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Finally Kevin Harvick makes a decision on 2011:

   Kevin Harvick now sporting a big smile, with a new deal (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Kevin Harvick will indeed be back with car owner Richard Childress for 2011. The two men, who have teamed since the death of Dale Earnhardt in 2001, announced a new "multi-year" contract Saturday, though they declined to talk about any specifics, like the length of the contract, and the sponsorship.
   Harvick and Childress are atop the Sprint Cup standings, after a rough few years. They finally broke a long winless streak with a victory at Talladega last month.
   Last summer Harvick appeared set to leave Childress at the end of his contract (which runs through the end of this season), and there was even speculation that Harvick was trying to negotiate a departure at the end of 2009. Things got quite testy.
   A major turning point for these two apparently came when long-time sponsor Shell/Pennzoil announced last month it would be leaving RCR at the end of this season and moving to the Roger Penske operation. "That was key to getting all this really started," Harvick said.
       "It is great to put everything, all the questions, to bed."
   He has been silent about the negotiations throughout. "I know I have been pretty quiet about the way we have gone about everything," Harvick said.
   "But I felt pretty good about the way everything has gone between Richard and me....
    "I know it is not the way you guys would like it...but the last time (he negotiated a new contract with Childress, in 2006), I didn't do things very well.
    "I feel we did things the right way this time.
    "We've been through a lot of ups and downs. But we're positioned as well as we have ever been to race for a championship this year, with Scott Miller taking over the competition role." And Harvick pointed to "a tremendous amount of restructuring since probably late summer of last year."
    That's when Harvick and Childress appeared on the verge of a split.
    "The middle of the year obviously we were both frustrated," Harvick said. "We both want the same things, but sometimes we just butt heads a little.
    "We talked through those situations and both realized we want to race for championships and want to win races and be competitive.
    "That is really what it is all about -- being competitive.
    "Sometimes similar people get frustrated, and Richard and I are the same type people. We get frustrated...and want to do things the right way. And I think, as we went through those moments, it made us stronger."
    Now does Harvick, at 34, look to a longer future with Childress? In his 334 career Cup starts Harvick has 12 wins, 65 top-fives, and 138 top-10s.
    Well, that might be pushing things a little further along than they really are at the moment. After all the two have yet to sign a new sponsorship contract....though obviously Childress now has more negotiating leverage with potential sponsors by having Harvick under contract.
    "You never know how things are going to shake out," Harvick says of the next contract talks down the road. "I don't see myself racing until I am 50. Whether it is one more contract or two more contracts, nobody knows.
    "But there are a lot of years in front of us with this one."
    Harvick, who grumbled very openly last season as the entire Childress operation struggled, praised Childress for the "incredible turn around."
    Harvick pointed to the "attitude and morale, and the people I have been around for a long time. Those are the things you want to work out when you have so much time and effort invested, for years and years and years.
   "To be able to race for a championship this year was our goal, and we have been able to accomplish that so far. We felt we've made all the right changes."
   For his part Childress has been remarkably patient with Harvick through all of this.
   In fact, the new contract is simply the most pragmatic solution: When Shell stunned everyone by announcing last month it was leaving, that spurred both sides to action. For Childress, who just lost sponsor Jack Daniels a few months ago and had to shut down Casey Mears team, the big job is landing a new sponsor. And Harvick is probably the best available. Plus, he's atop the Sprint Cup standings, with finally a win under his belt with crew chief Gil Martin, and things are finally rolling rather smoothly. Plus Harvick's other options appeared to have gone by the wayside: with Kasey Kahne's move to the Rick Hendrick camp, there probably isn't any room over in the Tony Stewart shop. And it doesn't look like Joe Gibbs is in any hurry to expand to a fourth Toyota team (plus Harvick himself has a sizeable stake of Chevy equipment in his own Kevin Harvick Inc. operation, which runs Nationwide and Trucks).
   "We've been talking for quite awhile, just putting a lot of details together," Childress said. "We both knew what we wanted to do. It was a matter of just finalizing a few details.
    "We want to contend for a championship. And you don't put a team together and contend for a championship overnight. It takes some time to build...and build your people and personalities together. That is what Kevin is doing with his race team right now.
    "We're very excited to have Kevin back. He has written a lot of history for RCR.
    "He stepped in the car when we lost Dale in 2001, and I don't know any driver that could have stepped in there under the pressure and handled it the way he did. We'll always be grateful.
    "I know there will be questions about sponsors. We have three or four companies we are dealing with, and hopefully in the very near future we'll have something to announce.
    "But the key thing is to have Kevin back."


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  Richard Childress: now that he has Harvick signed, it's time to sign a sponsor (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

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