Kevin Rutherford and Mark Howell · Wednesday October 30, 2013
Welcome back to Side By Side. There are always two sides to every story, and we’re going to bring them both to you, right here, every week. Two of our staff writers will face off on an important racing question … feel free to tell us what you think in the weekly poll, and also in the comments section below!
This Week’s Question: Should Richard Childress have released Kevin Harvick immediately following Harvick’s comments after Saturday’s Truck Series race?
It’s Only a Handful of Races … Let Him Go
There’s nothing more frightening than staring down the barrel of unemployment after saying / doing something out of line. More times than not, our actions stem from our assumption that we’ve been wronged. As a college professor, I hear such claims all-too-often. There’s the red-faced student who comes huffing and puffing to my office after receiving a poor grade on an assignment, tosses their lousy work on my desk, and roars, “How you treated me was totally unfair! Who are you to fail me after I did so much work and sacrificed so much of my precious time and energy?”
Who am I? I’m your instructor, that’s who. Your failing grade was my call based on what I observed / heard / read and how I assessed your poor performance against the graded expectations of said assignment. Your lousy work was enough for me to make the decision I did; your lousy attitude is simply icing on the crap cake.
Hence my belief that Kevin Harvick, following his post-Truck race outburst at Martinsville last weekend, should have been relieved of his driving duties with Richard Childress Racing on the spot. As angry as “Happy” may have been, there was no realistic excuse for him to act (and speak) as he did on Saturday afternoon.
Childress just might be “Pop-Pop” to the brothers Dillon, but he’s also the team owner who signs Harvick’s paychecks. Say what you want to about family lineage and the power of privilege, but playing the nepotism card was about more than an on-track altercation amongst three drivers. In truth, Harvick’s comments smacked of some deep-rooted antagonistic feelings about the role that deep pockets so often play in motorsports.
Follow racing of any kind for more than ten minutes and you’re likely to hear how one driver “bought” his career based on the family name written across the top of his (or her) blank check. Automobile racing has been populated by “spoiled rich kids” for more than a century. Why do you think one of the first racing drivers in America was named Vanderbilt? It had nothing to do with his innate talent behind the wheel. OK… so we get the point.
What makes me think that Kevin Harvick should have been canned “on-the-spot” last weekend was the fact that he was so quick to pull the “family lineage” trigger. You can say what you want about poor driving, poor decision making, and accidental contact on the racetrack because that’s part of what makes stock car racing the sport it is. But bring up family money, and you’re speaking about a river of anger that runs deeper than just bent sheet metal. Suddenly, you’ve opened up a can of worms that’s impossible to corral. Anger over a racing mishap is a line in the sand; jealousy over financial opportunities is a sheer cliff.
And who is Kevin Harvick to talk about family money? Enjoying a career in racing often begins with a not-so-small fortune at your disposal. As Junior Johnson once said, the best way to make a small fortune in racing is to begin with a large one. An accident was not the end-all issue after the Truck race at Martinsville last Saturday; the real concern was Harvick’s apparent jealousy over playing genetic “second fiddle” to the Dillons.
Maybe that’s the real reason Harvick was so quick to take a job over at Stewart-Haas for the 2014 Cup season? It kept Richard Childress from firing Harvick in front of the media…
Childress Promised 100% … Let Him Finish The Season
Race car drivers, like many athletes, are known for having to make split-second decisions, often in the heat of the moment. During last Saturday’s Camping World Truck race at Martinsville, Kevin Harvick and Ty Dillon were no different.
When Harvick and Dillon touched, wrecking each other in the process, both reacted in a way typical of short track racing: they beat and banged each other’s trucks, nearly wrecking a second time before Harvick took his NTS Motorsports entry to the garage. Continuing with the trend of doing things one probably shouldn’t, actions that in retrospect look a bit silly, Harvick then lambasted Richard Childress Racing, his Cup team through next month, along with the Dillon brothers. The “veteran” driver insinuated his future replacements were spoiled brats, young men who’d had everything handed to them, and that’s part of why he was leaving the organization.
Cause for firing? I won’t deny that having a “will he, won’t he” conversation about Harvick’s (albeit limited) future with Childress is justified. But in the long run, Kevin Harvick arguably stood to gain more by getting fired than Childress did firing him. That’s why it was in his owner’s best interest to keep him around.
Look at it this way: where was Harvick going to go to finish out the season? How about his team next season, Stewart-Haas Racing? Remember, that organization has a somewhat open ride in the No. 14, vacated after Tony Stewart’s injury. Mark Martin has been keeping the seat warm, but his results are fairly disappointing. It’s not hard to imagine Stewart putting Harvick in the car for the season’s final few races to gain intel for 2014. Plus, if given the choice between Martin and Harvick, isn’t the choice a no-brainer? At the very least, Stewart-Haas would’ve run a fourth car for Harvick so he could finish out the year in the championship battle. A bona fide Chase contender would have had no problem finding a seat as long as he wanted one.
In comparison, consider Richard Childress’ situation if Harvick was no longer the driver of the No. 29. For starters, that’s a team that’s been piloted into the Chase by Harvick, then launched into title contention, giving Childress a chance at his first championship in nearly 20 years. Is he really going to throw that away — as well as a handshake agreement he made with Harvick to do his best to win a title through the end of the year — because of some comments for which Harvick apologized later and, really, weren’t that harsh? Yeah, it was a zinger, but I honestly felt the driver showed some restraint in terms of what he could have said.
Add the sponsor into the equation, too. Budweiser’s sticking with Harvick when he moves to Stewart-Haas, meaning it doesn’t have much of a tie to Richard Childress Racing once the driver departs. If there isn’t a clause in the contract tying Harvick’s sponsors to the team, regardless of who’s driving the car, what’s keeping those sponsors from bolting if Harvick was fired? What does Childress do then? Does he run the car at all if it’s unsponsored? If he doesn’t, that’s quite a few crewmen out of a job for a few weeks.
In the end, racing is a business, and it made the most business sense for Harvick to remain in the car for four more races. That’s not a long time to at least tolerate each other while the crewmen, who worked hard to win their team a championship, get the chance to do just that — win. That, I think, is why Childress decided to keep Harvick around, and ultimately why him doing so makes sense.
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