On February 18th, 2001, NASCAR was changed forever. Dale Earnhardt was gone but in the wake of his death, two relationships that we erroneously assumed would last forever were born. On that dark day, NAPA sponsored Michael Waltrip and together, they won the Daytona 500 and the loss that overshadowed their triumph seemed to create an unbreakable bond between the two. Young gun Kevin Harvick was plucked from RCR’s developmental program and given the task of driving the late, great Earnhardt’s car. In just his 3rd start, the 25 year old won his first race in a spectacular photo finish at Atlanta. The victory revived the withering and despondent team and like NAPA and Waltrip, created an unbreakable bond that many thought could withstand the test of time itself. Due to some imprudent decisions though, these two relationships have taken a turn for the worse.
NAPA was featured on the hood of Waltrip’s car for every race from the commencement of the 2001 season to the conclusion of 2009’s. They jumped from DEI with Michael when he formed Michael Waltrip Racing in 2007. They persevered through the infamous jet fuel controversy and helped the team grow into the powerhouse it is today. Michael went to victory lane four times in his career and every single time, there was a NAPA logo getting sprayed with champagne and adorned with confetti. They now sponsor MWR’s Martin Truex Jr. who has also enjoyed success with the company. We’ve laughed at the many commercials, shook our heads at the countless shameless NAPA plugs by Michael and you could never think of one without thinking of the other.
Now, we look at the two with a bitter taste in our mouths as our thoughts wander back to the scandal that was Spingate in Richmond just a couple months ago. Bowyer spun, Vickers pitted, Truex made the chase and unprecedented events quickly followed. Truex was knocked out of the chase, hefty penalties were handed down and NAPA began rethinking their involvement with Michael Waltrip Racing. On September 19th, the auto parts store announced that it would cut ties with the team at season’s end, terminating their 12 year partnership that had endured through so much up to this point. Truex Jr. is losing his ride because of the decision and the organization is being forced to downsize.
Kevin Harvick is a NASCAR superstar and some will even say that he saved Richard Childress Racing or at the very least, bolstered it. As a rookie in 2001, he quickly asserted himself as their new flagship driver winning races hand over fist. Together, they’ve won 22 Cup races, made seven chases and even collected a Harley J. Earl Trophy in the 2007 Daytona 500 as well as a couple Nationwide crowns. RCR got back on their feet after Earnhardt’s untimely death and expanded around Kevin’s success. Harvick and Childress seemed like a perfect match and everything was going smoothly until Kevin Harvick surprised a lot of people in 2012 by announcing that he would be leaving the team at the conclusion of 2013.
It didn’t faze the organization much at first as they continued their winning ways and made the chase once again this year. Kevin was making a mockery of the “lame-duck” status some decided to label him with. There were rumblings that the reason why he was leaving the team is because of the Dillon boys. Austin and Ty are the grandsons of Richard Childress and they have two Cup cars waiting for them in the RCR stable when they are ready. Kevin didn’t appear to be hostile towards the Dillons (at least from my point of view) but it just seemed like he could read the writing on the wall and decided it was time to move on. No one could have foreseen the chaos that would erupt in Martinsville this past weekend.
Ty and Kevin were engaged in an enthralling battle towards the end of the Truck race and as the laps clicked away, patience thinned and a game of bumper tag commenced. It ended with the two crashing in what seemed like just one of those racing deals. Immediately, Richard Childress came over the radio and told his grandson to go after the No.14 but Kevin beat them to it slamming into the No.3 under caution. The two went around for half a lap hitting one another multiple times before entering pit road where the incident escalated to a dangerous level. Harvick stopped in Dillon’s pit box and the crew went after him. There was pushing, shoving, yelling and some guy had the bright idea to throw a sledge hammer that narrowly missed his fellow crew guys, a NASCAR official and Harvick’s arm. Kevin Harvick delivered the final blow with an incensed interview directed towards the Dillon boys.
“The No.3 jut dumped me. Exactly the reason why I’m leaving RCR because you got those kids coming up and they got no respect for what they do in this sport. They’ve had everything fed to them with a spoon…I cut him slack all day and he just dive bombs in there and dumps me. It’s a shame you got to get taken out by some rich kid like that.” – Kevin Harvick
Ty was caught on video after the race talking to his grandfather and said “he has done nothing for RCR but f*** s*** up.” RC agreed and said that he’s “got plans for him.” Ty also referred to Kevin as someone he once revered but now called him a punk. Harvick apologized for his comments the following day but although I believe he does regret his actions, I think everything he said may be truly how he feels. It’s sad really that we watched a 13 year friendship deteriorate on national television like that.
There’s cruel irony in the fact that these partnerships started around the same time and are now ending at the same time under a cloud of controversy and animosity. MWR handled NAPA’s contract termination in a professional manner after their Richmond transgressions but I’m sure it hurts for Michael to watch them walk away after everything they’ve been through together. Despite the now infamous Martinsville run-in, Childress stated in an interview that he promised Kevin he would do everything humanly possible to help him win the title and that he still intended to keep that promise but also vehemently declared that he will never apologize to Kevin. Austin Dillon responded to the incident in a very classy manner saying that he’s already forgiven Kevin for what he said but admitted that it did hurt his feelings.
I truly believe that with time, the angry words and insults thrown around at “The Paperclip” will fade into the past and become no more than a whisper. They will repair their now broken friendship but maybe that’s just the optimist in me coming out…I just see too much history there for both parties to hold a grudge and completely burn the bridge. With Waltrip and NAPA, that’s sadly a case where there’s no going back. It’s less about friendship and more about breaking the trust of a loyal business partner. When these two partnerships began, the No.3 vanished from the race track and with their demise, we will most likely be seeing the No.3 return next year….funny how fate would have it work out that way.
As the old adage goes, “all good things must come to an end.”