By Californian wire services
WELCOME, N.C. — NASCAR team owner Richard Childress confirmed what Bakersfield native Kevin Harvick would not since November 2012.
Harvick will drive for friend and team owner Tony Stewart at Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014.
Childress, who spoke Monday night at NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Media Tour, talked about knowing Harvick’s plans last year before the race at Phoenix International Raceway. Harvick would win to snap a 44-race winless streak, but neither he nor Childress nor Stewart would confirm a possible move.
“We had a meeting and he told me his plans and we discussed what we were going to do in ’13,” Childress said Monday. “He’ll do well over there at Stewart-Haas, and RCR will keep going and moving forward. “I think him and Tony will have a good relationship.”
Harvick and Stewart already have a good relationship off the track. They are close friends. If there was ever any doubt, anyone who saw Stewart goose Harvick’s wife DeLana on camera before the September race at Chicagoland Speedway knows the drivers’ relationship runs far beyond miles on the track.
Stewart, who spoke to the media earlier Monday about his three-car team that includes Ryan Newman and Danica Patrick, has hinted at adding a fourth car to the Stewart-Haas Racing stable.
Harvick, meanwhile, told reporters he didn’t have “anything to tell you for 2014.”
“The one thing I can tell you is for me, I look at this year as a character-building year to go out and have fun and leave this place hopefully as good as it was when I got here, if not better,” he said. “...I’ve got a lot of friends here and I want to leave it that way.”
Harvick entered NASCAR’s premier series with RCR, stepping into the void left by the death of Dale Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500.
He has 19 wins in 430 Cup starts, but admitted during the 2012 season that it had been a trying one. He complained of the difficulties the team — which also includes veteran Jeff Burton and Paul Menard — had in notching consistent runs. The three had just eight top-five finishes in a combined 108 starts in 2012.
On Monday, Childress said he did not know whether sponsor Budweiser would leave RCR along with Harvick.
“They haven’t made any comments on what they’re going to do,” Childress said.
Though Childress admitted he knew Harvick’s plans before Phoenix, he said he was surprised when word leaked out because he didn’t expect it to be released until after the postseason awards banquet.
Asked whether Harvick’s friendship with Stewart came into play, Childress said he didn’t know.
“It could have been contracts or whatever,” he said.
Childress, who seethed in Phoenix when asked about whether he would lose Harvick to Stewart, pledged Monday to remain friends with
Harvick despite the pending separation. Childress pointed out he’s still friends with former driver Clint Bowyer, who left Childress for Michael Waltrip Racing after the 2011 season. Bowyer finished runner-up to Brad Keselowski for the Cup title last season.
“That’s what this is about,” Childress said. “Life’s too short to keep carrying (a grudge) on.”
Harvick, who finished eighth in last season’s 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup, said he hoped to maintain a civil relationship with Childress despite the lame duck season.
“We talk about race cars,” Harvick said. “We don’t talk about feelings, we talk about performance and the way things need to go on the track and try to figure out what we need to do to win races.”
As for the future, Childress welcomes grandson Austin Dillon into the fold this season. Dillon is slated to race the Daytona 500, among a handful of other Cup races. Burton and Menard are signed through 2013.
Daytona International Speedway could be getting a facelift. The speedway unveiled artist renderings that show what a proposed redevelopment of the historic 53-year-old Florida racetrack would look like.
The plan calls for five new modern entrances, a second pedestrian bridge for easier access to the track and an expanded grandstand area with thousands of new seats. The project, if approved, would also have upgraded concession areas, ticket gates and more common areas to view the race from different vantage points.
With just over three weeks remaining until the debut of the Gen-6 race car, NASCAR is convinced its product will be better this season.
Much of the behind-the-scenes effort last year was spent on developing the car, which hits the track Feb. 15 at Daytona International Speedway for the first practice of SpeedWeeks.
The car was a collaborative effort between NASCAR, manufacturers and teams, which NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said Tuesday was “unparalleled in my 34-plus years in the sport.” He said the car has “fans and the drivers as anxious as a six year old on Christmas morning.”