Deceptive Beginning

Five years ago this week — March 11, 2001 — Kevin Harvick earned his first career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series victory in one of the most exciting finishes ever in the sport, edging Jeff Gordon by six one-thousandths of a second to win the Cracker Barrel 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The victory was an emotional and popular one among the fans and media, coming only a couple of weeks following the death of Dale Earnhardt. Harvick took over behind the GM Goodwrench Service Chevrolet from Earnhardt, and it appeared as if a new dynasty would be born at Richard Childress Racing.

Oh how appearances can be deceiving, very deceiving.

Harvick went on to win another NASCAR Cup Series race that season and the NASCAR Busch Series championship. He finished ninth in the Cup Series point standings, and there wasn’t any reason to believe that Harvick wouldn’t win several races over the next few years and contend for a championship.

The next year brought only one victory for Harvick, and he slipped all the way to 21st in the standings. That year, he was fined for a post-race incident with Greg Biffle at Bristol, and was later suspended for a Cup Series race at Martinsville for rough driving in a Craftsman Truck Series event the day before.

Harvick improved to fifth in 2003, but still managed to get to Victory Lane just once, albeit the coveted Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The past two years, Harvick has finished out of The Chase for the NEXTEL Cup, coming in 14th both seasons. During those two years, he’s won only one race.

This year, Harvick is off to a great start — in the Busch Series — and is leading the points coming into Atlanta. On the Cup side, however, he's mired in 17th place in the points after three races.

In the meantime, Harvick has become quite a racing entrepreneur. He owns a championship-contending truck in the Craftsman Truck Series and two successful cars in the Busch Series. As a team owner, Harvick has positioned himself quite well.

Which leads us back to his Cup Series career at Richard Childress Racing, where he may very well have worn out his welcome. Rumor has it that Childress isn’t happy about Harvick’s focus, which appears to be on his own race teams rather than in the car he’s driving for RCR. Childress has said that he’d like to have Harvick back next year, but that it has to be an amiable situation for both sides.

Enter Toyota into the NEXTEL Cup Series in 2007. Rumors swirling around the garage area have Harvick connected to the Toyota contingency, whether running for another team or starting his own NEXTEL Cup Series team.

With the financial backing Toyota seems to be bringing into the sport, the latter just might not be a bad idea for Harvick, and it’s one that could re-generate his NEXTEL Cup Series career. He’s not exactly doing himself any favors right now with Childress and with GM Goodwrench, that’s for sure.

It’s a certainty the representatives at Toyota are chomping at the bit to sign someone like Harvick, one of the more popular drivers on the circuit. That play will certainly unfold as the season progresses.

But for now, there’s Atlanta, and Harvick would like to re-live his first Cup Series victory all over again this weekend in the Golden Corral 500. With the way he’s floundering right now, don’t bet on it.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2006

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