Kevin Harvick remembers the race that changed his life

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Atlanta Motor Speedway in 2001 was the race that changed Kevin Harvick's life forever.

ANNOUNCER: Pulling away with a huge smile on his face.

ANNOUNCER: The timeliest of wins.

ANNOUNCER: Something he will never forget.

- The race that changed my life was Atlanta 2001. Atlanta Motor Speedway was actually supposed to be my very first Cup race with America Online. That was going to be the place that I debuted.

ANNOUNCER: Everything stacks up from third on back. Dale Earnhardt gets turned sideways. Earnhardt and Schrader are in the wall.

- After the accident in turn four, at the end of the Daytona 500, we've lost Dale Earnhardt.

- And then obviously, everything happened with Dale, and it was just really such a confusing time in my life. We had to kind of change the course of where we were going and where my career was going.

- We're going to do what Dale would want us to do, and that's race this week. We're going to run Kevin Harvick in a number 29, white Goodwrench car.

- Nobody really knew what to do. We were all at the racetrack, because we thought that was the right thing to do, but was it really the right thing to do?

ANNOUNCER: Green flag. We're racing at Atlanta. Look at Harvick in his 29. What a little hot rod he is.

- We ran solid that day, but it came down to about five of us. It was myself and Jeff Gordon, Dale Jarrett, Jerry Nadeau, and Dale, Jr. The five of us just ran kind of door-to-door, mixing it up there for about the last eight or 10 laps. I made a three-wide pass for the lead.

ANNOUNCER: Three wide at the line. Harvick the leader.

- I was just in awe of everything that was going on with the crowd, because you could feel it inside the car, because people were everywhere. All the people on the backstretch had climbed up onto the fence and were hanging about 3/4 of the way up the fence. It was a very good race at the end, and it came down to Jeff and I.

ANNOUNCER: And here comes Jeff Gordon closing down on Harvick.

ANNOUNCER: But does he have enough time?

ANNOUNCER: They'll be coming or the whit flag right here. One lap to go.

- And then to win the race by about that much over Jeff Gordon, I mean, there were just so many things to take in.

ANNOUNCER: Here they come! Gordon got loose. It's Harvick! Harvick wins it!

ANNOUNCER: What a race!

- And the emotions on the victory lap were really confusing. You didn't know whether to cheer. You didn't know whether to be sad. You know, I think you saw a lot of that on pit road with Chocolate and Richard.

- What does this afternoon. Mean to you?

- Oh, hard to see. You know, I just-- I'm just thrilled. I kept praying for Dale to help us. He did.

ANNOUNCER: Somewhere, too, must be Dale Earnhardt, because this is his car that Kevin Harvick is driving. Kevin Harvick salutes him on the way to victory lane. What could be more fitting? What could be more special? Somewhere up there, I bet Dale's smiling.

ANNOUNCER: Crews are coming out and congratulating him. This is like when Dale when the Daytona 500.

ANNOUNCER: Yeah, it is. Look, there's not a team that isn't down there represented.

- Mentally, I was in a kind of a whirlwind. You got to victory lane and everybody was happy, but they didn't really know if they were happy, because Dale was gone, and there were so many things that had changed.

I'm sure this is going to be pretty difficult for all of us, but none of us expected this this soon. All I've got to say is this one's for Dale.

Coming out as a 25-year-old rookie, replacing Dale Earnhardt to win my first race in my third week was definitely the moment that changed my career.