Harvick-RCR split boiled over following Martinsville race
Kevin Harvick and Richard Childress have been through a lot together, from the tragic circumstances that forced the driver's rushed transition to NASCAR's top level, to the cycles of contention and rebuilding, to the news that they would split up after this year. Their relationship has veered from contentious to triumphant and back again, which is no surprise given the headstrong personalities and duration involved. At the end, Harvick has said he wants to be able to shake Childress' hand and depart on good terms.
After last weekend at Martinsville Speedway, when Harvick was involved in a crash with one of Childress' two driver grandsons and then proceeded to verbally torch both of them, you have to question if such a thing is possible anymore. And in the immediate aftermath, it was natural to wonder if Harvick would even be in Richard Childress Racing's No. 29 car the next day in the Sprint Cup Series race.
Of course, he was -- there are contracts and sponsors involved, and a bigger picture, and the final few events to run in this Sprint Cup Series campaign. Harvick's apology the next day may have helped smooth things over, at least publicly. But calling out your boss' grandkids as punks is a difficult thing to take back, not to mention an unfortunate position to defend. Especially with only a few weeks remaining in the schedule. Especially when you're still on the fringes of Sprint Cup championship contention.
And especially when the altercation in question occurs in a Camping World Truck Series race.
Let's forget for a moment what sparked a confrontation between Harvick and Ty Dillon, the latter a 21-year Truck Series regular and Childress' grandson, which led to the trucks banging against one another and a hammer being thrown on pit road. Let's ignore who was at fault, a debate that's already been dissected down to the bone. Let's even put aside the competitive merits of Ty and Austin Dillon, who have been turned unfairly into class-warfare clay pigeons. There's a much larger context here, and it involved Harvick being 26 points behind Jimmie Johnson in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup entering Martinsville, and whether he put his title aspirations at risk.
Over a Truck Series race.
Hey, no knocking the Truck Series. It's wonderful fun to watch, it's the breeding ground for tons of young talent, and its shorter races and contact-friendly vehicles often showcase NASCAR at its best. But let's be honest, there are plenty of fans who squirm a little uncomfortably at the idea of Sprint Cup stars moonlighting in lower divisions to begin with. And then for one of those Sprint Cup stars to do something in a lower-division race that may negatively impact his title hopes at the premier level -- well, it all leads you to shake your head and wonder how competitive fire can burn completely through good sense.
In that regard, Harvick has something in common with his nemesis, Kyle Busch. Everyone remembers what happened two years ago this weekend, when Busch wrecked Ron Hornaday Jr. intentionally under caution in a Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway. Now, there's a chasm between sounding off and wrecking someone -- Busch's was a completely egregious offense that prompted NASCAR to park him for the remainder of the event weekend. But it also led to some tense moments with Busch's Sprint Cup sponsor, which pulled its colors from his vehicle for the next race. Busch wasn’t as much of a title threat that year as Harvick was last week, but suddenly he had a lot more to lose.
Harvick has the luxury of sponsors that better mesh with his fiery personality, and indeed will follow him next season to Stewart-Haas Racing. And Childress has said he plans to honor his commitment to Harvick for the remaining few races, offering no public indication that he ever considered pulling his longest-tenured driver from his organization's flagship car. But the fact that such questions even have to be answered in the wake of a Truck Series event -- where Harvick has zero points at stake -- shows what happens when passion gets out of control.
Evidently, it's all part of a racer's DNA. Carl Edwards certainly understands, having been through his share of scrapes in the Nationwide Series while concurrently competing for Sprint Cup titles, although he's made only one start on the former circuit since 2011.
"From a racer's perspective, it doesn't matter if we're having a bicycle race, a foot race, a Nationwide race, a Cup race -- if you feel like you were wronged, that's it," Edwards said. "Every single racer that's successful, especially in NASCAR, has been trained through experience -- painful, some of it -- that you can't let people take advantage of you. You've got to take care of things. And that's why you see emotions like you see, whether it's a Truck race, Nationwide, Cup. That emotion is all there. I think that's what makes us all good at it. Some guys are better at controlling their emotions. We've all had times when we haven't controlled them very well. But it's always there."
Of course, nothing happens in a vacuum. Perhaps this looming separation between Harvick and RCR hasn't been quite as tidy as it's been publicly made out to be, and this past Saturday at Martinsville was a flashpoint that revealed truer feelings. Clint Bowyer certainly thinks so.
"That's a divorce," the former RCR driver said. "That had nothing to do with Truck racing or go-kart racing or anything else. That's a divorce, man. You ever seen a divorce end happy? That’s like her taking not only the furniture and the silverware, she took the dog, too. That's (ticked) off. That divorce -- he didn't get the animal, I would say. She took the dog. That'll (tick) a guy off. That is what you had there. Not a Truck race, nothing else. That was a divorce. Make no mistake."
A divorce that had the potential to jeopardize Harvick's title hopes? "That’s a divorce, and then you wake up and realize, you’ve got to live with them for three more weeks, and you're like -- uh-oh," Bowyer added. "'Aw, baby, I didn't mean it. You're not bad. Can you bring the dog back for the next three weeks? A little joint custody or something?' But that's still a divorce."
Which is why parties in a divorce hire attorneys to keep things civil. A decade ago Harvick was the index case for how actions in a Truck race can have far-reaching consequences -- he was parked for a Cup event by NASCAR after wrecking Coy Gibbs the previous day. Back then, it was chalked up to careless youth. Almost certainly, Harvick intended to rail against the very same thing this past Saturday. But the word choice turned it into something much more personal, and once again we all waited to see if another Truck Series race would have ramifications beyond the checkered flag.