Kevin Harvick's Dillon comments shed light on several NASCAR subjects
You never know which race is going to set people off. You can't count on it. But the odds are highest at short tracks and Martinsville may lead the list. The slow corners, close quarters, and single preferable groove make for sheet metal shoving and hurt feelings. Saturday's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville brought that for sure. By now, you have seen the video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tmL34DMzHrk of Ty Dillon getting a nose under Kevin Harvick and both trucks going around. You've seen the skirmish on pit road and the pointed comments by both drivers about the other afterwards. They say plenty.
Harvick's calling out his team owner, Richard Childress', grandsons for being "rich kids" and "fed with a spoon" with "no respect for what they do in racing" made the headlines for several obvious reasons. Harvick has driven for Richard Childress Racing since the end of 1999, beginning in the now-NASCAR Nationwide Series and graduating to the now-Sprint Cup Series after Dale Earnhardt's death in 2001. The two have been through constant peaks and troughs: Harvick's breakout rookie season, RCR's competitive downturn 2002-2005, Harvick's threats to leave the team after the 2006 and 2009 seasons (especially after the team's terrible year in '09), Harvick's turnaround to being a near- championship contender every year since '06 (except
09), the 2007 Daytona 500 win, multiple wins in other big races, multiple crew chief and crew and car swaps and now Harvick's year-long pending departure from his only real NASCAR home. When news surfaced almost a year ago that Harvick was going to jump ship from RCR to Stewart-Haas Racing, the biggest question was - why? Why drain all the equity and supposed loyalty one has with a legendary NASCAR team? Why make a lateral move competition-wise to another organization, when you took over to drive Earnhardt's car? Harvick may have provided the answer in the heat of the moment Saturday.
Harvick told Fox Sports 1's Bob Dillner just after his No. 14 and Ty Dillon's No. 3 tangled that the incident was the exact reason he was leaving Richard Childress Racing. So, either Harvick was really caught up in the moment and decided to take the easy groin kick and the person with which he had a problem or the crash and anger were nothing more than a truth serum and unlocked an opinion Harvick has held closer to his chest the past few years. The comments were certainly indicative of a guy on his way out. The fact that he stopped in Dillon's pit box and drew his RCR co-workers on Dillon's pit crew to come try to fight him says a lot. The comments say more.
Harvick has been RCR's alpha dog almost since he took over for Earnhardt and many instances where the times got tough saw Harvick either start eyeing the door or demanding drastic changes. Jeff Green got fired from RCR in 2003 after Harvick got into his No. 30 and Green, who had tangled with Harvick in the Nationwide Series before they were Sprint Cup teammates, called out RCR for favoring Harvick. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AjsQigXnYo8&feature=youtu.be Robby Gordon and Harvick famously disagreed over the idea of racing back to the yellow flag at a race that same year and Gordon eventually left the team after the 2004 season to start his own ill-fated race team. Harvick seemingly had his way at RCR and rightfully so. He has won a few dozen races between the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series, two NNS championships, and is a perennial contender in Cup. But the idea that he may only be tied in importance with up and comers Austin and Ty Dillon may have been too much to deal with. This lame duck 2013 season has not gone poorly for the team - they have won three times and have an outside chance at the Cup. But Harvick's comments and the reactions around them show some of the ill will that may be flowing behind the scenes.
Harvick' angry words also unearthed one of the reasons NASCAR popularity is eroding. For the most part, drivers that get opportunities in any of NASCAR's top three series have either a family with a lot of money or are related to a team owner…or both. Certainly the Dillon's fit that mold and Joey Logano, whose father Tom was a big backer of his career until Joe Gibbs Racing signed him, got called out in the same kind of way by Tony Stewart. Some NASCAR fans, maybe many, are turned off by the idea of someone not having to work their butt off, like Earnhardt did, to earn their spot in racing. But in the heat of the moment, Harvick may have forgotten a few things.
Childress himself pointed out that many families have helped future generations succeed in the sport. The Petty's had four generations helping each other through NASCAR, the Wood family three. The Baker's and Allison's had two successful generations and the Jarrett's had three. There are many more examples. Granddaddy Childress also pointed out that his grandsons had to work hard to get their rides, something that can be argued either way. Regardless, the sport is built on families and ties and, these days, sponsorship relationships which sometimes are family-related. And who is to say that in 10 or 15 years Keelan Harvick, Kevin's year-old son, won't want to go racing? Who will he turn to? Probably his dad. Harvick's dad, Mike, fielded him in his first few truck races and in his early racing career. Most people get their start in racing with their families, rich or poor.
Another thing to look into from Harvick's words is how many times Harvick has been the aggressor in those types of situations. We have seen time and time again, from Harvick vs. Logano at Pocono in 2010, to Harvick vs. Kyle Busch at Homestead-Miami in 2010, to Harvick vs. Coy Gibbs in the Trucks at Martinsville in 2002, to even Harvick vs. Ryan Newman in Sunday's Martinsville race (after his skirmish with Dillon), and many more, where Harvick has taken justice into his own hands and in ways sometimes more intentional than what Dillon did in Saturday's Martinsville race (he did apologize for the contact with Newman). Harvick has been called one of those disrespecting young kids multiple times, including by the late Bobby Hamilton who said, "He wouldn't be a scab on Dale Earnhardt's butt." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8w-KikLBXi0 Harvick's actions in times of strife with Childress may prove Hamilton right, as the 2004 Truck Series champ looks down from the heavens on this chasm between two of NASCAR's biggest personalities.
By Sunday, Harvick made a forced apology and all sides agreed to just go racing and do the best they can to try and wrestle the Sprint Cup Series crown from leaders Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth (who now are tied for the lead). Harvick and the No. 29 team dusted off the adversity and finished a solid 6th at Martinsville, but still have to make up over nine points per race and jump over three drivers to win their first Cup championship together in their final attempt. Harvick's attitude in 2014 and beyond will be in the same stable of such humble saints as Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick, and fellow SHR newcomer Kurt Busch. Maybe the grass will be GoDaddy lime green on the other side, but the confluence of attitude and ego, not to mention growing pains, at SHR may be more than Harvick expects. Or the new Hendrick horsepower and chassis prowess could be his ticket to an eventual Cup title. But Harvick's comments will, at least in the short term, cast a small shadow on some of the great moments he and RCR achieved together and maybe even permanently hurt a relationship between a driver and owner who needed each other at some point, much as Earnhardt and Childress were. Then again, the angry remarks were in the heat of battle and were but a moment in time. Harvick's honesty, much like Stewart's, is refreshing. His brashness draws fans. But the consequences of these sometimes cost more in people than they gain in fans. Regardless, all parties will race on.