The word out of the RCR racing stable is that Kevin Harvick has asked team owner Richard Childress to release him a year early from his contract as the sponsor contract for his No. 29 Chevrolet is coming to an end. The rumor is that Harvick is going to Stewart-Haas Racing to drive a third car for that organization next year. This request is coming less than one year after Harvick finished fourth in the final season standings, which equaled his career high, only a year and a half after he won the sport’s biggest race.
There is no question when requests like this surface, there are a multitude of reasons that play into the decision. It is a shame though that it has come to this after the marriage of Harvick and Childress helped the sport ease the pain of losing its biggest star. Harvick was the surprise of the season that year when he raced 35 of the 36 races and still managed to finish ninth in the points standings while winning the Busch Series championship. Memorably, he won at Atlanta three races into his replacement stint in cars that were built for Dale Earnhardt, at one of the tracks that Earnhardt dominated. It looked like Harvick was going to be able to carry the banner for one of the flagship organizations of the sport.
The following year Harvick struggled, winning only once and being suspended for a race, but Childress stuck by him. He came back strong in 2003 with a fifth-place finish in the points but then struggled for two years with back to back 14th-place finishes and only one win. Childress continued to stick with Harvick, and Harvick with Childress, and both were rewarded with Harvick’s best season in 2006; Harvick won five races, scored 15 top fives and 20 top 10s, and came home fourth in the points standings. The organization looked like it was going to all come together when Harvick won the Daytona 500 to start the following season, only to have that be the last win that he has secured. Even winless in 2008, Harvick still finished fourth in points, riding a wave of success that saw the whole RCR organization run very well.
However, 2009 has not been the same. The wins have still not come for Harvick and the entire organization has toiled under the weight of unrealized expectations. It now appears that Harvick is looking to jump ship for what might be greener pastures, or might be the beginning of his trip to the unemployment line. Stewart-Haas may be the next big power organization in NASCAR, with Hendrick backing and able to call on the most successful resources in the sport or it may be a flash in the pan that ends up giving Harvick even less than he has with RCR. Childress is a top-flight Chevrolet organization that is not afraid to spend money to try and win. Harvick even has his own organization that he is working towards taking to the Cup level in the future, although no timetable has been revealed for that move.
Harvick appears to be bailing on the man who gave him his big shot when that man needs him the most. Although it may be just the opposite: Harvick may be leaving at the time that will make things easiest on his boss because trying to fill the sponsorship void that is going to be left when Pennzoil/Shell’s contract expires will be no easy task. You’d like to think that there is loyalty among owners and drivers, and certainly there is some, but there also has to be some bitterness that remains from the movement of Harvick’s team to his teammate after he had experienced so much success with Todd Barrier.
It may be a chemistry issue between Harvick and his team, it may be frustration over the entire organization’s struggle to run well this season, or it may be that Harvick thinks this is his first step to moving his own organization to the next level. Whatever the case may be, Harvick is possibly leaving the only Cup team he’s ever driven for to join one of the hottest organizations in the sport, right as his original team probably needs him more than ever. Here’s hoping the split is an amicable one and that it works out well for both sides, because they could both use some love right now.