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Monday, May 10, 2010

After near divorce, Childress and Harvick now seem ‘Happy’

It’s amazing what a little success can do to turn a terrible situation into a positive one.

Just six months ago, we were all expecting Kevin Harvick to be in a new ride in 2011, and possibly sooner if he could get out of his contract, which he reportedly wanted to do at the end of last year when things were very bad for the #29 team.

"The contract goes through 2010. After that, maybe it's time to turn the page and start a new chapter for everybody," Harvick told ESPN in October 2009. "Sometimes when you get to the end of the book, you just shut the page and go, 'Man, that was really good. I really enjoyed what I did here. It was a good book to read and it was a lot of fun to experience those situations.' But sometimes, it's best for everybody to say, 'All right, I'm going to read another book.'"

At the time, Harvick was clearly frustrated and wanted a new direction. He wanted to return to contending for wins and be at a team with legitimate title hopes. I remember watching him do interviews where it was clear he didn’t even want to be in that #29 car. Even without words, his body language said it all: I want out.

Well, it turns out he doesn’t have to go anywhere. This year, Harvick has built an impressive points lead, just won his first points race since 2007 and is running up front every week. That relationship with RCR (the only Cup team where he has ever driven) has gone from extremely damaged to all roses.

Now, this rosy turnaround is almost full circle.
Childress is now saying that he expects to finalize contracts and sign Harvick to an extension within the next few weeks. All those rumors about where Harvick might go in 2011 (Stewart-Haas? Bringing his own team up to Cup?) can pretty much be considered dead. Harvick hasn’t confirmed this, but he isn’t hinting anymore that he wants to leave.

This situation turned out great for everyone involved. Richard Childress retains a top-level driver in Harvick, someone who is more determined and capable than ever in 2010 to achieving the big-time success he has long awaited in the top level of NASCAR. And Harvick wins, too, because he has found what he wanted when he made those comments about leaving late in 2009: The ability to win.

Childress deserves credit for turning the team performance around and putting together cars that make it possible for Harvick to compete consistently … which in turn made Harvick want to stay. If he hadn’t made that turnaround at a team level, there’s no doubt in my mind that Harvick would be leaving.

Stewart-Haas sponsor woes
Old Spice will not return next year, leaving Tony Stewart with a sponsorship gap. He’ll have to get someone else to pony up for those races, and that’s not exactly easy in these economic times.

It also makes things more difficult for Tony if he wants to extend the team to three cars and add Kasey Kahne for 2011. That would mean one-and-a-half cars to fill with sponsorship, quite a tall task.

I still think it will all happen though, especially with big names like Stewart, Kahne and Rick Hendrick involved.

Good run for Stremme, #26 team
Unnoticed among all the hoopla over Denny Hamlin’s win was an impressive run by David Stremme in the #26 car, an also-ran car from the Latitude 43 Motorsports team that took the number #26 over when Jack Roush went down from five to four teams.

Despite its limited budget, Stremme and the team took home a 24th place run, finishing just two laps down. For more teams, that’s disappointing day. For this brand new team, it’s their best run yet and gives them hope for the future.

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