NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Future Looks Cloudy for Happy Harvick

Editor’s Note: Danny Peters is off this week. Look for him to return to The Yellow Stripe beginning next Tuesday.

For better or worse, no driver in 2010 has generated more headlines than Kevin Harvick across all three of NASCAR’s national touring series. He’s the leading winner in Camping World Trucks, second in Nationwide Series points and second in the Cup standings following a breathtaking victory at Talladega.

Yet even in a field of drivers with uncertain futures that includes Sam Hornish Jr. and Mike Bliss, it now appears as if Harvick may well be facing the most uncertainty of all with regard to where he’ll be driving in 2011. Once considered a mortal lock for a third seat at Stewart-Haas Racing, both for his Chevrolet ties and Shell/Pennzoil sponsorship, the key to that future has dissolved in a heartbeat. In just the last two weeks, Hendrick Motorsports’ signing of Kasey Kahne has combined with Shell bolting for Penske Racing and Kurt Busch to put him in a tough spot for 2011.

Now Harvick, a driver who almost seemed to take a sly pleasure in avoiding any and all media inquiries about his future home last season, has nowhere outside of Earnhardt Ganassi Racing to go, and his sponsorship ace in the hole is gone. It’s not too good a situation for a driver who Sports Illustrated reported just last week had “burned all his bridges at Richard Childress Racing” prior to his latest resurgence.

That SI report apparently went a long way in getting under Harvick’s skin, who lashed out in the media center at Talladega on Friday, belittling writers with what he called his “common sense degree” while demanding of the sport’s journalists that, “if you’re going to quote a source, put their name [in the article]. If they’re too chicken to give you your name, don’t put their quote in.”

Sounds an awful lot like SI‘s nameless source had Harvick and his current situation at RCR pegged. Though it didn’t take a major publication or an anonymous source to figure that one out; just look at Harvick’s actions. His utter refusal to even acknowledge the possibility of his staying at RCR, the only team he’s ever driven for in the Cup Series, while speculation ran rampant about his upcoming future at SHR, hardly screams dedication or loyalty to the only home he’s known. Notice that only now, with the sponsor dollars gone and the dream job at SHR perhaps gone as well, Harvick is publicly affirming that “rightfully so, [RCR’s] the opportunity that we have to try to work out first.”

His willingness to express displeasure with sponsor Shell’s business practices also brings a load of questions regarding his status at RCR. Following the announcement that Shell was leaving for Busch and Penske Racing, Harvick noted that he did not approve of the way Shell handled shopping out their sponsor dollars; according to SceneDaily, the potential for a deal with Penske Racing was revealed late in the process by Shell, l apparently catching Harvick off-guard. Whether one considers that an acceptable business practice or not, it has to be asked… if all was well between Harvick and the RCR camp, why would Shell handle their negotiations with their current partner in the manner they did?

Besides, what does it say about Harvick to be badmouthing the same company that he will still be representing for 27 races in 2010? And what does it say to potential sponsors that RCR may be courting for the No. 29 car, or Harvick courting for wherever he ends up in 2011, to have a driver that the second they pull the plug suddenly has nothing nice to say?

None of these criticisms claim that Harvick has turned himself into something unmarketable, or has tarnished what has been an accomplished driving career thus far; his continually growing business at Kevin Harvick Inc. speaks volumes as to what Happy is capable of. But Harvick’s reactions in recent weeks suggest a growing amount of frustration that the veteran’s made a bed that he’s now being forced to sleep in.

Taking subtle, but indisputable shots at sponsors. Chastising the media for reporting on his “burning bridges” (while Richard Childress Racing offered no rebuttal of their own as an organization), only to be quoted as saying, “I’m truly trying not get in the middle of it [with the press] like I have in the past.” And only publicly acknowledging the real possibility of returning to the No. 29 car after sponsor and ride at SHR have apparently dried up.

Win on Sunday or not, Happy Harvick seems to be anything but these days. And it’s not hard to understand why… for a driver who’s been in the same ride since 2001, with the same sponsor since 2007, to have neither lined up after Homestead this year has to be at least a little bit discomforting.

Or, judging from the chip currently on Harvick’s shoulder, very discomforting.

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