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Partnership between Harvick, Childress ending

January 21, 2013, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com

Kevin-Harvick-Richard-Childress

Harvick set to drive one more year for Richard Childress Racing

WELCOME, N.C. -- Kevin Harvick’s entire career in the Sprint Cup Series has been at Richard Childress Racing, and he’s been a cornerstone of the organization since Dale Earnhardt’s passing. Those close ties between driver and owner are most evident now, as they prepare for one more season before splitting apart.

“You have a lot of respect for Richard and the organization, and you don’t want to leave a black mark as you leave,” Harvick said Monday. “You want to do it with as much class, and everything that goes with being classy about it, as you can. We’re going to race. We’re all racers, whether we’re driving for whoever or driving here or there. In a go-kart race or whatever it may be, you want to go out and you want to win, and nobody’s going to do anything less than work as hard as they can to achieve those goals.”

That was the message during the RCR portion of the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway. Harvick has competed for RCR at NASCAR’s top level since the second race of the 2001 season, when he was promoted to fill the chasm left by Earnhardt’s death in the Daytona 500. After this year he’s moving on, reportedly to Stewart-Haas Racing, even though neither Harvick nor his future destination have confirmed his eventual landing place.

But one thing is certain -- his days at RCR are coming to an end. Through peaks and valleys, triumphs and tragedies, a Daytona 500 victory and a competitive lull that almost split them apart, Harvick has been as much a part of RCR as its off-the-beaten-path location. If anything, those experiences seem to leave driver and car owner in a place where they’re better able to say goodbye.

“I think Kevin and I have talked about it. We’re going to handle it professional,” Childress said. “We’re going to do our best to win that championship. Kevin has played a big role at RCR. (We) wish him well in is next venture. But we’re going to keep RCR going.”

Childress said his team plans to field three Sprint Cup programs in 2014, and it’s easy to envision his grandson Austin Dillon -- currently a championship contender on the Nationwide Series -- in one of those. But for the moment there is unfinished business for Harvick, who even on the brink of departure remains RCR’s best shot for its first premier-series title since 1994. Harvick snapped a long winless skid last year with a victory at Phoenix, was the only RCR driver to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup and performed much better after being reunited with crew chief Gil Martin late in the year.

“We’ve got a lot to build off of, and I’ve been around most of these guys for a number of years, and they could care less about what’s going to happen next year,” Harvick said. “And that’s where I am, too. It doesn’t really matter.”

But it is happening. Toward that end, Harvick said he’s spoken with Matt Kenseth, who drove last season for Roush Fenway knowing he was departing for Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of the year. Kenseth told him to be prepared to be asked about the situation again and again by reporters -- which was certainly the case Monday night -- and to not take it personally when his organization makes plans to move forward without him.

“You’re going to have to suck it up in a few different situations,” Harvick said, “to do the right thing for everybody, and make sure that everything is going as good as it can to keep the performance on the track.”

Toward that end, Martin doesn’t believe Harvick will have any trouble. In fact, the crew chief sees the situation as a positive, given his driver’s history of thriving under adverse conditions.

“The team has a lot to prove, the organization does, and as far as that goes, I think Kevin does,” Martin said. “I think Kevin thrives on this environment, just a little bit of controversy. He’s one of the few people in his sport, he performs better when stuff like this is going on. So the more people ask him, the more he’s going to try to prove a point, and I’m looking forward to it. I’m hardened enough now to know it’s not going to bother me, and I know it’s not going to bother him. So I’m looking forward to it.”

As far as his crewmen on the No. 29 team go, Harvick doesn’t expect any dissention over his looming departure.

“I’ve been around my team a lot over the past several weeks, and feel good about where everybody’s mindset is,” he said. “Those guys don’t care about what anybody thinks upstairs, they just want to win races, and that’s where I’m at. You just approach it, and we go out and do our jobs. I mean, the bottom line is, we’re all getting paid to do a job, and represent these companies behind me to do the best job we can.”

Childress agreed. He and Harvick have been through too much together for something to drive a wedge between them now.

“Families get upset with one another, but you always end up sitting down and working it out,” the car owner said. “I think we’ll get through it OK.”

Besides, at RCR, perspective is never very far away. As difficult as this situation may seem -- and this is not a small change, a team’s best driver moving to another organization -- nothing compares to those dark days of early 2001, when for a while Earnhardt’s crash placed the very survival of the company on unstable ground.

“Richard has been through a lot of situations with me,” Harvick said. “You look back, and still, this isn’t even close to what we approached in ’01. This isn’t really that hard. When you can keep your company floating and keeping winning races and keep people in jobs, when we look back at a lot of the behind-closed-doors stuff that was going on, and all the scenarios you go through in that particular instance, and the emotions -- this is a cakewalk.”