick rehash what the remainder of the 2001 season was like, and Harvick speaks on his experience in living in Dale Sr.’s legacy. He talks about fighting to forge his own path while being a part of a well established team, and at what point the team started to feel like his own. Rarely do race fans get the opportunity to see drivers be candid about the emotional process of being a professional racer, and Harvick gives listeners an sincere window into what that life can be like.
This episode was highly anticipated, and the conversation within shows why. It’s an intimate look into the life of one of the biggest names in NASCAR, and the rekindling of a friendship splintered by the weight of the professional racing world. The episode brings the 2021 season of the Dale Jr. Download to a close on a high note, affirming what the show has become known for, being a benchmark for interview-based podcasts and the cutting edge of racing content.