That kind of story doesn’t just “slip out,” more than a year in advance.
A month or two? Maybe.
But not a year ahead of time, unless someone wants it out. Someone with an agenda.
This is not the first time that reports of unhappiness between Harvick and Childress have circulated through the NASCAR garage. Three years ago, with a season left on his previous RCR contract, Harvick spoke openly and candidly about his unhappiness with the team.
“Right now, I’m driving the 29 car and we’ll see,” said Harvick in April of 2010. “I don’t see where anything is going. I know that Richard and I have had a lot of conversations over the last three months.”
He also criticized the tenor of talks with departing sponsor Shell-Pennzoil, saying, “I don’t particularly agree with the way the whole situation was handled.”
At that time, Harvick left little doubt that he wanted competitive issues at RCR to be addressed. If not, he would go elsewhere. Now, three years later, it appears that their tempestuous relationship has soured, yet again.
Harvick is winless in 34 Sprint Cup Series starts this season, only the fourth time in his 12-year tenure with RCR that he has been shut-out of Victory Lane on NASCAR’s senior circuit. Perhaps worse, he has only four Top-5 and 12 Top-10 finishes this year, and ranks a disappointing 11th in the Chase standings. Only Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – who missed two Chase races after suffering a pair of concussions – ranks below Harvick on the championship leaderboard.
“Happy Harvick” is decidedly unhappy these days, and having never raced for another NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team, he can be forgiven for wondering if the grass is indeed greener on Tony Stewart’s side of the fence. After running his own Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series team for a number of years, Harvick also knows how painstakingly slow meaningful change can be.
Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing surprised many by parting company with Earnhardt Childress Racing Engines recently. Namesake companies like EGR and ECR don’t usually split without a good reason, and their parting gave weight to rumors (unconfirmed) that ECR has often conceded 20-25 horsepower to the competition this season.
Perhaps Harvick sees serious issued at RCR, and has finally decided it’s finally time to race elsewhere.
Perhaps Richard Childress has decided it’s time to shuffle the cards and put talented grandson Austin Dillon in the #29 car in 2014, after taking one final run at the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship next year.
Maybe Tony Stewart – avowed media manipulator that he is -- decided the best way to get Harvick in-house was to lob a Molotov cocktail into his current abode.
Or maybe some low-level operative at SHR or RCR heard something juicy at the water cooler this week and decided to liven up the final two weeks of the season by dropping a dime to the guy with the cool hair on ESPN.
Make no mistake about it, today’s news – assuming it’s true – will make life decidedly uncomfortable for all parties. Harvick, Childress, Stewart and everyone around them will be hounded mercilessly over the next 8-10 months with questions about their respective futures. Those questions will likely go unanswered, since talking about your next contract is often considered to be a violation of your current one.
"I'm looking forward to finishing out this season on a strong note with RCR… with the ultimate goal of winning a championship,” said Harvick to Smith, dutifully quoting the company line. “Anything beyond that, once I know what my future plans are set, I'll let you know."
Stewart sang an identical tune, telling SBNation’s Jeff Gluck, “When we have something to tell you guys, we'll tell you. You (media) guys can throw darts and when we've got something to tell you that's different than what we've got going on, we'll obviously tell you."
The closest anyone came to an actual comment was longtime SHR spokesman Mike Arning, who told Smith, “if Kevin Harvick is available (in 2014), that's something the team would have to look at. Any team in this garage would do the same. They have the infrastructure to accommodate a fourth team, and if everything aligns properly, it's something they'll do.”
Based on today’s events, that may happen sooner than expected.