So let me ask you all a question. You have a veteran driver who has never won more than five races in a season, who pulls up stakes and changes owner, sponsor and manufacturer. He wins seven races in his first year with this new team. Oh, yeah, he also does this at the exact moment NASCAR introduces a new car.
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Then you have a veteran driver, who made it known at the end of last season that he was leaving at the end of this season. Everyone screams “lame duck,” yet all he does is go out and put wins on the board, and is sitting third in the championship points. So who has had the better season?
Now that’s a toughie, huh? I think I have to give the nod to Kevin Harvick and the No. 29 team. Yes, I know Matt Kenseth has more wins, but what we saw happen after Martinsville out of the No. 29 was really, really impressive in my book. It’s well-documented the firestorm that Kevin created after the Martinsville Truck Series race when he blasted car owner Richard Childress’ grandson, Ty Dillon, on how he drove the truck race.
After tempers cooled and after Kevin apologized, collectively across the board, everyone put the focus back on winning. They had a great run at Texas two weeks ago and then visited Victory Lane last Sunday at Phoenix. They also moved to within six points of second-place Kenseth in the standings, and while it’s unlikely something catastrophic will happen to points leader Jimmie Johnson Sunday in Homestead, if it does, the No. 29 is lurking and ready to pounce and possibly steal away the championship.
That’s just incredible, and if you tried to tell me it was going to happen this way, especially after all the hurt feeling and emotions at Martinsville, you would have had a very hard time convincing me. I think it speaks volumes of the racer in Kevin Harvick, Richard Childress and everyone at Richard Childress Racing to put Martinsville behind them and be the professional athletes that they are.
It’s a tribute to the type of person Richard is, too. He said publicly that he was going to give Kevin everything he needed to win and take care of his sponsors right up to the end of the season. Richard has done that. I think they have broken the mold now for everyone else on how to handle a difficult situation.
Remember that I was with Cale Yarborough when he won three championships, and I was with Darrell Waltrip when he won three championships. I was also there when they both told Junior Johnson they were leaving. The owner, the team and the crew lose their “warm and fuzzy” when the driver announces he is going to supposedly greener pastures. I’m sorry, it is just human nature.
I think the exception we are witnessing is the No. 29 team. I think both sides are walking away with their heads held high. I think they both have easily earned a measure of respect from NASCAR as a whole, both inside the garage and with the fans. This should now be the gold standard for any other driver/team combo that in the future elects to part ways, especially when you announce there will be a split way in advance.
Again, remember that Kevin said he was leaving a year ago but was going to give Richard, his team and the organization everything he had, to leave them with a winning operation. He can now look everyone in the eye and say ,“I did that.”