Kevin C. Cox
It may be 2012, but it seems 2013's NASCAR Silly Season has already started.
Kevin Harvick has signed with Stewart-Haas Racing for the 2014 Sprint Cup Series season, ESPN's Marty Smith reported Friday afternoon.
The move isn't a huge shock considering team owner Tony Stewart was said to be interested in Harvick or Kyle Busch when they become available after next season. But the timing is a major surprise, since there are still two races left to go in this season.
Stewart wouldn't comment when asked about the report on Friday, but he certainly didn't deny it.
"I'll tell you this: When we have something to tell you guys, we'll tell you," he said. "I've always said that, so you guys can throw darts – and when we've got something to tell you that's different than what we've got going on, we'll obviously tell you."
SHR spokesman Mike Arning said the team's driver lineup is set for 2013, "but if you're talking about 2014 and if Kevin Harvick is available, that's something the team would have to look at."
"Any team in this garage would do the same," he added.
Harvick leaving Richard Childress Racing would be significant because he's been the team's flagship driver the last few years and it's the only race team he's ever known. But RCR's performance has been consistently inconsistent, and Harvick always seems to come up short when making a championship run.
Aligning himself with SHR – and thus driving Hendrick Motorsports equipment – would seemingly give him a better chance to win in 2014 and beyond. But the 2013 season might be miserable for him considering he'll be a lame duck driver all year long.
"Once I know what my future plans are, I will make sure everyone is brought up to speed," Harvick said in a statement. "But as of right now I am focused on finishing this season on a strong note, and continuing to build our program going into the 2013 season at RCR with the ultimate goal of winning a championship."
The Harvick move immediately raises other questions which will be answered over the next year:
• Does this mean the end of Ryan Newman at SHR? Not necessarily. Arning said becoming a four-car team is "something (SHR) has been striving for" since its inception and it already has the infrastructure to accomodate a fourth car.
• Will Harvick take sponsor Budweiser with him to Stewart-Haas? That seems likely, or a deal may not have been struck so early.
• Who will replace Harvick at RCR? Harvick's departure would seem to open the door for Kurt Busch to move from Furniture Row Racing to RCR in 2014, since Busch will already spend next year with a team who is an RCR affiliate. But Austin Dillon will also looking to move up to Cup in 2014, and he's Richard Childress' grandson (RCR has room to expand, though).
There will be plenty of other dominoes to fall next season, a year when the contracts for many top drivers expire. Expect to see massive scrambling and driver movement throughout 2013.