Harvick focused on winning a championship in 2013 for RCR
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Kevin Harvick hasn't set foot inside the Stewart-Haas Racing shop since 2009, the year Tony Stewart became a partner in the organization. He didn't meet co-owner Gene Haas face-to-face until earlier this season. He wasn't involved in any of the negotiations that led two his current car sponsors to move to the vehicle he’ll begin driving in 2014.
Harvick has drawn a clear separation between Richard Childress Racing, the team he'll finish a long tenure with this season, and the SHR organization he'll begin competing for next year. And his model for handling what could have been an awkward transition year also happens to be the driver he's chasing for this season's Sprint Cup Series championship -- Matt Kenseth.
The way Kenseth handled the end of his 13-year stint as a Cup driver with Roush Fenway Racing -- with class, and on good terms with his old shop -- proved an example for Harvick, whose 13-year run with RCR ends after this season. Both circumstances came to a head late last year, with Kenseth's impending move from Roush to Joe Gibbs Racing becoming public about the same time Harvick privately told Childress of his plans to relocate to SHR for the 2014 campaign.
"Matt was a lot of the inspiration that I had for how I wanted to handle this year, and how I wanted it to end with Richard," Harvick said Tuesday during a visit to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. "Seeing the circumstances that he was in last year, they were very similar to the situation that I'm in right now. My goal all along has been to be able to shake hands with Richard after Homestead and be friends and move on. I think a lot of the emotion of when we announced last year, and there was a lot of emotion involved, and I think that was part of the reason for me wanting to get it announced and get it out of the way."
Despite his impending move, Kenseth went on to win two races last season in the Chase for the Sprint Cup and finished seventh in the final point standings. He didn't even set foot in the JGR shop for the first time until the Monday after the season finale at Homestead. Again Harvick has followed suit, qualifying for the Chase as a fourth seed and standing sixth after a subpar result last weekend at New Hampshire. His focus is on his current ride and not his future one, as evidenced by the fact that he hasn't visited the SHR facility in the four years since Stewart became co-owner. He knows of the construction ongoing to accommodate Kurt Busch's fourth team only through what he's seen on social media.
"I know some of the guys who work for me have been in and out a few times. Everyone is trying to be as respectful as possible of each other's circumstances. So it's been a balance, but everything's fine," Harvick said.
"They told me to not worry about it and go race my car, and do what I was supposed to do with my commitments with RCR and the sponsors and the people, and try to get the best result we could. Because that was in the best interests of everybody involved from both sides … to post results on the race track."
That separation also applies to the sponsors on the race car. Two of Harvick's backers on his current No. 29 -- Budweiser and Jimmy John's -- are following him to SHR, with the latter announcing Tuesday it would serve as a primary for 12 races next season. It happened despite Harvick being unable to take part in the negotiations due to contractual limitations, a different experience for a driver who's used to being involved in the process of bringing new partners on board.
"From my side, we've always been very involved in going out and seeking the sponsors. And in this particular instance when I signed my contract with Stewart-Haas, it was responsibility taken out of my hands so I could concentrate on driving the cars," Harvick said. "It was a risk they were willing to take. ... Moving forward it looks like the car is going to be funded for several years coming, so those guys have done a good job. And to be honest with you, I don’t know very many of the people at SHR to even call them and tell them good job and thanks."
Kevin Harvick answers a question at the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Tuesday, September 24, 2013.
Harvick had assurances that whether his new No. 4 car had "two dollars or $2 million" in funding, it would be on the race track next season. "We kind of were in a unique circumstance, and I told (Stewart) my concerns, and they took all the risk," he added. Rather than force him to keep one eye on next season, it's allowed him to concentrate fully on his final run with Childress, and try to deliver the team its first premier-series championship since Dale Earnhardt's last one in 1994.
Toward that end, he has some work to do. A scheduled test at New Hampshire was rained out, and Harvick's 20th-place finish Sunday at Loudon dropped him 39 points behind Kenseth, who's established himself as the clear frontrunner by winning the first two Chase events. Harvick now heads to Dover International Speedway -- another great track for Kenseth, and one where Harvick has never won -- needing to return to the form that saw him finish third in the playoff opener at Chicagoland.
"I'd say that’s it as far as a mulligan," Harvick said. "We need to go out and perform like we did the first week."
Harvick said he's talked some with Kenseth about the transition they now have in common, but he mostly observed how the former Roush driver handled the final year of his long stretch with his former organization. And he can't help but notice how Kenseth has thrived in his new environment, to the tune of a personal record seven race victories and a career-best season to date. That's another Kenseth model Harvick would surely like to follow -- when the time come.
"It definitely gives you a lot of hope," Harvick said, "for sure."