It seems all roads are leading to Stewart-Haas Racing these days.
Kevin Harvick has told Richard Childress he would like to leave after this season, according to multiple sources. Harvick has one year remaining on his contract with RCR, but the Shell/Pennzoil sponsorship deal on the No. 29 ends at the end of this season, and Harvick is trying to move with it to Stewart-Haas.
Tony Stewart has said his team is interested in running a third car in Sprint Cup in 2010. Adding Harvick in a package with a strong sponsor would be a masterstroke.
Childress is in a tough spot. He could hold Harvick to the contract and try to re-sign Shell/Pennzoil, but in a performance-based business, the Stewart-Haas option, undoubtedly, is more appealing to the gas and oil company. If Shell/Penzoil decides to leave, Childress has to find $15 million to $20 million in sponsorship to replace it -- a very difficult prospect in this economy.
With Tony Stewart's leadership and ability to add sponsorship, as well as the chassis-and-engine partnership with Hendrick Motorsports and the infrastructure investment made in the team by Gene Haas, Stewart-Haas has become one of the two or three best teams in Sprint Cup in less than a year. Stewart leads the points, Hendrick's Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson are second and third, respectively, Stewart-Haas' Ryan Newman is seventh and Mark Martin is 11th (his four wins lead the season).
While Stewart-Haas is trending upward like a rocket, RCR is trending downward. It's become a team that can't find the speed to run up front, despite the potent driver lineup of Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton and Casey Mears. Bowyer is in Chase contention, 15th in the points (126 behind 12th-place Matt Kenseth with seven races remaining before the Chase). Meanwhile, Burton is 17th (182 behind Kenseth). RCR hasn't won a race in 2009 after winning three -- two with Burton and one with Bowyer -- last season.
Harvick has had a dreadful season. He's 25th in the points with two top 5s and no other top-10s. He was fourth in the points last season, but his last victory was the Daytona 500 in the opening race of the 2007 season -- coincidentally his first race with Shell/Pennzoil on the No. 29.
RCR is the only team Harvick has driven for in Cup. Elevated in 2001 following Dale Earnhardt's death in the Daytona 500, Harvick has 11 Cup wins -- at least one in six of his eight seasons -- and has been in the Chase the past three years.
Harvick would also bring additional Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series capability to the organization, joining the JR Motorsports operation owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Rick Hendrick. Kevin Harvick Inc. competes in both series.
There also seems to be the possibility of Danica Patrick joining Stewart-Haas next season. She toured the team's shops in Kannapolis, N.C., on Monday. It was likely a fact-finding mission, but the fact she'd take the time indicates definite interest in the organization.
The IndyCar driver is the top-ranked American in the points, and is having her best season. It has also been reported that Target Ganassi Racing has offered her an IndyCar contract, and Andretti Green Racing would undoubtedly like to keep Patrick. She has options, all of them good.
Tony Stewart is too wise to take her straight to Cup. It's probably safe to say he'll make her an offer, and it will probably be patterned after Newman's famous ABC program with Penske. My guess is the deal would be for seven Cup races and a full Nationwide schedule.
Stewart, the IndyCar Series champion in 1997 before switching full time to stock cars, was asked a few weeks ago at Daytona what advice he would give Patrick in making the transition to NASCAR.
"Nobody knows whether she can do it until she gets out and tries," Stewart said. "I don't think she's ever been in anything but an open-wheel car or Formula 1 type car. I don't know that she's ever driven a heavy race car. The only way to find out is to get in it and do it. If it's something she wants to do, she has to make the commitment to do it. This is not a sport and a series -- and especially with the three touring series, you aren't just going to show up once in a while and be good.
"That's what happened with me in '96 and '97. In '98, when I ran 22 Busch races, I started getting it. But I was in the car just about every week to start learning that feel. And it was hard to bounce back and fourth and be good in both. Obviously, she's gotten where she is because she has a ton of talent. You don't back into winning races and getting to the upper levels of racing by not having talent. If she's really serious, it's kind of a crossroad for her."
As options go, Stewart-Haas has to be very attractive to Patrick, too, just as it is to Harvick. The team is the new star in NASCAR and it has magnetic drawing power.