In Nextel Cup racing if a driver isn't happy no one on his team is happy, and the results likely reflect the unhappiness.
In 2006, Kevin Harvick made his peace with life in NASCAR’s big time and all of the ups and downs that go with it -- a peace that made him happy and helped his race team become a force.
Harvick was a big part of the revival at Richard Childress Racing. The 31-year old made the Chase for the Nextel Cup championship, finished fourth in the playoff, won five races, and posted 15 top-five results.
Stressful rise, frustrating fall
No driver in recent memory has come into NASCAR Nextel Cup Series racing under worse circumstances or under more pressure than Harvick.
When Dale Earnhardt, one of NASCAR’s greatest-ever drivers, was killed on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, it was Harvick who was tapped by team owner Richard Childress to fill Earnhardt's seat.
Harvick did so in admirable fashion, winning two races that season. He dealt with a bad situation better than could likely have been expected from anyone.
Things would not remain so upbeat for the Bakersfield, Calif. native. Childress, the six-time champion team owner, admits now that his team was running on adrenaline for much of that 2001 campaign, using the memory of Earnhardt as fuel to carry on.
When 2001 ended much of that adrenaline ran out, and the Childress organization began a slow slide back from its position as one of the sport’s elite to one of those running just behind the lead pack.
Things hit bottom in 2004 when, despite fielding three cars in each race and more in others, Richard Childress Racing was shutout of Victory Lane, going a collective 0-for-112.
Imagine being a driver who feels he has the talent to win races, but no longer has the team around him to compete for those victories on a weekly basis. Incredibly frustrating would be a proper description, and Harvick lived that frustration.
Harvick is one who is prone to speak his mind freely, and when he vented those frustrations publicly from time to time it only made things worse inside his team. While Childress was working to revamp his organization and return to a place in the sport’s elite, Harvick was faced with a very difficult decision.
He had to decide whether to remain with RCR and believe the team would return to an elite level, or seek greener pastures elsewhere. Toyota, which is entering Nextel Cup racing in 2007, had its sights set on luring Harvick away from RCR.
Typical of his free-speaking nature, Harvick publicly discussed his personal debate over whether the RCR team would return to prominence or not, criticism not taken lightly by the hundreds of employees at RCR pouring their best efforts into providing a winning car for their driver.
Things came to a boil, but in this case, all is well that ends well for both driver and organization.
Harvick ended up re-signing with RCR, and he got in the hunt for his first Cup championship.
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